Well, the much-anticipated season opener for North Carolina didn’t go so well. The then-10th ranked Tar Heels went to Virginia Tech and looked anything but good in a 17-10 loss to the Hokies, turning the ball over three times and managing just 208 passing yards. Ouch. After sliding down the polls to number 24, the Heels will try to bounce back when they take on Georgia State in Chapel Hill on Saturday night. Kick-off is set for 7:30 on WBT.
The Panthers had their own issues in a 43-10 loss to Army, giving up 258 rushing yards and managing just 177 total yards. But they are expected to be pretty darn good this season – they’re coming off back to back bowl berths and return all 11 starters on offense and nine on defense. The Panthers have a fast offense that finished 40th in the NCAA last season. Quarterback Cornelious Brown IV leads the attack. The 6’5 sophomore is a dual threat who makes plenty of plays with his feet. Last season Brown finished second on the team with 98 carries and had seven rushing touchdowns to go with 17 passing scores. He’s got plenty of talented targets, starting with receiver Jamari Thrash, who had seven grabs for 87 yards against Army. Terrance Dixon is a solid slot receiver, and last season’s star Sam Pickney is back after sitting out last week due to Covid protocols. Two-time all-conference tight end Roger Carter is also in the mix.
Leading the ground attack is senior running back Destin Coates. Tucker Gregg is a hard-nosed, physical back who’s tough to stop near the goal line. And keep an eye out for Jameyest Williams, a converted cornerback who averaged four yards a carry against Army’s stingy run defense last week.
Georgia State’s defense clearly had trouble stopping the run after giving up 258 yards to Army. Does that mean Ty Chandler and the Tar Heels have better luck this week? It would certainly seem so. But no one is taking the Panthers lightly. They have an aggressive defense that was one of the best programs in the nation at generating turnovers in 2020, ranking in the top 10 in turnovers forced and sacks.
The strength of the Panthers defense is the secondary, which gets a boost today with the return of All-Sun Belt cornerback Quavian White, he’s been in the Covid protocols. White teams with safety Antavious Lane. Up front defensive end Hardrick Willis teams with nose guard Dontae Wilson, both are sack machines. Blake Carroll anchors the linebackers. And keep an eye out for linebacker Jhi’Shawn Taylor, he’s the older brother of UNC defensive lineman Jahlil Taylor.
This is definitely an important game for North Carolina. It’s the home opener, a chance to get back on track after last week’s debacle, and to fix the issues they had in that game. Specifically, figure out a way to score more than the anemic 10 points they managed against the Hokies or it’s going to be a long season! And there is no chance the Heels are looking past Georgia State. The last time the Panthers played a Power Five team, things went pretty well – they upset Tennessee on the road in 2019. I don’t see that happening in Chapel Hill. This UNC team should get the job done and move to 1-1 on the season – go Tar Heels!