by Sharon Thorsland
We’ve got an in-state showdown in the mountains on Saturday, as North Carolina heads to Boone to take on App State. Kick-off is set for noon. It’s the Tar Heels first ever trip to Kidd Brewer Stadium, and just the third meeting ever between these teams. Thee most recent was a 34-31 upset of the Heels in Chapel Hill two years ago, so no doubt UNC fans are more than a little leery of the Mountaineers. The Tar Heels won their season opener against Florida A&M, while this is the first game of the season for App, who finished in impressive 10-4 in 2021 and returns a ton of talent and experience. 21 App State players are 5th or 6th year players…
Veteran quarterback Chase Brice returns for a sixth season thanks to the NCAA’s covid waiver. The former Clemson QB led the Sun Belt with over 3,300 passing yards last season, setting a single season App record. Brice plays behind an excellent offensive line that returns four starters, including right tackle Cooper Hodges, a 3-time All- Sun Belt selection. The bad news for Brice is he lost his top four receivers from last season. His top target this season looks to be Christian Wells, who had just 12 grabs a year ago.
The Mountaineers having an outstanding running attack featuring a trio of backs in Nate Noel, Camerun Peoples and Dietrich Harrington. All three earned Sun Belt honors last season and look to pick up where they left off. They’ll face a UNC defense that has struggled for years to stop the run but actually was pretty impressive against the Rattlers last week, holding them to just 56 rushing yards.
App’s defense has had no problems stopping the run, they led the Sun Belt in rushing defense last season. Nose tackle Jordan Earle, Sr. anchors the front line. The linebackers have depth, led by Trey Cobb and pass rusher Nick Hampton. The secondary returns Steven Jones and has some solid talent as well. But it all starts up front for the Mountaineers, and when they are clicking it’s hard to gain on them. In their past 51 games, App is 50-1 when allowing 135 rushing yards or less. 50-1! So the Heels will have their hands full trying to move the ball, and will need another big game from redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye.
The odds are no doubt stacked against the Tar Heels in this one. App has been consistently good, they’ve won 80 games in their eight seasons in FBS play. They have a power running attack and a stifling defense, they’ll be playing at home in front of a raucous crowd – and oh yeah, the Heels were winless on the road last season! So this will be a tough test for UNC, but if Maye plays well the offense can put up points. It will be up to the defense to slow down App’s rushing attack, and if they can do that, the Heels can pull out the win. Go Tar Heels!