North Carolina Tar Heels Preview
Record: 8-4 overall, 7-3 ACC
Head Coach: Mack Brown
This is Mack Brown’s second stop at North Carolina and he has made some significant progress. Two bowl trips for Brown and getting to a major bowl last year was a huge accomplishment. They lost the Orange Bowl 41-27 to Texas A&M, but take nothing away. They are prepared to take that final step and show that they can be legitimate ACC contenders this year.
The offense will lose 4 players to the NFL. Michael Carter and Javonte Wlliams were the most feared running back duo in the country along with their top two receivers in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome for UNC. The good thing is they return a top Heisman Candidate at quarterback in Sam Howell and the depth on the offensive side is very good. Racking up 537 yards per game and 42 points per game, Howell led the group by completing 68% of his passes, throwing for over 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns. He looks this year to Khafre Brown (Dymani’s brother) to stretch the field in the “air raid”, he averaged over 22 yards a catch last year. A very good tight end in Garrett Waltson, who isn’t just a security blanket for Howell as he can also stretch the field. Losing Carter and Willimas who averaged almost 7.5 yards a carry along with 28 touchdowns (Williams 19), Ty Chandler is a name to watch, a transfer from Tennessee could get the bulk of the carries. It will be committee though with two 5’10 205-pound backs in British Brooks and DJ Jones rotating in and out. All five starters are back for the Tar Heels led by Joshua Ezeudu at left guard and tackle Jordan Tucker.
The defense certainly was not top notch, allowing 401 yards per game and 29 points per game. Star linebacker Chazz Surratt is in the NFL so that leaves a big void. Eugene Assante looks to be the heir apparent to Surratt and showed glimpses in the 2020 Orange Bowl loss. Second leading tackler Jeremiah Gemmel will be asked to be even better to help out. Tomon Fox will lead the pass rushing crew with big man 300-pound Raymond Vohasek will be in the interior but gets a very good pash rush. The secondary returns all starters with Trey Morrison, Don Chapman, and Cam’Ron Kelley at the safety position. The secondary led by corners Tony Grimes, Kyler McMichael, and Storm Duck are all experienced but need to make more plays and get the offense back on the field.
Special teams were an issue again last year for UNC. Grayson Atkins made 12-of-18 field goals last year and will need to be much more consistent this year. They are not blessed with a true return specialist and will need to rotate in some different options and hope for a spark. They do have a weapon in a kick off specialist in Jonathan Kim. He nailed 76-of-89 of his kickoffs for a touchback helping the defense.