Appalachian State (0-0) vs North Carolina (1-0)
Saturday, September 3rd, 2022 12:00pm EST TV/Video: ESPNU
Radio: FLAGSHIP 97.3 FM (North Wilkesboro), 96.5 FM/1450 AM (Boone), 99.1 FM/1060 AM/1030 AM (Charlotte), 105.3 FM/1320 AM (Greensboro), 790 AM (Johnson City), 107.7 FM/1450 AM (Hendersonville), Varsity Network App
Kidd Brewer Stadium
Jeff Sagarin Ratings App State: 75.47
UNC: 74.14 Home: 2.14 App State is favored by the Sagarin ratings by 3.47 points VegasInsider Line: App State -1 Series: Tied 1-1 Last Meeting: App State 34, UNC 31, September 21, 2019, Chapel Hill, NC
This is not your typical season opener on the mountain. Appalachian State has never hosted a Power 5 opponent on college football’s traditional opening weekend. The Mountaineers have been the visiting team several times at Wake Forest, NC State, and East Carolina for opening weekend. Only Wake can say they came to Boone. Last year’s ECU game does not count, but it does, you get the drift. And now that North Carolina is coming to Boone, it opens the door for the NC State to do the same. How about that timing? Anyway, you have heard the call to action for some time now. The need to describe a game and atmosphere that will certainly be different and perhaps unprecedented. We have been through this before. The University of Miami came to Boone, and we wanted to win that game, probably too much. Wake Forest came to town, and we wanted that one too. That turned into a classic App-Wake game. But in both of those games, the Apps came up short. Is Saturday different? Yes. For one, there will be a few more fans there. Prior to Miami and Wake, we knew the attendance record would fall. Secondly, App is playing that blue team. Most are the opposite of indifferent about North Carolina. You either love them, or loathe them. Most of the alums are dissimilar. We like different things, and that’s why this is different.
Plenty of us remember, the 21st night of September. That was 2019, three seasons ago, and a lot has changed for App State and North Carolina. A slew of new players, a head coach for one side, and expectations. That Tar Heel team that lost to App State in 2019 finished the season 7-6 overall with a win over Temple in the Military Bowl. The 2020 Heels finished 8-4 with a loss to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl. And last years UNC team limped to a 6-7 overall record and lost to South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. Carolina fans are waiting for Mack Brown 2.0 to take off. The recruiting is there, but the development and on field success is not. What good are 4 and 5-star recruits coming out of high school if they never get better in college? The first Mack Brown era at North Carolina came with some bad and some good, a little bit of great. That little bit of great came in his final two seasons, and sent him to Texas for sixteen years. Brown was 69-46-1 at UNC in ten seasons. Since his return to Chapel Hill, Brown and the Tar Heels are 22-17 counting last week’s win over a depleted Florida A&M team. We are not talking about a significant drop off here, and its maybe too early to write off Mack Brown in general. In his first tenure he won 60% of his games, and in his second tenure at UNC, he’s won 56.4% of his games. But at this point in his career, and based on what he has done at North Carolina in the past, you kind of are what you are.
Typically, the first game of the season is the toughest to predict. But for the first time, App State has a Week 1 opponent who played the previous week. This was intentional. Initially, UNC-Florida A&M was to be played on September 17th. In late August 2021, the schools announced a date change to August 27th, 2022. This gives North Carolina two weeks after playing Georgia State next weekend to gear up for Notre Dame in Chapel Hill on September 24th. Sounds like smart scheduling to me. Whether North Carolina benefits this weekend against App State for playing last week remains to be seen. In the meantime, we have seen the tape and have game statistics to share with the masses. Appears the Tar Heel faithful have crowned Drake Maye as the chosen one, after one football game. After winning a fall camp battle over Jacolby Criswell, the son of another former UNC quarterback, Maye, led his team to a 56-24 thumping of Florida A&M. Maye threw four first half touchdown passes, and the Heels needed all of that in the first half. They led 28-14 at the break, and benefitted from a late turnover in the second quarter by the Rattlers to extend their lead. Regardless, this was a ballgame into the third quarter before another costly turnover by A&M that the Tar Heels turned into a touchdown.
Let us dive more into Maye and the Tar Heels offense. The coaching staff has made it no secret how they want to use Josh Downs. They want to get him the ball. Of Maye’s thirty-six passing attempts, twelve, or one-third, of them went in the direction of Downs. Those twelve targets turned into nine receptions and seventy-eight yards and two touchdowns. One of Downs scores went for 27 yards on a play action pass after the aforementioned third quarter turnover by A&M. On that play, Downs suffered an injury to his knee, calling it “just a bruise”, but was favoring it as he ran off the sideline. Outside of that play, the Rattlers did a pretty decent job of containing Downs considering their circumstances. Yes, Downs scored twice, on plays where he caught the ball in the end zone, but on his seven other receptions, Florida A&M limited him to just sixteen yards after the catch. It was the rest of the Tar Heels who exploited the Rattler secondary. The remaining twenty completions by Maye went for 112 yards after the catch, which comes out to very healthy average of 5.6 yards after the catch.
For the Mountaineers, they were able to watch the Carolina-A&M in real time. There has been plenty of debate whether fresh film on an opponent is an advantage or not. Both sides of the argument hold merit. Good coaches fit their personnel into what they do well. Surely UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik would have loved to see this App State team, with its fifth playcaller in as many years, once before going in blind. Chizik and every other coach who faces App State knows that this team has an identity. Through several coordinator changes over the past half decade, that same winning formula has been ever present. Strong on the offensive line, deep at running back, play good solid defense and tackle. It’s what we App State does, and its been that way long before the most recent assistant coach hires. This team has enough pieces of that formula to make those things happen. The only unknown for the offense comes from an outsiders perspective. It comes down to an equation of replacing lost production and how returning production can fill those gaps on the perimeter. Dashaun Davis is in his fourth year on the team, and remains a sophomore by eligibility. He has practiced for three years. He played in the 2019 UNC-App game. His career numbers may not pop off the page, but when his team needed him in 2020, in a game that was highly impacted by covid protocols, he caught six passes. Christian Wells is also in his fourth year, and was around in 2019. A playmaker anytime he touches the ball, Wells has seven touchdowns on only twenty-eight career receptions. Christian Horn has not scored, but has averaged 15.6 yards per catch in limited action as he enters his third season. These unknowns have been around, and its a matter of time before they are household names.
North Carolina’s last win on the road occurred on December 12th, 2020. That was a 62-26 win over Miami in which Michael Carter Jr and Javonte Williams combined for 544 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Both of those players are in the NFL. Since, the Tar Heels are 0-7 in road or neutral field games and have given up 30 or more points in six of those seven games for an average of 35.5 points surrendered. In those seven games, they faced all types of opponents and played in some very interesting venues. Four of those stadiums host NFL teams in Miami, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Charlotte. The college campuses included Notre Dame Stadium, an unbelievably lit Lane Stadium at Virginia Tech in last years opener, and Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, where NC State made an unbelievable comeback. All of these places are big time environments, and not your everyday road game. As we all know, the Heels have never been to Kidd Brewer. The sheer volume of people will turn Kidd Brewer into something nobody has witnessed for a sporting event in its history. Since Miami and Wake in 2016 and 2017, Kidd Brewer Stadium has lost the track, added a north end zone building and regraded Miller Hill and brought it closer to the field. Comparing Kidd Brewer as a venue to some of these much larger stadiums might be a stretch, but comparing atmosphere, it certainly can hold its own. A lot of us got glimpses of that last year in games against Marshall and Coastal Carolina. Now add another 10,000 or so fans. Still, a building cannot win a game, players do. That North Carolina defense has not travelled in a long time, and still looked slightly vulnerable at times on Saturday night. The Rattlers passing game was nearly a push against Carolina’s, only separated by a trio of touchdown passes. Drake Maye got the headlines, but A&M threw for 279 yards with a nearly nonexistent running game, and an offensive line that was short on depth. Mack Brown said that the advantage of playing first, before App State, was that they were exposed. He knows what problems his team has, and so do the Mountaineer coaches. He also mentioned winning in road comes with playing better. Mack knows how to win a presser, and how to talk to the media. This game is a total toss up. Both teams can win, and neither team can play poorly and win. The difference comes to down to experience. This App State group may be young on snaps in spots, but they are long on experience, whether that be as redshirts or otherwise. The Heels are a little young for my liking and until they learn to win these tough road games, its easy to bet against them.
The First Pick
Bah Bah Sheep 27