Grant Halverson / Stringer

UNC Renews In-State Rivalry

Sharon Thorsland
September 20, 2019 - 2:58 pm
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After a pair of season opening upsets over South Carolina and Miami, North Carolina came back to earth last weekend, suffering their first loss of the season at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels are now 2-1 on the season, but they're still 1-0 in the ACC since the Wake game was technically a non-conference matchup. This weekend they go out of the Power 5 conferences to face another in-state opponent in Appalachian State. Kick-off is set for 3:30 Saturday at Kenan Stadium, you can hear the game on WBT. 

 

This is the first time these teams have met since 1940 and no doubt the Mountaineers would love nothing more than to knock off their in-state rival. But after seemingly overlooking and underestimating the Demon Deacons, the Tar Heels are surely making so such mistake this time around. They know App State has plenty of talent, they win year in and year out, and they have a knack for pulling off upsets. UNC quarterback Sam Howell knows what they're up against. “They are definitely a really good team,” said Howell. “You can tell that they expect to win every game, no matter their opponent. So we have to be prepared for that.”

 

The Mountaineers went 11-2 last season, and are 2-0 this year, coming off a bye with wins over East Tennessee State and Charlotte. They've got a new head coach in former NC offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, and he's got one heck of a running back leading the offense. Junior Darrynton Evans is averaging a whopping 10.1 yards per carry and over 166 yards per game, that ranks 2nd in the nation. So needless to say, the Mountaineers love to run the ball. And of course, that's a problem for UNC – the Tar Heels rank 99th in the country giving up 176 yards per game.

 

Passing the ball is secondary in this Mountaineers offense, but they've got a solid quarterback in junior Zac Thomas, who can also make plays with the legs. He's got a good group of receivers that looks to get even better this week with the addition of receiver Corey Sutton, who was suspended for the first two games. Sutton had nearly 800 yards last season with 10 touchdowns. He teams with Jalen Virgil, who has elite speed and is averaging over 19 yards per catch.

 

App has an outstanding defense led by safety Josh Thomas. Nose tackle EJ Scott is a run stuffer on the front line, and linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither is dangerous on the outside against the run and the pass. Expect the Mountaineers to try and stop UNC's run game and force Howell to beat them through the air. While the freshman has shown he's got a knack for doing just that, the Tar Heels can't allow themselves to fall behind like they did against Wake if they want to beat the Mountaineers. They also need to do a better job of converting third downs, and most importantly, play four quarters of football. If they do that, it should be a UNC win. Go Tar Heels!

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