The Tar Heels notched their third win of the season on Saturday behind an impressive display of offense against Georgia Tech. Sam Howell passed for four touchdowns while North Carolina’s running backs piled up 212 yards on the ground. We saw one of the most important keys to success, moving forward: a balanced offense gets it done for North Carolina.
Balanced Offense Gets It Done for North Carolina
The Tar Heels have shown flashes of massive potential on offense all season. After a slow start on Saturday, North Carolina wore down the Yellow Jackets with a balanced attack on the ground and through the air.
Howell threw an ugly interception in the first quarter, but wouldn’t make many more mistakes. The freshman bounced back to throw four touchdowns, but he should have had seven. North Carolina’s receivers dropped three sure touchdowns that were absolute dimes. Howell passed for 376 yards on the day, but that total would have been close to 500 if not for the drops.
All four touchdown passes went to different receivers. Dazz Newsome, Dyami Brown, Garrett Walston, and Beau Corrales all scored, and four Tar Heels caught at least five passes. The offense spread it around and kept the Yellow Jackets off balance most of the afternoon.
The Offensive Line Deserves Credit
North Carolina’s offensive line has been dealing with injuries since the second game of the season. Center Nick Polino went down against Miami, and still hasn’t returned. Left tackle Charlie Heck did not play against Appalachian State, and Howell was under pressure that entire game. Heck’s return has made a difference in the last two games, with the big man protecting Howell’s blind side. Georgia Tech recorded one sack against the Tar Heels, but for most of the day, Howell had time to pick the defense apart.
Brian Anderson has played at center during Polino’s absence, and has improved with each game. North Carolina’s running backs were able to run well between the tackles on Saturday, and that was due in no small part to Anderson’s blocking. While it’s not certain when Polino will return, the rest of North Carolina’s offensive line is stepping up to fill the void.
Running Backs Shared the Load
North Carolina’s ground game could not have been more balanced. All season, the Tar Heels have relied on its tandem of running backs, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Both backs received 20 carries against the Yellow Jackets. Carter had five catches and Williams caught three passes.
Williams was the more effective back on the ground, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry, gashing a tired Georgia Tech defense as the game wore on. Williams looked to be running downhill all afternoon, lowering his head and breaking tackle after tackle.
Carter gained 120 scrimmage yards, with 52 coming through the air. The two running backs have different styles, and North Carolina was able to alternate effectively between the two styles. This kind of production from the running backs opens up the passing game, and that is precisely what happened in Atlanta. The passing and rushing attacks complimented each other, and should continue to do so moving forward.
A Bye Week And A Trip To Blacksburg
The Tar Heels now get a badly-needed bye week. The break comes at a great time, allowing the team to get healthy before several huge ACC Coastal showdowns. Heck and defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge have been playing while not fully healthy, and this will give both a chance to recuperate. Corrales went down with an injury on Saturday, but was able to return to the game, fortunately.
Virginia Tech is North Carolina’s next opponent, and this game is a huge one, for both programs. The Tar Heels have an eye on winning the Coastal division, while the Hokies are trying to turn around a disappointing season. This past Saturday, Virginia Tech managed to hang on and win at Miami. This week, they will host Rhode Island in Blacksburg. The last time the Hokies were at home, they got smoked by Duke, 45-10. North Carolina can expect to see a better version of Virginia Tech than the Blue Devils did.
The Tar Heels should be able to move the ball in Blacksburg. It will be interesting to see Carter’s role in the ground game. Last year in Chapel Hill, Carter exploded for 165 yards on 18 carries against the Hokies. In this year’s matchup, Williams will no doubt be more involved, but Virginia Tech can once again expect a healthy dose of Carter. If the Tar Heels are able find success on the ground, Howell will be taking shots to his receivers early and often.
The takeaway from Saturday’s game is that a balanced offense gets it done for North Carolina. If the Tar Heels can stay healthy and continue to improve, they should put up impressive numbers in the second half of the season. The key is balance, and right now North Carolina’s offense seems to have found it.
Balanced Offense for North Carolina Main Photo:
North Carolina running back Javonte Williams rushes as Georgia Tech defensive back Josh Carlson, left, and defensive back Zamari Walton (21) defend during the second half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Atlanta. North Carolina won 38-22. (Special-John Amis)