UNC football holds off Georgia State despite defense struggling again – The Fayetteville Observer

  • September 11, 2022

North Carolina continued its explosive play on offense Saturday, while also managing to take a step forward on defense after a rough start.
The Tar Heels produced touchdown plays of 55, 28 and 58 yards, and 18 that went for 15 or more yards to pull out a 35-28 triumph against Sun Belt Conference foe Georgia State in Atlanta. Despite the big-play offense, UNC still had to battle into the fourth quarter for a third straight week to secure just its third 3-0 start since 2010.
The game marked the first time a Power Five conference opponent visited Georgia State’s  Center Parc Stadium, which was originally built in 1996 for the Summer Olympics and was later refigured to serve as home for the Atlanta Braves baseball team.
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Here are observations and takeaways from UNC’s victory against Georgia State:
North Carolina’s defense was humbled and humiliated last Saturday in surrendering 40 points and more than 300 yards in the fourth quarter against Appalachian State. The collapse allowed the Mountaineers to wipe out a 20-point lead and have a chance to beat the Tar Heels in the final minute.
UNC had to deny a pair of two-point conversion attempts in the final 31 seconds to preserve the 63-61 win.
Many of the issues that plagued the Tar Heels in that game again surfaced in the second and third quarters against Georgia State. The Panthers scored 24 unanswered points during that span to tie the score at 28 entering the fourth period.
But after giving up 361 yards and 19 first downs over the first three quarters, UNC limited Georgia State to 58 yards and three first downs in the final 15 minutes. Senior linebacker Cedric Grayjunior end Kaimon Rucker and junior corner Tony Grimes all made big plays during the decisive fourth quarter. Gray had 11 tackles and two tackles for loss to lead the Tar Heel defenders in the game.
Freshman running back Omarion Hampton rebounded from a frustrating performance against Appalachian State to again provide a boost to UNC’s offense. Hampton became the first Tar Heel freshman since legendary Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice to rush for 100 yards or more in his first college game on August 27 against Florida A&M. The 6-foot, 220-pounder from Clayton, N.C., tallied 101 yards on 14 rushes in that game.
But Hampton struggled to make a contribution in last week’s win at Appalachian State, rushing just eight times for 17 yards and a touchdown. The trend continued early against Georgia State as Hampton gained just 16 yards on his first seven rushing attempts.
Suddenly, with UNC trailing 28-21 late in the third quarter, Hampton burst up the middle and outran defenders to the end zone for a 58-yard game-tying score. He added another 2-yard touchdown run with 10:42 to play that put the Tar Heels back ahead to stay.
Hampton finished with 110 yards rushing on 16 carries.
The Tar Heels were missing their top offensive weapon for a second straight game as junior receiver Josh Downs sat out due to a knee injury. Downs, an All-ACC performer who had 1,335 yards receiving in 2021, did not make the trip to Atlanta in hopes of being  ready to go when UNC plays Notre Dame at home Sept. 24. UNC has an open date next week.
Also out for the Tar Heels were starting right tackle Spencer Rolland and reserve running back Caleb Hood. Both are sidelined with lower body injuries. Senior William Barnes moved from guard to right tackle to replace Rolland, while junior Jonathan Adorno took over at right guard for Barnes. It was Adorno’s first college start.
UNC also suffered a blow to its secondary in the first quarter when senior Obi Egbuna was disqualified for targeting while making a tackle on a punt return. Egbuna, who had two tackles in the first two games, was the backup to DeAndre Boykins at the STAR defensive back position.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye delivered another impressive performance against the Panthers, completing 19 of 24 passes for 284 yards and two more touchdowns. The 6-5, 220-pounder from Huntersville has completed 72 of 97 passes for 930 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first three career starts.
Maye did have some hiccups for the first time against Georgia State. He threw his first interception, was sacked three times and was limited to seven yards on 10 rushing attempts. Maye entered the game as UNC’s leading rusher with 131 yards on 16 attempts.

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