By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Two of the major offensive questions coming off of the opener for No. 24 North Carolina surrounded a talented but inexperienced wide receiver group.
The deep passing game was missing in the 17–10 loss at Virginia Tech and quarterback Sam Howell’s only reliable receiver was Josh Downs. No other big-play threats emerged.
For at least one game, those questions were answered. In Saturday’s 59–17 win over Georgia State, three receivers caught passes of 41 yards or more.
Downs was again the go-to receiver, getting 11 of the 30 targets on the night and pulling down eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Four others had at least 47 reception yards, including Emery Simmons with four catches for 73 yards. But 6–2, 210-pound Antoine Green stood out with his three catches for a touchdown and a career-high 117 yards.
“We all knew,” Howell said. “Antoine’s been doing that since he got here. It was only a matter of time before he really put it out there for everyone to see, and you know he had a really good game tonight. We need him to be that type of player that he was tonight. He will be. It just felt really good to see him make those plays out there because he works so hard. It’s awesome to see.”
Carolina’s second touchdown of the game was a play where Howell lofted a pass 62 yards to the goal line, where Green was battling Georgia State cornerback Jaylon Jones in one of those 50/50 balls that separate good receivers from great ones.
Green made the catch on a 57-yard scoring play.
“It was a little physical in there,” Green said. “There was a little arm fighting. But what I do is I just stay on top of him.”
It was the first big deep completion of the season for the Tar Heels. That’s part of UNC’s offensive game, particularly with Howell at the controls, that makes the attack dangerous.
“I think it’s something we can build off of,” Green said. “Because, based off last week, we didn’t really have too many deep shots. And I just feel like it’s something we can build off of as an offense and I feel like it helps everything up front as well because the DBs play off because they’re worried about the pass.”
What was the difference in how the passing game came together against Georgia State?
“I feel like we came together as a whole, and then just working on it throughout the week; everything connected,” Green said.
Green only had one more catch than he did against the Hokies, when he had two catches for 20 yards, but his receptions against Georgia State were spectacular.
“He played really, really well,” Coach Mack Brown said.
It was Green’s catch early in the second half that really got the attention of the Hall of Fame coach.
“[He] actually turned all the way back to the inside and made the catch over his shoulder. It was one of the better catches I’ve ever seen,” Brown said. “And he made some other great catches. Tonight should give him confidence to move forward and be one of those receivers that we’re talking about.”
It’s been a long time coming for Green, a junior in his fourth season in Chapel Hill. He got limited chances in his first three seasons, going from four catches for 45 yards in his true freshman season to eight for 217 and two TDs the next season (when he missed three games with a lower-body injury) to only four catches for 38 yards last season.
He’s not only getting a chance to show what he can do, he’s making plays.
“It definitely boosts my confidence,” Green said. “I feel like it’s something I was always able to do. And there’s something to grow off. Next week we’ll just build off of it and try to stay consistent.”
With more dangerous weapons for Howell, opponents won’t be able to focus all of their attention on Downs. UNC tries to keep the momentum going Saturday in its ACC opener at Kenan Stadium against Virginia (2–0.)
Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati/UNC Athletics Communications