UNC’s defense makes enough big plays as Heels hold on for win

By R.L. Bynum

Imagine a Carolina offense with both Koby Paysour and Josh Downs as potential passing targets for Drake Maye and a defense that plays consistently well.

The Tar Heels may get the former in two weeks against No. 8 Notre Dame, and while the latter didn’t happen in their 35–28 Saturday victory over Georgia State at Petit Field in Atlanta, the defense had its moments and showed some improvement by forcing seven three-and-outs.

Three second-half UNC turnovers made good defense crucial to the Tar Heels moving to 3–0 by keeping the Panthers off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter after App State scored 40 in the final period a week earlier. More physical play by UNC’s linebackers and secondary made a difference.

“It shows you how good we can be,” UNC coach Mack Brown said after he scored 35 points while turning it over three times. “By in large, the defense played much better today. And the defense is really why we won this game today.”

The defense forced four punts after Georgia State tied it at 28.

“We really challenged them,” Brown said. “I was so disappointed that when we went up 21–3, they let him drive and score. I said, ‘Quit looking at the scoreboard; just don’t relax, man. We’ve got to grow up.’ “

Linebacker Cedric Gray led UNC with his second consecutive 14-tackle game.

“I think this week, it was just really a big emphasis as a defense; we have to be great in the fourth quarter,” Gray said. “Last week, giving up 40 points in the fourth quarter was just absolutely unacceptable. So, that’s something that we drilled home this week to our guys and obviously, we executed in the fourth quarter.”

Carolina’s rushing attack stumbled a bit early as the offensive line had a few hiccups, but true freshman Omarion Hampton overcame that with an impressive day, running for 110 yards and two touchdowns.

“We couldn’t run the ball in the first half and we dropped balls and just didn’t do the things that we needed to do,” Brown said.

Under constant defensive pressure and again playing without his best receiver in Downs, Maye (19 of 24 for 284 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) was solid, although he threw his first college interception. Paysour followed up a 92-yard reception day in the shootout with Appalachian State with 61 on Saturday.

“I know that there’s a bunch of really great young players that are stepping up and making some plays, and they can only get better,” Brown said.

“We knew there was a lot more excitement about last week’s game than this one, so probably the offense stood around and felt a little too good about themselves,” Brown said.

Some overthrows by Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger and a few drops benefitted Carolina’s defense. But, overall, the unit improved dramatically from the Appalachian State game.

Maye quickly got UNC on the scoreboard, connecting with tight end Kamari Morales on a short pass for a 55-yard scoring play. Georgia State scored on a 45-yard Michael Hayes field goal later in the first quarter.

Running back D.J. Jones engineered a nine-play scoring drive, with a 4-yard reception and six rushes for 31 yards, capped by a 4-yard touchdown run in the first 1:16 of the second quarter.

Maye beautifully delivered a pass in the end zone over the shoulder of roommate Paysour, who made a terrific catch for a 28-yard scoring play. It was Paysour’s third catch of the eight-play drive.

After good play from the defense for most of the first half, Georgia State quickly drove 75 yards in 11 plays and scored on Grainger’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Kris Byrd.

Myles Murphy helped UNC make up for failing to convert a late fourth-down try by blocking Hayes’ 45-yard field-goal attempt.

Georgia State (0–2) needed only 33 seconds into the second half, and three plays for Grainger to connect on a 49-yard touchdown pass to Robert Lewis after defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly got beat.


Maye underthrew Paysour on the ensuing drive, and Jacorey Crawford became the first defender to intercept a college pass from Maye. Georgia State had to settle for a 45-yard Hayes field goal.

Georgia State made it 25 consecutive points to take a 28–21 lead. Grainger connected on a 29-yard touchdown pass to Lewis and a two-point conversion pass to Jamari Thrash with 2:04 left in the third quarter.

Hampton quickly tied it at 28 when he shot through the middle of the line untouched for a 58-yard touchdown run. A 47-yard pass from Maye to Georgia native tight end John Copenhaver keyed a drive that produced a 2-yard Hampton touchdown run, his team-leading fifth TD this season.

NOTES: Fifteen of the previous 16 Carolina teams to start 3–0 (Brown coached all but three) went to bowl games. This is the second UNC team to start 3–0 with two road wins (also in 1971, with wins at Richmond and at Illinois). … Murphy had to be helped off the field late in the third quarter. … Downs missed his second consecutive game with what the school calls a “lower-body injury.” He had an ice pack on his left knee after the Florida A&M game. … Also missing the game for Carolina were running back Caleb Hood and right tackle Spencer Rolland. … William Barnes shifted from right tackle to left tackle and Jonathan Adorno started right tackle. … Defensive back Don Chapman, facing multiple charges in Chatham County, wasn’t in Atlanta with the team but hasn’t been suspended. … UNC punter Ben Kiernan averaged 54.2 yards in five punts, including a 63-yarder and a 70-yarder. … Officials ejected UNC’s Ogi Egbuna for targeting on a first-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit on Jamyest Williams in punt coverage. … Murphy’s blocked field-goal attempt was UNC’s first since Jahlil Taylor’s block last season against Pittsburgh. … Carolina is off next weekend before returning to Kenan Stadium on Sept. 24 to face No. 8 Notre Dame, which lost Saturday at home to Marshall 26–21 (time and TV haven’t been announced).

UNC 35, Georgia State 28

Drive charts

(current rank)
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNo. 19
Notre Dame
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8SaturdayW, 27–24Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami 5–1, 2–0 ACC
15SaturdayW, 38–35DurhamDuke6–1, 3–0 ACC
29SaturdayW, 42–24HomePittsburgh7–1, 4–0 ACC
5SaturdayW, 31–28CharlottesvilleVirginia8–1, 5–0 ACC
12SaturdayW, 36–34Winston-SalemWake Forest 9–1, 6–0 ACC
19SaturdayL, 21–17HomeGeorgia Tech 9–2, 6–1 ACC
25FridayL, 30–27,
2 OTs
HomeNo. 25 N.C. State 9–3, 6–2 ACC
DecemberACC championship
3SaturdayL, 39–10CharlotteNo. 10 Clemson9–4
Holiday Bowl
28WednesdayL, 28–27San DiegoNo. 15 Oregon9–5

Photo via @UNCFootball

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