UNC Football: @ Appalachian State: Preview, Info, Prediction, and More

Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball against the Florida A&M Rattlers during the second half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws the ball against the Florida A&M Rattlers during the second half at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports /

The UNC football program hits the road for the first time this season for a non-conference contest against the Appalachian State Mountaineers.

With the UNC football team’s “week zero” victory over Florida A&M in the rear view mirror, the rest of the country is set to compete and a full slate of college football awaits fans on Saturday.

Up next for the Tar Heels is an in-state showdown in Boone, North Carolina with the Appalachian State Mountaineers.  This game has been long anticipated for Mountaineer fans and Kidd Brewer Stadium will be rocking as the ‘Neers have a rare opportunity to host a power conference opponent.

App State finished last season with a 10-4 record, winning the Sun Belt’s East Division prior to a 24-16 loss to Louisiana in the conference championship game.  With plenty of returning talent and an electric home atmosphere, the Mountaineers present the toughest test that UNC will face until the Notre Dame game on September 24th.

This matchup is being considered a toss-up, as the betting line currently list the Heels as a slim 1.5 point favorite, per ESPN.  North Carolina showed plenty of positives and negatives against Florida A&M last week, but App State will present a completely different animal to deal with from a talent perspective.

How will Drake Maye follow up last week’s stellar debut?  Can the Carolina defense fix clean up  last week’s mistakes?  Will the Tar Heels win a road game for the first time since the 2020 Miami beatdown?

We take a look at these questions and more in this week’s game preview.

Keys to Victory for North Carolina

Stop the Run

Last week’s performance from the Tar Heel defense was not impressive.  If the defense is unable to improve on last week’s effort it will likely result in a loss on Saturday.

One area where Carolina has plenty of talented players is the defensive line.  They will need this unit along with the linebackers to play well on Saturday if they are going to leave Boone with a victory.

The biggest strength coming into the season for App State is their running game.  The Mountaineers have three returning running backs with over 1,000 rushing yards in their respective college careers.  With most of their offensive line returning as well, they have a running game that is experienced and proven to be successful.

Gene Chizik put it simply when explaining the importance his front seven will have on this week’s game at his press conference on Monday:

If the Tar Heel front seven can play to their potential, they should be talented enough to at least contain the ‘Neers on the ground.  If they don’t it could be a long afternoon for the Tar Heels.

Protect the Quarterback

It is no secret that last year’s Carolina squad had an extremely difficult time protecting Sam Howell.

While the Heels did not allow a sack last week against FAMU, the defense they are about to face is on another level than any FCS squad.  App State’s defense won’t be confused with Alabama or Clemson, but they still return three of the top six tacklers from a unit that finished 30th in the nation in scoring defense last season.

With a freshman quarterback making his first career road start, it is pivotal that the offensive line gives Drake Maye time to make the correct reads and take care of the football.  It will also be critical for them to take some pressure off of him by opening holes in the Carolina running game as well.

As usual, the battle in the trenches will play a major role in determining who comes out victorious this Saturday.

Something to Watch For

Keep an eye out for the Carolina secondary in this one.  With the running game that App State has, UNC might try to load the box and sellout to stop the run.  If that is the case there could be a lot of times where Tar Heel corners are on islands against Mountaineer wide receivers.

The Tar Heel secondary will need to have a better effort than what they displayed last week against FAMU if they are going to succeed in this one.  Luckily for UNC, wide receiver is arguably the biggest question mark on the entire App State team.

In contrast to their running game which returns nearly everyone, the ‘Neers lost a ton of production at wide receiver, losing their top three wideouts from last year’s squad.

App State does returns their quarterback, Chase Brice, who will be facing the Tar Heels for the third time in his career with a third different team.  Brice was the backup to Trevor Lawrence on Clemson’s 2019 team that was nearly upset in Chapel Hill, and was the starting quarterback for Duke when Sam Howell and company pummeled the Blue Devils 56-24 in 2020.

After transferring from Duke, Brice started for the ‘Neers last year and had a solid season, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 62.1% of his pass attempts.  However, he has a tendency to make some risky passes, throwing 15 and 11 interceptions over the past two seasons, including seven games with multiple picks over that span.  In what should be a wild game, turnovers can be the difference and a pick or two could be just what UNC needs to come out on top.

With the expected challenge that the App State run game presents it will be critical that the Tar Heel secondary holds its own in the passing game.  With the talent UNC has in the secondary (especially if Tony Grimes is available) and the lack of experience the Mountaineers have at wide receiver this should be doable.  It will just be a matter of if this unit is able to put it all together on game day.

Injury Report

Carolina appeared to avoid any long-term injuries last week, but two of the Tar Heels that got banged up are among the most talented players on the team.

Cornerback Tony Grimes was injured on a collision in the first quarter against FAMU, and did not return after leaving with what is being called an upper-body injury.

Star receiver Josh Downs came up hobbling after reeling in a touchdown pass from Drake Maye in the second half.  The injury appeared to impact one of his legs, but Downs downplayed the severity, telling the media he was “straight” afterwards.

As of now the status of both players for Saturday’s game is uncertain.  There is no doubt that the Heels could use the talent and experience that these two juniors bring to the team in what will be a hostile environment.

What You Need to Know

WHAT? North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0, 0-0 in ACC) @ Appalachian State Mountaineers (0-0, 0-0 in Sun Belt)

WHEN? Saturday, September 3rd, 2022 at 12:00 PM EST

WHERE? Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina


RADIO? Tar Heel Sports Network

WEATHER? Cloudy, chance of thunderstorms, high of 74 degrees

LINE? UNC -1.5

LAST MEETING?  2019.  App State 34, UNC 31


PREDICTION? UNC 35, App State 31

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