North Carolina football season opener takeaways

Mack Brown and his North Carolina football team started the game underwhelming against Syracuse but still managed to reaffirm its legitimacy in the ACC, winning 31-6 in decisive fashion. The Tar Heels did not give the best first impression in the first half but found a way to turn their mistakes into forcing Syracuse into its own bundle of trouble.

Not only did Brown’s team control the game from start to finish, but it didn’t require fourth quarter heroics Sam Howell and company became synonymous with in 2019. Let’s breakdown this Week 2 matchup that has me hopping on this bandwagon.

First half follies

The first half definitely looked like North Carolina’s first half of football this year. The offensive line found its feet in quick sand early when handling Syracuse’s defensive stunts and allowed two quarterback hits and a sack on the opening drive.

North Carolina dodged a bullet in the first quarter when horrid punt coverage allowed for a deep Syracuse punt return that was luckily called back because of a blindside block. The Tar Heel defense held the fort down by making Syracuse fight tooth and nail for each yard, blitzing nearly every passing down and collapsing the pocket around slick Syracuse QB Tommy DeVito.

Syracuse found itself in fantastic field position after a muffed punt from offensive star Dazz Newsome, who shined on special teams rather than on offense Saturday. The UNC defense held strong and forced Syracuse to settle for a field goal and then UNC proceeded to false start on the QB kneel going into half. Oh brother.

Second Half Scares

After what I assume was a halftime talk to forget for much of the team, UNC answered the call and began to pull away in the second half only after Howell threw a pick on the opening drive. I’m no quarterback, but All-American Syracuse safety Andre Cisco baited Howell into that.

A quick three and out for the UNC defense became par for the course Saturday and allowed Newsome another chance to shine on the punt return. Newsome didn’t disappoint returning the punt for a touchdown only to have it called back on a block in the back call.

However, the tandem of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams began to wear on the Orange. Combined they had 135 yards on the ground with Williams scoring three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Carter was Howell’s top receiving option due to a healthy dosage of swing passes that earned him 60 yards receiving.

As Syracuse was reeling from this two-headed monster, UNC continued the pressure and found five players combining for seven sacks on Saturday, the most the program has had since 2013.


This team has the sandpaper finish that will hang with any gritty, hard-nosed team you put in front of it. The defense is legit and is playing with a chip on its shoulder due to the offense receiving so much notoriety. The offense has the versatility to attack defenses in multiple fashions with a dark horse Heisman candidate in Howell. I don’t envision UNC finding themselves in many one score games this season, something they did nine times in 2019.

1-0, on to Charlotte.