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With bowl eligibility, Brown can signal progress for Tar Heels

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Mack Brown has long placed great emphasis on UNC being the flagship program in the state, and Saturday’s 41-10 beatdown of rival NC State will surely aid that pitch on the recruiting trail this offseason. And as an added bonus, UNC can also point to bowl eligibility as a sign of significant growth in Brown’s first season back at the helm in Chapel Hill.

After a rough first half after which they trailed 10-6, the Tar Heels scored 35 unanswered in the second half, with quarterback Sam Howell going 12 for 14 for 185 yards and three TDs in the second half. By comparison, NC State’s Devin Leary was 7 for 20 for 98 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs overall. 

The Tar Heel defense ultimately turned the tide with takeaways, forcing turnovers on three of four possessions in the third quarter and one in the fourth. Carolina finished with a 620-289 yardage edge. Carolina now gets the benefit of bragging rights on the recruiting trail and 15 additional practices for bowl preparation, a period coaches typically use much like spring practice sessions to prepare young players for the next season.

BACOT EMERGING

If the first two weeks were about Cole Anthony announcing himself to the college basketball world, last week’s Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas was about the emergence of fellow freshman Armando Bacot.

Bacot admittedly “got (his) butt whooped” in the Heels’ 73–64 loss to Michigan (6 pts, 6 rebs) but was dominant on the interior in Carolina’s wins against Alabama and Oregon, averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds.

Against Oregon, Bacot became the second Tar Heel ever with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks in a game. The only other is Rasheed Wallace, who put up the same line against Virginia in 1995. Bacot’s six blocks were the most for a Carolina player since Brice Johnson had eight against Florida Gulf Coast in the 2016 NCAA Tournament.

Bacot is now up to 13 blocks on the season, as the 6-foot-10, 232-pounder is beginning to give Carolina something it hasn’t had since Johnson’s departure after the 2016 season: a true rim protector. Luke Maye led last year’s team in blocks with 20, and that average of .56 blocks per game was Carolina’s lowest single-season average ever. Bacot has quickly changed that and now averages 1.9 blocks per game.

Bacot has also been a big factor in Carolina being second in the nation in rebounding margin (plus16.7) and rebounding percentage (60.1%), trailing only Illinois in both categories. Carolina only managed a plus-2 margin against Michigan’s big, physical lineup, however.

POOR SHOOTING NUMBERS

It appears Carolina will need all the rim protection and rebounding it can get this season, as Carolina’s shooting percentages continue to disappoint. Carolina has not shot over 50% in a game through seven games this season, the first time that has happened in Chapel Hill since the 1959–60 season.

The Tar Heels currently rank 241st in the nation in field goal percentage (42.2%) and 247th in True Shooting Percentage, which also factors performance from the free throw line into the equation.

Carolina also scored less than one point per possession against both Alabama (.97) and Michigan (.91); UNC only failed to hit above that number in three games last season, losses against Michigan (.96), Kentucky (.87), and Louisville (.88). The win over Alabama marked the first time Carolina had won a game while scoring less than one point per possession since a 68-63 win over Wake Forest in December of 2017.

That said, the performance from the line against Oregon may suggest that shooting improvements are possible, as the Heels made 20 of 21 from the line after entering the game 321st from the foul line (60.3%).

NUMBERS OF THE WEEK

2.91. With three touchdown passes against NC State, Howell’s 35 touchdown passes this season now only trail Tajh Boyd (36), Jameis Winston (40), and Deshaun Watson (41) for most touchdown passes in a season by an ACC quarterback. But on a per-game basis, Howell’s mark (2.91 per game) is the best of the four, as Watson’s mark was set in 15 games (2.73 per game), Winston’s in 14 (2.86 per game), and Boyd’s in 13 (2.76 per game). Howell will, of course, get a thirteenth opportunity to extend his mark in UNC’s bowl game.

401. With that season-high total, Howell became the second UNC quarterback to ever throw for more than 400 yards against NC State. TJ Yates (411 in 2010) is the only other.

87. UNC basketball has also still yet to score more than 80 points in a game this season after averaging over 85 last season and over 80 the last four seasons.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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