Football is finally back in the High Country.
After 36 weeks, we kick off the 2022 season with what will be the most attended football game in Appalachian State’s history. A sellout back in June, we are anticipating a crowd of up to (potentially over) 40,000 as North Carolina visits. That blows out the previous record of 35,126 when Wake Forest came to town.
This is a game that has been circled on every Mountaineer fan’s calendar since the series was scheduled in 2017. App State took the first game in 2019 with a 34-31 win, cemented with a blocked game-tying field goal.
Saturday’s contest in Boone begins at 12 p.m. ET. It will air nationally on ESPNU.
North Carolina was able to knock some of the rust of with a much-needed Week 0 warmup game against Florida A&M, but it didn’t start as well as it might have hoped. The offense was a little slow to get off the blocks, and the defense was lackluster. That could be due to the Tar Heels trying to keep as much under wraps as possible for its contest in Boone.
Quarterback Drake Maye had a pretty successful outing, but he likely won’t have as much time to throw. Maye showed nice mobility and pocket presence. Maye was able to make it through the game without throwing an interception or getting sacked.
North Carolina’s run game really exploded, averaging 7.4 yards per carry with 314 yards total. App State had the 27th-best run defense in the country last year, allowing only 127.9 yards per game.
We got a good look at the Carolina defense and the Tar Heels definitely have some things to work on before Saturday. Florida A&M was able to put up solid numbers through the air. That could be good news for Chase Brice and Co.
North Carolina did a very good job of stopping the Rattlers’ running game. However, expect the one-two punch of Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel to open things up a little more. Appalachian State is bringing in an entirely new receiving corps, but there is more potential talent than it has ever had before.
Carolina could be without two important starters this weekend. Star cornerback Tony Grimes took a nasty shot to the head during a tackle last week and left with a presumed concussion. Top receiving target Josh Downs came down hard on his knee and did not return to the game after that.
Reportedly, neither of these two have participated in practice this week. We’ll see if they take the field on Saturday.
Fortunately for App State, there have been no serious injuries in camp and it comes into the season pretty healthy.
This game very well could turn into a shootout. Carolina has some glaring holes on defense, compounded with its best defensive back being out, that a more veteran App State offense could take advantage of. On the other hand, App State lost several key starters on defense. It will be relying on newcomers to slow the Tar Heel attack.
Appalachian State has a deep and talented group at the offensive skill positions. Given North Carolina’s less-than-stellar defensive finish to last season and start to this one, it could be a great night for the Mountaineers.
This feels like one of those games where the team with the ball last wins. Both teams have terrific, well-balanced offenses and some big question marks on defense. The Mountaineers have traditionally had strong run defenses and that should continue under coordinator Dale Jones.
The Tar Heels will be arriving at a hostile environment full of raucous Mountaineer fans eager to take another win and prove the 2019 game wasn’t a fluke. In fact, North Carolina head coach Mack Brown said this could be the most hostile environment that the Tar Heels will play in all year. Since 2018, North Carolina is 5-17 on the road.
The Week 0 game could end up doing more harm than good for the Tar Heels. They have two more injuries to key players, showed defensive holes, and had to open more of the playbook than they would have liked. App State got a pretty good look at what North Carolina will be bringing to Boone.
Inversely, there is some uncertainty about the App State offense. App State hired Kevin Barbay as the new offensive coordinator. Under Barbay, Central Michigan had the 25th-best offense in the country in 2021.
The offense will have some new wrinkles, on top of an all-new starting receiving corps, but with more raw talent it has had in recent years. This will give the Tar Heels fits until they can adjust. App State is going home with the win, thanks to the running game, and some deep passes.
Prediction: Appalachian State 35, North Carolina 31