After scare, No. 20 North Carolina focuses on Minnesota

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After surviving an upset bid from Appalachian State, No. 20 North Carolina will welcome Minnesota to Chapel Hill on Saturday as the Tar Heels aim to improve to 3-0 for the season.

North Carolina needed two periods of overtime last weekend at Kenan Stadium to best the Mountaineers 40-34. Omarion Hampton was the star for the Tar Heels, rushing for a career-best 234 yards with three touchdowns. He was named the Doak Walker Award National Running Back of the Week for his performance.

The Tar Heels might continue to lean on their rushing attack against Minnesota (2-0) as they endure the absence of wideout Tez Walker, who was ruled ineligible to play by the NCAA. UNC’s Board of Trustees met Monday with Tar Heels coach Mack Brown to explore options that could lead to a path for Walker to play again.

“There’s a lot of question marks that from a legal standpoint that we have to look at,” Brown said this week about Walker’s eligibility. “He won’t play Saturday. I don’t think he’ll play for the rest of the year. But I don’t know that. I don’t know the legal ramifications. A lot of people are looking into that now.”

Walker began his career at North Carolina Central but transferred to Kent State after the MEAC canceled its 2020 season due to the pandemic. At Kent State last season, Walker led the MAC in receiving touchdowns with 11. He transferred to UNC in January, and two days later, the NCAA announced it would be stricter on waivers for two-time transfers. Walker’s latest appeal was denied last week.

Without Walker, UNC’s leading receiver for quarterback Drake Maye has been Kobe Paysour, who has 15 catches for 139 yards and a score through two games.

“They can beat you a lot of ways,” Minnesota coach PJ Fleck said of UNC. “They’ve got the No. 1 quarterback in the draft coming out. They’ve got a heck of a running game.

Like North Carolina, Minnesota had a running back with a breakout performance in Week 2. Darius Taylor rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown as the Gophers topped visiting Eastern Michigan 25-6. Taylor was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week for his efforts.

Taylor’s rushing total was the second-most in school history in a single game for a freshman, trailing only a performance from Darrell Thompson in 1986 against Bowling Green.

“He has a long way to go,” Fleck said of Taylor. “What you saw (Saturday) was a snippet of what he can actually become.”

Saturday’s trip to Chapel Hill will mark the first road game of the season for Minnesota. The Gophers have never faced the Tar Heels in football. Minnesota is 16-7 all-time against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

At least one person on Minnesota’s roster is familiar with the Tar Heels. Sixth-year defensive lineman Chris Collins spent five seasons at UNC, playing in 46 games and piling up 69 tackles, including 6.5 sacks.

–Field Level Media

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