If you had told Head Coach Mack Brown that UNC was going to give up 297 yards rushing, a 7.4 yards per play average, and 542 total yards, while only scoring 38 offensive points, and still win, he’d have looked at you like you were crazy. Yet against Duke on Saturday night in front of forty thousand screaming fans, that’s exactly what happened. UNC picked up their 3rd win in ACC play and now leads the ACC Coastal at 6-1 and is ranked 22nd in the AP poll. UNC struggled in the first half to consistently drive the ball as Drake Maye was not in sync with his receivers early. UNC had a big play to Antione Green on the opening play that went for 54 yards, but aside from that they only had 28 yards through the air in the first quarter. The score at the first quarter break was 10-7 UNC. Early in the second quarter pressure was put on the UNC offense to score as the defense gave up several big plays. They did not respond until late in the quarter when the offense had a two-minute drive for a touchdown to finish the half with momentum, which Mack Brown always says is key. A key stat for the UNC defense: all but 19 of Duke’s 139 yards in the second quarter were on the ground.
Pressure increased in the second half for Duke as UNC scored 14 in the third quarter to take a 31-21 lead. It looked like UNC would run away with an easy victory, but Duke rattled off fourteen straight of their own to take a 35-31 lead. UNC made adjustments at the half and only allowed 68 yards in the third quarter, 66 of which were through the air. However, Duke went back to the ground game in the fourth quarter, annihilating the UNC defense to the tune of 103 yards rushing in fifteen minutes of play. UNC had the ball in Duke territory within eight minutes, only for a controversial fumble call to give the ball right back to Duke. Duke drove inside the UNC 10-yard line, but back-to-back penalties allowed UNC a second life. Charlie Ham missed a 43-yard field goal. Nine plays and a fourth down conversion later, Maye found Antione Green in the end zone for a touchdown which put UNC up 3 and gave us our final score, 38-35.
UNC finished the game with 536 yards on offense, 156 rushing, and 380 passing. Drake Maye was once again the star as he threw for 380 yards, 3 TDs, a 74% completion percentage, and also rushed for 70 yds on 18 carries to lead the heels in both categories. One pleasant surprise was running back Elijah Green, who had two touchdowns on 3 carries late. Mack Brown likes Green, and it would not be a surprise to see him factor into the offense in the next few weeks.
The UNC defense was inconsistent once again. In the third quarter, they allowed 0 points, 68 yards, and just 3 first downs. But they struggled in all the other quarters giving up chunk plays in both the passing game and the run game. Duke was able to consistently get to the outside in the run game, and Riley Leonard was able to pick apart the UNC secondary. The defense must improve for the Heels to tighten their grip on the ACC Coastal.
Here are a few takeaways from what I saw in the game on Saturday.
1. Josh Downs is Looking Like We Expected Him To
The reason this is important is that we haven’t seen Downs at his best this season. He missed several games early in the year, yet still leads UNC in receiving. That’s how good he is. He had 9 catches for 126 yards against Duke, he now has 37 catches for 425 yards on the season in five games. Downs might not make first-team ACC or be an All-American, but that will mean nothing, UNC knows the value he brings to the offense.
2. Drake Maye Could be ACC Player of the Year
Should he keep up this pace, Maye will be a prime contender for the ACC player of the year award. His season stats: 2,283 yds, 6th in the country, 24 TDs, tied 1st in the country, 70.1% completion percentage, and just 3 interceptions. Those are all player-of-the-year stats, and we haven’t even started to talk about the impact he makes on the ground game. 84 attempts, 378 yds, both leading the team, to go along with 4.5 yards per rush. Watch out for Maye in the Heisman polls if he continues to carry this team the way he has.
3. The Defense is Back to Their Old Ways
It didn’t look too bad until early in the fourth quarter when Duke cut the lead to 31-28. But that drive by the Blue Devils demoralized the UNC defense and they allowed it to get into their head as Duke was able to tack on another touchdown. They gave up several big plays, none of them bigger than a 74-yard touchdown run by Leonard that allowed Duke to take a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. This needs to be a priority for Mack Brown, fix the defense! They can’t outscore everybody. Eventually, the defense must step up for UNC to succeed.
UNC survived. Again. They move to 6-1 and will take on Pittsburgh following a bye week. They have had several close games but they continue to get the job done. Watch out ACC the Tar Heels are on the rise!