UNC entered the Holiday Bowl needing a win that could salvage what was a good year for the Tar Heels that turned sour late. UNC fought hard against the higher ranked team but could not get it done against the 15th ranked Oregon Ducks. It took a late fourth quarter drive engineered by Bo Nix to get it done for the Ducks, but they did get it done, winning 28-27 on an extra point that kissed off the left upright for the win.
You cannot say that UNC did not fight hard if you watched the game, as the Heels were making plays and at one point in the fourth quarter held a ten point lead. Oregon made one more play than the Heels in the end. As you could imagine, this was a disappointing loss as UNC held the lead for the majority of the game but could not close it out in the end.
It was the fourth straight loss for UNC as the end of the season has gone south from the team’s 9-1 record. If there was one guy to not blame for the UNC loss, it was Drake Maye. He looked about back to normal against a very good Oregon defense without his top 2 receivers Josh Downs and Antione Green. Maye threw for 206 yards on 51% completion percentage. Not his best stats, but the 3 touchdowns through the air make up for it. He made several NFL-level throws over the course of the game, two of which were touchdown throws to Bryson Nesbit and Kobe Paysour.
UNC failed to come up with the win but showed several positive signs heading into the offseason. Here are three positive signs from my point of view:
1. The Receiving Group Is In Fine Hands:
I mentioned Paysour, but how about Andre Green Jr? The true freshman had 3 catches for 26 yards, including a beautiful catch in the back of the end zone on another perfect ball by Maye. He and Paysour could become Maye’s favorite targets next year along with transfers Nate McCollum and Devontez Walker. Not to mention Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver will be back in the tight end room.
2. UNC Locked Like the Better Team for Three and a Half Quarters:
UNC held a 21-14 lead heading into the fourth quarter and looked like the better team. They were getting stops, moving the ball, and not making too many mistakes, which has doomed them at other points in the season. UNC had young players making plays throughout the game and had veterans providing leadership and playmaking when needed. If they can play as they played in the first three-quarters next year, they could be dangerous.
3. The Defense Has Two Monsters for Linebackers:
The linebacker duo of Power Echols and Ced Gray was the best tandem in the ACC this season, and they aren’t done. Both will be back wreaking havoc in Gene Chizik’s scheme next year. This will be fun. Both players finished the season with 100+ tackles and Gray was top 5 in the country with 144. Power made numerous plays throughout the year and will only get better next year. The only thing stopping this group will be injuries next year.
So UNC showed several positive signs in a loss to the Ducks on Wednesday. They move into the offseason with a 9-5 record and plenty of things to work on.