For the first time in 26 years, the Tar Heels are 4-0 following a 41-24 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers last night. After a slow start that saw Pittsburgh race out to 14-7 lead, the Tar Heels would outscore the Panthers 34-10 the rest of the way to pick up their third double-digit win over a Power 5 opponent this season, something they weren’t able to accomplish the entire way in 14 games last season. Here are our biggest takeaways from the victory that has the team feeling good heading into their bye week.
Alijah Huzzie Was an Outstanding Find
The Tar Heels went to the transfer portal to find a bunch of help this offseason and found a lot of guys who are making an impact. The one making the biggest impact early in the season is Huzzie and Saturday night was his best performance yet. The former FCS All-American was tremendous the entire night in coverage, pulling down not one, but two interceptions and registering a pass breakup on a crucial third down. The defensive side of the ball wasn’t where Huzzie’s biggest impact may have been felt on Saturday night, though. After not returning a single punt the first three weeks of the season, he finally got some room to return and turned it into 81 yards and a touchdown that really changed the game for the Tar Heels. The staff did a great job of the offseason in the portal and finding this gem from the FCS ranks might be one of the best moves they have ever made.
Drake Maye Continues to Be Special
The first two weeks of the year had a portion of the Tar Heel fanbase concerned that Chip Lindsey’s offense was hurting Maye production, but the last two weeks have quieted those concerns. While Minnesota wasn’t his cleanest game of the season, he still threw for 414 yards and two touchdowns to lead the team to victory. He followed that on Saturday night with his best of the season, throwing for 296 yards and finding the end zone three times. He hit some big shots down the field early and was able to use the intermediate game to help the Tar Heels methodically move the ball down the field on the final two scoring drives of the night. His left-handed touchdown was the highlight of the night and was the latest example of just how special he is. This game should be the one that settles down the concerns about Maye and open the door back up for his Heisman chances.
J.J. Jones Might Be the Guy to Emerge on the Outside
The team has been searching for someone to emerge outside of the slot in this wide receiver room this season and they may have that guy after Saturday night. Jones has started to show signs of being that guy the last couple of weeks, but he secured it on Saturday night when he became Maye’s go-to receiver in the second half. His ability to win over the top has always been there and has become this season, but now he is starting to make his presence felt in the intermediate passing game. This feels a lot like what we saw happen with Antoine Green back in 2021 and that would be a huge boost for this passing game which is already one of the best in the ACC again this season.
Defense Deserves a Lot of Credit for the Adjustments They Made
We spent the offseason asking this defense to just be average and done that for us so far this season. Saturday was another great example of how improved this defense is. After getting gashed for 151 yards and allowing two touchdowns on the first two drives of the game, the unit allowed just 156 yards and three points on the final ten Pittsburgh drives. The run defense that was torn apart for 97 yards on the first two drives of the game, but allowed just 13 rushing yards the rest of the night. This game was a great example of the growth this defense is showing because last year this one would’ve turned into a shootout. What a difference a year makes.
Offensive Play-Calling Late in Games is Fine
The gripe that many seem to have exiting this game is with the play-calling that we have seen in the 4th quarter. Many are frustrated with the fact that Chip Lindsey continues to try to run the football and not be more aggressive in that final quarter, but it really is smart football. While I get the argument that the clock ticks with completed passes this year, running the football is the best way to keep the clock moving and shorten the game and not allow opponents back into games. The frustration should be with the lack of execution from the offensive line, which hasn’t been able to get the push up front late in games to run the football the way they want to. The other element of this is the way the games have flowed that the play-calling has been questioned in. In the season opener against South Carolina, the team went conservative after two interceptions opened the door for the Gamecocks to get back into the game. The Tar Heel defense was also fairly dominant in that first game of the season and the staff trusted them to make the plays to get off the field which they did the entire night. Last night, the Pittsburgh offense proved that they simply could not move the ball through the air consistently, especially once Phil Jurkovec exited the game, so it was smart to dare them to make it a ten point game before you started changing your play-calling. People are worried that this issue will show up in closer games later in the season, but I think it’s safe to say that things would be called much different in a close game.