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Heel Tough Blog: Pittsburgh Recap

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

The Tar Heels had the chance to avenge two straight heartbreaking overtime losses against the Pittsburgh Panthers and solve their post-bye week woes on Saturday night in Chapel Hill. After a slow start to the game on both sides of the ball allowed the Panthers to take a 24-14, the Tar Heels raced back with 28 unanswered in the final 21:05 of the game to take command of the ACC Coastal heading into the final quarter of the regular season.

The Coaching Staff and Players Made Tremendous Adjustments in the Second Half

The first half was not what many were hoping for from this team, especially on the offensive side of the football, but credit has to be given to this coaching staff and the players for the adjustments that they made in the second half. Offensively, the team did a tremendous job of counteracting the pressure that the Panthers threw their way in the second half thanks to a focus on getting the ball out quicker and much better execution. On the defensive side of the football, the team was destroyed by the deep post in the middle of the field for the entire first half and was hurt again by it on that opening defensive drive of the second half on a long catch by Jared Wayne. However, after that, the defense was able to eliminate the Panthers' deep passing game, primarily by dialing up more pressure that was finally able to get home. Halftime was a huge moment for this 2022 team and while the first drives on both sides of the ball looked much the same, this team was able to completely flip the script in this game and put together their most dominant half of the season.

Drake Maye Cements Himself As a Heisman Candidate

As Mack Brown mentioned with Kelsey Riggs in the interview after the game, Maye missed a couple of passes early in the game, but he was simply dominant in the second half while leading the team to victory. He completed fourteen of his last sixteen passes for 191 yards and three touchdowns as the team would score on each of the final four drives of the game. With his 388 passing yards, Maye has now thrown for 300+ in five straight games, becoming the first Tar Heel quarterback to ever accomplish that feat. His five total touchdowns now has him atop the country in total touchdowns and total yards and tied for the nation’s lead in passing touchdowns. When it comes to Heisman campaigns, you need those Heisman type moments and the second half on Saturday was one of those moments.

Defensive Line Deserves a Lot of Credit

We have been asking the defensive line to step up the entire season and they did that, especially in the second half of this one. The most impressive part of this, though, is the fact that this defensive line unit did the majority of their damage with Noah Taylor and Des Evans out of the game. The interior of the defensive line did as good of a job as they have done so far this season of shedding blocks, headlined by a big night from Kevin Hester Jr. at the nose tackle spot. Kaimon Rucker led the charge off the edge for Carolina, leading the team in pressures with four and wreaking havoc for the majority of the night and Jahvaree Ritzie deserves a lot of credit for what was easily his best performance of the season. We have seen moments like this over the past few seasons from this group, but they have never been able to turn it into anything consistent. However, with the unrelenting struggles that the secondary has had, the team needs this unit to turn Saturday night’s performance into the new norm for the rest of the season.

Antoine Green Has Taken His Game to A New Level

When Green went down with a collarbone injury back in the spring, we knew that the Tar Heels were losing a key contributor at wide receiver, but I don’t think anyone thought that Green would become what has been so far this season. Green entered Saturday’s game leading the Power 5 in yards per reception with 29.5 per catch, but on Saturday night he was much more than just a deep threat. Green caught a career-high ten passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, proving to be the most consistent target throughout the night for Maye. Green and Downs have both had over 100 yards receiving in each of the last two games, combining for 520 yards and five touchdowns. The two become the first Tar Heel receiving duo to record back-to-back 100 yard receiving games simultaneously. Green has really taken his game to the next level this season, though, and Saturday was another example of just how complete of a receiver he has become this year.

The Coastal is Officially There For the Taking

Believe it or not, with the Tar Heels taking care of business on Saturday night there is a scenario where the team could clinch the division next week. There is a lot that has to happen for that to be the case (Tar Heel win AND Duke loss AND Georgia Tech loss AND Miami loss), but this win went a long way towards securing that first Coastal division title since 2015. Now the team must find a way to get a win in Charlottesville over Virginia, something that a Mack Brown-led Tar Heel team has never done.


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