This past Saturday, the Tar Heels wrapped up the ACC Coastal title and booked their ticket to Charlotte on the first Saturday of December with a win over Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. The win wrapped up a perfect regular season on the road and the team will now return to Chapel Hill for the final two weeks of the regular season. Here is a look at who is trending up and trending down heading into this weekend’s matchup with Georgia Tech.
Maye has been the biggest talking point throughout all of college football this week and rightfully so after another career performance. He eclipsed the 500 total-yard mark for the first time, totaling 519 yards and four touchdowns in what may have been the most dominant performance of the season to this point. Maye continues to answer every challenge that is thrown his way and being considered a serious threat to win the Heisman is the newest one. I expect him to handle that challenge as he has handled every other one so far starting this weekend.
Downs has taken his game to the next level down the stretch of the season and was outstanding again this past Saturday. For the second straight week, he had over 150 yards receiving on double digits catches and was crucial to the success of the offense on again. He caught all three of his touchdowns in the first half, one of the most dominant halves of the season for a receiver this year, and made the biggest offensive play of the night on his 43-yard 4th quarter reception. Downs has easily been the most dominant wide receiver in the ACC and one of the nation’s best overall since the start of conference play and with the uncertain status of Antoine Green, he will need to continue to produce like one of the nation’s best on Saturday and moving forward.
Nesbit returned in full Saturday night after dealing with an upper body that slowed down a really strong start to the season. He tore apart the Demon Deacon defense, catching five passes for 63 yards on six targets in what was one of the most productive outings for a tight end since he got banged up. The Tar Heel offense has been most lethal when Nesbit has been at his best this season and the hope is that he can be at his best for the remainder of the season.
Green had another solid night on the ground, but he was flawless in pass protection. He graded out as the team’s best pass protector on Saturday night according to Pro Football Focus, allowing no pressures in the 26 pass pro reps that he recorded. The Tar Heels have been looking for more consistency in pass protection from the running backs all season long and this was a very encouraging sign for a player whose biggest weakness coming to campus was his pass protection.
Richards entered Saturday’s game off of his worst performance of the season but bounced back with a strong performance in this one. In 62 pass protection reps, Richards did not allow a sack and allowed just two pressures, grading out as the best overall blocker on the team on Saturday according to PFF. Richards has taken major strides this season at left tackle and it has been one of the biggest reasons for this offensive line’s success so it was nice to see how quickly he was able to recover from a rough performance.
Rucker was once again the only real threat for the Tar Heels defensive line on Saturday night in what was another rough performance overall for the group. While he was unable to register a sack, he produced five total tackles and a tackle for loss to go along with four quarterback pressures. He also made one of the biggest plays of the night, stopping Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman short of the line to gain and popping the ball loose on 4th & 3, which was one of the team's two big 4th down stops.
Gray has been the Tar Heels’ steadiest defensive presence all season long and Saturday was just another example of that. He led the team in total tackles yet again with nine and provided the most pressure on the quarterback of anyone on the team with five. There haven’t really been any aspects of this defense that have been fun to watch this season, but Gray has been a consistent force that the team desperately needs.
The right side of the Tar Heel offensive line had their worst performance of the season on Saturday night and Rolland was the one who struggled the most. He allowed two sacks and five other quarterback pressures in what might have been the worst showing for any Tar Heel offensive lineman so far this season. The team needs him to bounce back and quickly with three strong defensive lines left on the schedule.
Rolland wasn’t the only one who had a tough time in pass protection on Saturday night. Barnes did not allow a sack, but he allowed six quarterback pressures and finished the night with a worse pass protection grade than Rolland, according to PFF. Both guys had rough outings in Winston-Salem, but just as I said above with Rolland, the Tar Heels really need Barnes to bounce back the way that Richards did on Saturday this weekend against Georgia Tech.
Duck had really been solid for the majority of conference play, but he had some issues similar to his early season ones against the Demon Deacons. He only allowed three of his seven targets to be caught, but those receptions went for 77 yards and two touchdowns. It had appeared that Duck has begun to turn a corner in the middle part of the season and this performance was discouraging to say the least. The hope, however, has to be that this was just a slight setback and that he can return to being the corner that we saw against Virginia the week before.
Cavazos only played a lesser role in the game than the other on this report and it’s a good thing because he had a brutal outing. In the 18 snaps that he played, Cavazos missed two tackles and had two passes caught on him for 29 yards. He showed some promise the week before against Virginia, leaving some to wonder if he should play a bigger role moving forward. This game shouldn’t be the end-all be-all, but it certainly won’t help his push for reps.