This week around Tar Heel football has been one of reevaluation after one of the more disappointing losses in program history. The Tar Heels must find a way to bounce back from a trap game loss to Georgia Tech on Friday when they take on rival NC State. Here is a look at who is trending up and trending down as the Tar Heels try to turn things back in the right direction and get to that double-digit win mark.
Maye came into Saturday’s game as the most talked about quarterback in the entire country, but that talk has nearly vanished after his worst performance of the season. For the first time all year, Maye finished with less than 299 yards of total offense (215) and failed to find the endzone. He threw just his fourth interception of the season on one of the few promising drives in the second half and missed some throws that he had been making all season long. He just never seemed comfortable due to the pressure that was in his face the entire day, but he still made some throws on the final to give the Tar Heels a chance to win. His Heisman hopes may have been dashed on Saturday, but it’s hard to think that Maye won’t come out motivated to prove that game was just a fluke.
Maye wasn’t the only offensive star for the Tar Heels that had their worst performance of the season on Saturday. After four straight games with more than 100 yards receiving and back-to-back with more than 150, he caught three of his five targets for just 31 yards and dropped a wide-open pass on 4th & 11 in the endzone that would have put the Tar Heels back on top and could very well have been the difference. Just like his quarterback, Saturday was a rough day, but this Tar Heel offense desperately needs Downs to put this one behind him starting on Friday.
For the first time this season, the offensive line resembled the unit that struggled so much a year ago and caused this offense to stall for the first time this year. The unit allowed six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, making it hard to really get this offense in any sort of rhythm on Saturday. The right side of the unit has been struggling as the season has progressed and the last two weeks have been particularly rough. Left tackle Asim Richards had a great start to the season but has had his issues as well in the past few weeks. They badly need to rebound with two physical defensive fronts on the schedule in the next two weeks.
With Antoine Green out of the lineup and Josh Downs struggling, the team needed the other receivers to step up, led by Jones. He was only targeted twice in the game, but that was in large part because he failed to create separation. Jones had a strong start to the season as a deep threat, but he has grown more and more quiet as the season has progressed.
The Tar Heel defensive line has been the most disappointing element of this team all season long and while they showed some promise early, the unit took another step back. While it has been disappointing as a whole, the unit has made plays when they have needed to late in games. That didn’t happen on Saturday, as the group was pushed around by arguably the worst offensive line in the Power 5 in the fourth quarter. The lack of push allowed Georgia Tech to convert some key third downs, including three on the final drive of the game. At the least, this unit needs to return to being able to make the plays up front when it matters the most.
Longo has had a masterful year as the play caller, but Saturday was his worst game of the season, as well. At times, it looked like he was forcing things with the passing game to try to showcase Maye in his pursuit of the Heisman when Georgia Tech was struggling to stop the run consistently. The team’s red zone offense had been one of the best in the country this season, but they were just two of five inside the 20s in this one and some of the play calls left a lot to be desired. Longo has really taken a step this season and hopefully he can return to form on Friday.
The corners as a whole had a pretty good day for themselves on Saturday, but no one was better than Duck against the Yellow Jackets. He only allowed one of his four targets to be caught three yards and the impressive interception in the second quarter where he jumped the route. Duck had a bit of an off week against Wake Forest, but he has had a nice second half of the season.
Pettaway was asking Mack Brown for more responsibility earlier in the season and he has found a role for himself as the team’s kick returner. For the third straight week, he had a return of 25 yards or more, something that the team had just three of all season prior to that. It may not be translating to a bigger role for him offensively just yet, but he could be a key for this team down the stretch of the season in terms of establishing field position.
For the first time in three weeks on Saturday, Hampton carried the football for the Tar Heels. The true freshman, who flashed early in the season, ran the ball five times for 35 yards, showing similar promise to what he did earlier in the season. While Elijah Green did some good things for himself, Hampton needs to be a part of the rotation the rest of the way as the team looks for more consistency from the backfield.