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Heel Tough Blog: Virginia Tech Recap

Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports

Saturday was one of those games that had Tar Heel fans wondering which Tar Heel team they would see after the team was blown out by a less than stellar Notre Dame team a week ago. The answer was one that no one probably expected. The Tar Heels put together their most dominant performance since the win over Duke last October, hammering Virginia Tech 41-10. The win eases the concerns about the direction of this year’s team and the program as a whole and gets the team off to a nice start to the conference season. Here is a look at our biggest takeaways from tonight’s victory.

Drake Maye Continues to Impress

Through the first four games of his career as a starter, Maye was off to one of the most dominant starts of any quarterback in ACC history. That start grew even more impressive on Saturday, as he picked apart the Hokies both through the air and on the ground. He threw for a career-high 363 yards, added 73 on the ground and found the endzone five times, something he has now done in four of the first five games as a starter. To put that into perspective, Sam Howell, who is widely regarded as the best quarterback in program history, did it four times in his entire three year career at Carolina. Maye’s 22 total touchdowns are the second most for an ACC quarterback in the first five games of a season, trailing only Lamar Jackson, who had 26 in the first five games of the 2016 season, a season in which he took home the Heisman. After this huge performance it’s hard not to think that Maye won’t start getting some serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy.

The Defense Deserves Credit For Stepping Up

Linebacker Cedric Gray said in the postgame that the defense was frustrated with the way they had been playing and that showed on Saturday afternoon. The team allowed their fewest points (10) and yards (273) of the season, nearly allowing as many total yards in this game as they allowed to Notre Dame in the second quarter just one week earlier. The defensive line wasn’t exactly dominant, but they did their part in holding the Hokies running game to just 99 yards, a huge step forward after they were manhandled a week ago. After being unable to contain the edge against the Irish, the team did a tremendous job of taking away those off-tackle runs and eventually eliminating the running game as a whole. The Tar Heels held the Hokies quarterbacks to the lowest completion percentage of any team they have faced this season and tackled well in space to limit yards after the catch. The secondary had their best game of the season, as they broke up three passes and failed to allow more than 50 yards to a single receiver. The communication was easily the best that it has been so far this season with only one breakdown and the team allowed just two big plays (15+ yard passes, 10+ yard runs). Some of this certainly has to be attributed to just how bad this Virginia Tech offense is, but this defense deserves praise for the way that they responded.

Tight Ends Are A Key to This Year’s Offense

Last week, the Tar Heels weren’t bad offensively, but they certainly weren’t efficient. The team’s three tight ends, Kamari Morales, Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver, were a big part of the equation for the Tar Heels in the first three games of the season but were silenced in that one. The trio responded with a huge performance on Saturday. Nesbit had a career night, catching all four of his targets for 98 yards and a touchdown after some struggles catching the football last week. Meanwhile, Morales had a touchdown of his own while catching three of his four targets for 29 yards and Copenhaver caught both of his targets for 35 yards. Some people may have thought that the group got off to a strong start with the receivers that were on the shelf and that their success would fade a bit with both Josh Downs and Antoine Green returning. As they showed on Saturday, though, that is not going to be the case and they are actually an important part of the success of this Tar Heel offense.

This Offensive Line is Going to Be Fine

This group was dominated a week ago against Notre Dame, leaving some questions about just how good they actually were. Like the other spots that were being questioned with this team heading into today, the unit responded with arguably their best performance of the season against a stout Virginia Tech defensive line. They failed to allow a single sack of quarterback Drake Maye and gave him some of the best overall protection of the season. They may not have been great in run blocking, but they still paved the way for 160 yards on the ground and an average of 5.0 yards per carry. Ed Montilus is the one real concern that remains with the unit, but there is no denying that this is a much better unit than a year ago and deserves to be trusted.

This Win Was A Special One

Saturday’s game wasn’t just a big one for the Tar Heels because of what happened last week. Saturday was Cancer Awareness Day in Kenan Stadium, as the team honored all of those that have been or are currently going through cancer, including receiver Tylee Craft, who was diagnosed with a rare form of lung cancer back in the spring. Mack Brown spoke to ACC Network’s Kelsey Riggs afterward and talked about why it was so important to get a win in this one.

Mack Brown talked about the Carolina Family being something that he wanted to make more of a part of the football program he continues to show year after year why that family is growing more and more present and why it is so much more than just football.


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