The North Carolina offense is on a tear in the first half of the season. Thanks to the accuracy and consistency of Mitch Trubisky, the Tar Heels haven’t missed a beat and actually have one of the best offenses in the entire country. Much of the acclaim early on has centered around Ryan Switzer—well deserved—as he’s developed from an electric punt returner into an unbelievably reliable slot receiver with speed, elusiveness, and smarter route-running.
Lost in the midst of all the Trubisky, Switzer, and T.J. Logan love is game-busting deep threat Mack Hollins. Hollins’ play and relationship with Marquise Williams last season was a major reason for UNC’s rise into the ACC’s elite. His ability to stretch the defense and connect on two or three deep shots a game was invaluable to Larry Fedora’s dynamic and versatile offense. Without Hollins opening up the field, the running lanes for Williams, Logan, and Elijah Hood would’ve gotten much tighter.
Now, there's the sense that Hollins and Trubisky haven't been able to replicate 2015’s success. Hollins has just been flying under the radar a little more given Switzer’s phenomenal performances, however. Don’t worry, he’s still doing his thing even if it’s not the main talking point around Chapel Hill right now.
In the first five games of last season, Hollins had just eight catches, 166 yards, and two touchdowns. Delving even deeper, those first five games were mostly clunkers for Hollins; most of those stats come from his best game against Delaware (three catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns). The relationship between him and Williams was slowly growing, but it didn’t completely come together until Week 6 against Wake Forest. In that game, Hollins and Williams connected on only three catches, but those three receptions went for 103 yards and three touchdowns.
While the Hollins-Williams connection was certainly a key part of UNC’s 2015 season, it wasn’t as consistent as many believe. Many of the games either had Hollins destroying the defense with long touchdown catches or him floundering with just three catches or fewer. It was boom-or-bust in every sense.
While this season hasn’t offered a hallmark game for Hollins yet, it is suggesting that there is much more consistency between quarterback and receiver. Hollins has 13 catches for 252 yards and four touchdowns thus far, much higher numbers than at this point last year. Moreover, he has one touchdown in four straight games. That touchdown streak speaks to what Hollins does for this Carolina offense: He’s never going to lead the team in targets or receptions, but the one or two massive plays he makes every game can entirely change the outcome of a game.
The biggest change between the two seasons is the yards-per-reception average. Hollins and Williams hit an absolutely bonkers number in 2015: a country-leading 24.8. That is an insane number that was never going to be repeated with a new quarterback, especially taking into account Williams’ arm strength.
Trubisky and Hollins are doing their best, though. They’re currently averaging a more-than-respectable 19.4 yards per catch. That number finds Hollins just outside of the top 30 nationally and should nonetheless be more than enough for UNC to do everything it wants on offense.
So, while it may seem like Hollins is having somewhat of a letdown season, that simply isn’t true. Trubisky is dipping his toe into the Heisman waters, and Switzer is being bandied about as one of the best receivers in the nation. Throw in playmakers like Hood and Logan, and it’s difficult to get your name in the conversation. But, make no mistake, Hollins is still heavily contributing to this team and is as important as ever for repeating the success of last year.