Despite the final margin of victory, North Carolina’s 38-7 win over Duke on Saturday was not perfect. There were things on both sides of the ball that you could nitpick. One thing you really can’t is Josh Downs’ effort in the win.
Our Player of the Game in Saturday’s Victory Bell clash goes to Downs after finishing with eight catches for 168 yards and a touchdown. Including his punt returns, he had over 200 all-purpose yards on the day.
As a team, UNC picked up 21 first downs on the day, and five of them came on Downs catches. His final catch of the day didn’t pick up a first down, only because he took it 63 yards for a touchdown.
That was Downs’ only touchdown on the day, but he was also part of moving the chains on several other UNC scoring drives, with three other catches, including two that went for at least 25 yards, coming on possessions where the Heels added to their score.
On a day where the Tar Heels’ running game was fine but not great, UNC needed a big day in the air. Downs was Sam Howell’s main target on the day, and ended up accounting for over half of Carolina’s receiving yards on the day.
Speaking of Howell, UNC’s quarterback gets some consideration after going 18-32 for 321 yards and three touchdowns. He also had some success on the ground again, going for over 60 yards if you take out the sacks.
Ty Chandler was Carolina’s leading rusher finishing with 53 yards on 12 attempts, but he was also a factor in the air. He caught two passes for 87 yards, including one that went for 75 yards and the first touchdown of the day.
Duke put up over 300 yards on offense, so there are marks against the defense, but there was some bright spots on it.
Cam’Ron Kelly had an interception of a day where he also finished as UNC’s leading tackler with seven. Trey Morrison had a 63-yard fumble recovery return for a touchdown after it was forced by Kevin Hester Jr. Myles Murphy finished with a game high 2.5 tackles for loss, which includes one of the five sacks that the Heels recorded on the day.
It’s not unfair to wonder where UNC would be at if it wasn’t for Josh Downs. He’s been the only super consistent receiving threat for the Tar Heels so far this season and is currently on pace to break several Carolina records.
He’s on pace to beat Hakeem Nicks' season record in yards (1,222) and touchdowns (12) and tie Ryan Switzer’s season record in receptions (96)— Gregory Hall (@gregoryhall_) October 2, 2021
Saturday’s win was another example of how good and how important he is.