My how the turntables.
Two weeks ago fans were pretty upset. The frustration was understandable, as a down Notre Dame team had just torn apart the Tar Heels and a lot of the fears about irrelevancy cropped back up. Now? The Tar Heels are 2-0 in the ACC, just beat the preseason favorite for the division title, and did so with Drake Maye playing like someone slipped some kryptonite into his gloves at the end of the second quarter.
I’ve said it before: the week-to-week nature of college football makes it to where it’s easy to overreact to a bad result, but what matters the most is how the team absorbs the results and comes out to play the next week. Since the loss to Notre Dame the Tar Heels have beaten two Coastal opponents, and have given up a total of seven points in the second half of both games. The defense is still...not great, but to say it’s the same as the beginning of the season is just being stubborn.
The Tar Heels now have one remaining contest this season outside the state of North Carolina — November 5th against Virginia — and are in the driver’s seat to head to Charlotte against likely Atlantic division champ Clemson. Still a long way to go and plenty of potholes, but the outlook is a lot sunnier than after the loss to the Irish.
Let’s take a look at the winners, losers, and honorable mentions, and a new category that may or may not make a weekly appearance here because I’m tired of it taking up space in one section.
Cedric Gray- Once again our Player of the Game, Gray has taken over the role as the guy who is just everywhere on the field for the defense this season. With a defensive game plan that has increasingly acknowledged how weak the Tar Heel secondary is, the stress is on this linebacking corps that also happens to be really thin. It seems weird to say that the plan worked when they managed 496 yards in the air. The thing is, though, and why Gray gets the nod, is that the Hurricanes really had no choice but to pass because the Tar Heels completely stuffed the run to the tune of only 42 yards. Gray is a huge part of that, but he had two plays that won the game for Carolina. The first, this forced fumble on the Miami fourth down run that would have given the Hurricanes a first down:
Gray does an outstanding job of reading the play and trusting that, by the time he gets there, Miami has the first down anyway. So he goes for the strip, and Jaylan Knighton is looking at the end zone instead of holding onto the ball. This fumble resulted in what was the game-sealing drive — that’s coming up in a second — but then as if he wasn’t enough of a hero, he also decided he needed to make another game-deciding tackle, complete with a suplex that should have AEW and the WWE arguing over his rights
His play to keep Skinner in bounds here — the right call as his forward progress was stopped in bounds — forced Miami, without any timeouts, to rush to the line and resulted in the ensuing game-ending interception. It’s not often that you get one game-saving play, but two in the same quarter? Here’s hoping Cedric got some rest on Sunday.
Fourth Quarter Play Calling- After Gray stripped the ball for his first big play, the Tar Heels took over looking to try and finally get up by two scores. It had been tough sledding for the Tar Heels in the second half, as they had only scored a field goal up to that point, and you didn’t know how much more you could ask of a defense that kept bending but not breaking. Thus, the Tar Heels embarked on an eighteen-play drive that killed 8:21 of the fourth quarter clock. On top of that, there were two injury stoppages that brought a TV timeout, so the UNC offense was on the field for roughly twenty minutes of real time. The longest play of the eighteen was a fourteen-yard designed QB run by Drake Maye, and featured three third down conversions. There was some question about whether Mack would try to go for a touchdown on fourth down (more on THAT in a second) but he wisely took the field goal to go up by two scores. While Miami was able to get a touchdown back, they were under duress, and by the time they got the ball back again to attempt to tie it, the run was off the table and the defense was able to come up with that big play.
Caleb Hood- We had been waiting for someone to grab the reins as the lead back, and it appears that Caleb may now be in charge. He’s gotten the start two weeks in a row, and was the team’s leading rusher with 74 yards on thirteen carries, a tidy 5.7 per. He also managed 50 yards caught on five passes, so being responsible for 124 all purpose yards is exactly what the offense was looking for out of someone from the backfield. Hood also had perhaps the biggest conversion of that deciding fourth quarter drive, catching a 10 yard pass from Maye on 3rd and 9 with 7:53 left and the Tar Heels barely in Miami territory. He left the game after making that play, and didn’t touch it after so hopefully it was just precautionary.
Aggressiveness- Man, it would have been nice to have an extra three points going into that fourth quarter wouldn’t it? Late in the first, the Hurricanes missed a field goal and the Tar Heels drove back down the field, getting to to first and ten at the Miami 13. The Hurricanes held them to a 4th and 5, and, feeling their success on fourth down, Mack Brown and Phil Longo went ahead for it with a pass attempt to Josh Downs that was incomplete. You get the aggressive nature of this squad, but 4th and 5 from the 8 is a little different than 4th and goal from the 1 or 2. It’s not as if you have a bad kicker, as Noah Burnette had shown he’s good from 40 so this would have easily been in his range. It sounds a lot like you’re arguing the result and not the decision, but going for it in that situation is hyper-aggressive, and when you’re on the road against a good squad, getting a two-score lead was invaluable. The whole second half probably plays out a lot differently if Burnette’s kick at the end put the Tar Heels up 13 instead of 10. That said, the squad clearly got the message during that fourth quarter, opting for the short passes and runs, and then taking that three points instead of trying for a touchdown.
Fourth Quarter Play Calling- So what sort of nitpick could you have with an amazing drive that melted eight minutes off the clock? That it didn’t melt more time. You know him from basketball, but Dadgum Box Scores brought the receipts with this from the game noting how the offense could have melted at least another minute, if not more.
Carolina put together an 18-play drive that spanned eight minutes and 21 seconds— chris (@dadgumboxscores) October 9, 2022
Second longest drive of the season, and it sure felt like it could have been longer
Ball was snapped with ~12 to 14 seconds on the play clock with goal to go multiple times pic.twitter.com/yH6kKKrfcT
So what gives here? The coaches are probably not going to admit to doing anything wrong, rather, they’ll say it was by design. The offense works in a rhythm and, ideally, when you run the less time you give the defense to collect themselves and catch their breath, the more likely you are to succeed. The problem is that with a short field like this, your options are pretty small, so you might as well slow down, take your time, and set something up to keep them guessing instead of making it pretty clear you’re going to run it. The question ultimately is, was this on Drake for not realizing time and score, or was it the coaches telling him what to do? Either way, here’s hoping that with more seasoning Drake takes a breath and lets a little more time melt away. Oh, and when you’re trying to salt the game away, maybe don’t take the ball out of the hands of your best playmaker until third down. Ok? Thanks!
Drake Maye- It was bound to happen. It took six games, but Maye finally showed that he was a redshirt freshman starting in his sixth game. At first, it didn’t look like it was going to be a day on the struggle bus for Drake, but at the end of the second quarter, Maye tried to duplicate the Tar Heels’ success against Virginia Tech from last weekend and...well, it didn’t go the same.
Instead of stealing three points before halftime, he gave Miami great field position to where they were able to steal three points. They were the ones to get momentum, as Maye tried to make up for the mistake and was picked off again.
Maye struggled the rest of the half as Miami dialed up the pressure and managed to sack him five times for the whole game. Some of his reactions read like he saw pressure that wasn’t there, a natural reaction to being tackled so much. It wasn’t until that fourth quarter drive that he looked more like the Maye of old. That said, the defense answered the call. Miami was only able to get three points off of the two picks, as well as not being able to take advantage of the failed fourth down. It’s also, arguably, the best defense Maye will see until they face the Wolfpack at the end of the season, so the tape will be good for him to learn and improve for the rest of the season.
#ACCRefs Moment of the week
I haven’t gone back to count, but I know I’ve grumbled about ACC officiating multiple times. Trying not to harp on them because it sounds like you’re a sore winner or loser, but a quick search of Twitter on a game day will find other bases complaining of ACC officiating, and it’s past time for something to be done. Saturday brought more of the same. I was already in a bad mood when THIS was called holding
But the absolute cherry on top, and just the biggest example of #ACCRefs, had to be when Miami tried their onside kick. At first it looked as if the Hurricanes had made an outstanding play to bat the ball in and recover it. However, it turns out the player who batted the ball was out of bounds when he did it, making it illegal touching. He was blatantly out of bounds, too. It’s OK, though, in the chaos of a game I’m sure no one official had a great view to see this initially:
So you’re saying not only did three officials have a view of it, but they were all looking right at the player when he did it. The fact that the call on the field was that Miami successfully recovered this and they had to go to video review to confirm that, no, this was not a legal touch is just a perfect illustration of why, week after week, Twitter flows with just how bad the officiating is in this conference. Seriously, ACC, you gotta do better.
In the same vein, I’ll be happy to take submissions if you catch any other cases of #ACCRefs, as maybe actual documentation of their ineptitude will force the folks in...Greensboro, Charlotte, wherever they are now...to change.
J.J. Jones only had one catch on the game, but it was a pretty good one. Jones was wide open for a Maye pass about 30 yards down the field and just took it to the house. That 80 yard play allowed him to be the leading receiver on the day...The other TD catch was by Josh Downs on perhaps the craziest play of the season so far
That’s the type of play you have when a quarterback trusts their receivers, and vice versa. Downs does an amazing job of coming back to the ball, and surprising the stunned Miami secondary to get into the end zone. Just outstanding...you can’t talk about the linebackers without shouting out Power Echols who was the game’s leading tackler with 14 total, 12 of them solo. It’s amazing how well those two are doing considering just how thin the linebacking corps are...Tony Grimes has not wrapped himself in glory this season, but he made a couple of good pass break ups, one of which didn’t count due to a penalty, but the fact that Van Dyke had to consistently go short spoke to good work by the secondary to keep him from completing the bomb.
Now the game in Durham in prime time is to give Carolina a commanding 3-0 lead in the Coastal, and with the Blue Devils coming back to earth this weekend by losing to Georgia Tech, the opportunity is there for Carolina to have another feel good game. We’ll see how many Carolina fans make the trip to Wallace Wade, as Drake Maye looks to rebound from his first rough game and the defense looks to continue to build.