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UNC vs. Duke: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

I still don’t fully understand how they won that game.

North Carolina v Duke Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

There’s a whole lot of Freezing Cold Takes out there on Twitter today.

The only reason you’re not reading one from me is because I contained my frustration to my offline chats. I learned a long time ago that if you use the bird site to vent your frustrations, eventually things come back to bite you. Believe me, things you were thinking and saying on Twitter, I had said in similar ways in a non-family friendly way.

Saturday night basically showed why trying to make predictions at the beginning of the season is a fruitless endeavor. Most likely no one thought the Tar Heels would be 6-1 at this point. Even fewer felt that Duke would be 4-2 and the game between the two would be for the driver’s seat in the ACC Coastal. New Duke head coach Mike Elko deserves a ton of credit for lighting a fire in the moribund football program, and if he can recruit as well as he’s coached this season, that school is going to be a problem for a few years. To their credit, they didn’t fold when the Tar Heels seemed to be running away with it, and when they dodged a kill shot, they counterpunched.

In the end, they managed to stumble in their own way and Drake Maye, as he has done so many times this season, made them pay. The Tar Heels sneak out of Durham with the Victory Bell for another year, and we’re left to ponder the fact that Carolina is already bowl eligible and...still mathematically alive for the CFP. So who shined, who stunk, and what’s the #ACCRefs moment of the weekend? Let’s dive in!


Josh Downs-You may think the Player of the Game award we dole out after the game is arbitrary, but whomever writes is always collaborates with the rest of the Tar Heel Blog group, in case they see something the writer doesn’t. My initial instinct was to go with someone else as the POG, but folks in our Slack rightfully pointed out the insane game Downs had even though he didn’t have a touchdown. I posted a few of his highlights in the POG article yesterday, but really, this one right here is arguably his most important catch:

Duke even had two guys covering Downs there, ready to stop him from getting the yards needed to convert the fourth, and it didn’t matter. I don’t blame him for woofing a little bit after that play, but I’m glad the officials let him do that instead of flagging him in the moment. Downs is insanely good, and is a huge reason why Carolina’s offense is unstoppable when they don’t overthink things.

Antoine Green-It’s not often that one guy is the bookends for a game, but Antoine Green started the action with a catch from Drake Maye, and then caught Maye’s final pass of the night for the game winning touchdown. His return since the Notre Dame game has been the final piece of the puzzle for the offense, giving Maye a true downfield threat. This game winning touchdown was a thing of beauty, walking the tightrope of the end zone with only 16 seconds left in the game

Elko was a wee bit upset after this one, I guess looking for offensive pass interference? The officials let it go, and Green gets the score. He’s building a heck of a tape for the NFL draft, and at this point it’d be surprising if he doesn’t hear his name called.

Oh, and that play did give us a great on field surrender cobra...

Drake Maye-28 for 38 with 380 yards, his highest of the season so far, and having the memory of a goldfish saved him from what could have been a couple of disastrous fumbles. Downs and Green had the majority of the yards for Maye, but Drake continues to spread the ball around to multiple pass catchers, which makes Green and Downs more dangerous because Maye will make you pay for focusing on one person. All three touchdowns caught were by different receivers, and Maye passed it to ten different people overall. He’s doing things already that are having his name mentioned with some of the best in the conference, as the ACC Network mentioned after the game that Maye is the first ACC Quarterback since Lamar Jackson to pass for 300 yards and rush for 50 in three straight games. Once Duke missed the field goal, you knew the Tar Heels had a reach chance of somehow escaping with a win, and that’s all because of Maye. He even slid! He’s learned there are times he needs to accept what he’s gotten and get up to the next play. We’ll see what he can do in two weeks against a decent Pittsburgh defense that’ll look to shut down the run and limit his options.


Phil Longo-We’ll get to the defense in a second but let’s just call out this atrocity first. Longo has clearly earned the right from coach Mack Brown to be the sole play caller, and overall his propensity to call the wrong thing at the wrong time has improved significantly this season. Then, he goes out and decides to call a reverse play when the Duke defense hadn’t been able to stop the Tar Heels’ offense for three straight drives. The play came after the Tar Heels’ defense had risen to the occasion, stopped the Blue Devils on a 4th and 1 deep in their own territory, and the Tar Heels were up 10. A touchdown here may not have ended the game, but if Elko was already going for it on 4th and 1 that deep, they would have been panicking more and easier to stop. Instead, the ridiculous play was defended well leaving a 3rd and long, which turned into a Duke sack, which pushed Carolina into a 52-yard field goal attempt that was missed. Instead of a kill shot, Longo basically let Duke right back into it by not making them pay for their aggressiveness. Mack said in the post game he “jumped on” Longo for that call, hopefully this serves as a reminder to Brown that as good as Longo and Maye have been this season, he should exercise a little more authority to stop a play that doesn’t make since for the moment.

Bend Don’t Break-The whole point of a defense that will let an offense move down the field and tighten up as you get close to the end zone is to...not let big plays happen. Yet somehow, the message was lost on this defense on Saturday as they would just forget how to tackle. Anytime you have a 2nd and 24...SECOND AND 24...and give up a 74-yard touchdown run to the quarterback, something is just fundamentally wrong with what you are doing. It feels like the defense is good for a stretch here and there, like the run that saw Carolina get on a 21-point run and take that 10-point lead which could have been more had Longo not gotten too cute. Then, something happens and they just fall apart again. In this case, it’s almost like they took it personally that the offense didn’t convert anything on their fourth down stop and said “Fine, we’re done.” The fact is they got outright lucky at the end of the game when Duke blocked a little too hard than was necessary for a touchdown that would have put the game out of reach, and the penalty pushed them out of a makable field goal.

Omarion Hampton-It seemed as if Hampton had secured a regular role in the running back slot, even if it was Caleb Hood’s primary job at this point. However, the back became noticeably absent for most of the game after he committed a blindside block that negated a good chunk of a Drake Maye run. Elijah Green, someone who hadn’t even had a snap at running back in a few games, stepped in to spell Hood and made an immediate impact. Hampton only saw the field again in the second half once Hood appeared to come up hurt late in the period. With this many players in the room who can run the ball, it’s clear that Brown and Longo are not going give players a lot of time to work out issues, as while it’s nice that Drake Maye led the team in rushing again...that isn’t sustainable.

#ACCRefs Moment of the Week

Duke fans were salty at the end of the game Saturday, mostly for the possible missed OPI on Green, but they weren’t in a great mood when the refs called the chop block that negated the touchdown. UNC fans, meanwhile, were salty about an overturned fumble call that was...questionable at best and probably should have stood as an interception.

The lesson, as always, the refs aren’t out to get you. They are just ACC Refs.

The whole second half was a real ref show, as there were multiple times when the only action was a guy in a white hat staring at the DV Sport monitor. One was the review of the incomplete/fumble by Maye, the other was Green’s tight rope walk. It’s bad enough that we have to sit in agony waiting for the results of a review, but if that review spans the time of a commercial break and then some, it’s not clear and obvious a change should happen. But hey, anytime we can have a product someone is paying billions for that is decided by a guy starting at an iPad it’s fun, right?

Honorable Mentions

Elijah Green is probably going to get more carries in a couple of weeks, as his three rushes for 24 yards and a touchdown that put the Tar Heels up 10 came as a complete shock, we all wait to see if Caleb Hood will be able to return against Pitt, if not, expect to see more of Green...the tight end duo of Bryson Nesbit and Kamari Morales once again showed out with a total of four catches, 30 yards, and a touchdown. They worked well to keep Maye upright, and they worked as a great safety value deep. It’s probably not a coincidence their increased usage has helped UNC’s red zone production shoot up this season...Will Hardy will get credit for the game winning interception, but the play was made by the grad transfer Noah Taylor who jumped up and timed it perfectly to tip the pass up in the air. With the Blue Devils only needing three points to tie, the pair managed to remove all doubt.

For the second time this season, the Tar Heels will rest a week before a big game in Chapel Hill. In two weeks, Carolina will play the defending Coastal Champion Pittsburgh to try and get a hammer lock on control of the division, especially important as they are staring at dates against Wake and State still on the schedule. Can Mack Brown finally get a win after a week off? In the meantime, enjoy a free Saturday! Things are about to get real.