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UNC Football vs. Wake Forest: Three Things Learned

It’s never easy against the Demon Deacons, but Carolina won with a formula you’d mostly expect

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Beating a team three times in a row is hard. Beating a team on the road is hard. Beating a team when you’re a 4-5 point underdog is hard. So it should come as no surprise that the manner in which the Tar Heels defeated a Wake Forest team that just two weeks ago was ranked #10 in the nation... was hard.

Now that it’s over and we can all take a collective deep breath, let’s look at three things learned from a Coastal Division clinching night at Winston-Salem.

Receiver depth withstands loss of Green and Downs

Antoine Green took a nasty hit from AJ Williams that looked like it could have disturbed Green’s previously injured collarbone. He was out for the rest of the game after that hit. Josh Downs, who was absolutely spit-roasting the Wake Forest secondary, had to head into the locker room in the second half for treatment.

Losing the top two receivers in the squad, considered by some to be the best duo in the country, would have spelt doom for many teams. Fortunately, UNC has experience operating without them this season already.

Kobe Paysour was Carolina’s leading receiver against App State and Georgia State. He had a huge catch for a first down with 13 yards added after the catch. J.J. Jones, who had a tough drop, also had a HUGE 25-yard catch on 3rd & 7:

This game also saw the return of the Tar Heel tight-ends to a more featured role, with Bryson Nesbit catching three passes for three first downs on the first drive and John Copenhaver making big chunk plays.

You always want weapons like Green and Downs on the field at all times, but it’s comforting to know that Drake Maye has more weapons that he trusts in case they are out.

Sam Hartman hates Cam Kelly

The slow mesh is a difficult concept to defend, especially for a deep safety. You can see the running back and Hartman literally walking up to the line of scrimmage, and you want to get downhill fast to stop a large gain, but once you bite, that’s when Hartman pulls the ball out and tosses over your head to one of his tall receivers.

Kelly got bit a couple of times in the game, as many ACC safeties have this season. But in the fourth quarter, when Carolina’s defense needed to bow up to rescue the game, Kelly came up big, intercepting a Hartman pass that looked destined for six points.

Sam Hartman will be glad to see Cam Kelly. In addition to his pick that led to the go-ahead field goal, Kelly intercepted Hartman twice last year at Kenan Stadium. One of the key ingredients to Wake’s downfall this season has been Hartman’s sudden disdain for keeping possession, but Carolina didn’t have any in the first half.

Getting a huge fourth down fumble recovery/turnover on downs followed by Kelly’s pick was absolutely huge, especially when not many Tar Heel fans were confident they’d get the stops needed to win the game.

Phil Longo’s galaxy brain

Carolina’s offense has been outstanding this year, thanks in large part to Drake Maye’s emergence as a generational quarterback, but also because Phil Longo has gotten his play-calling honed to a razor sharp edge. He had fixed his red-zone issues, and has masked UNC’s lackluster running game with swing passes and screens.

Wake Forest couldn’t stop Carolina’s offense in the first half. After scoring touchdowns in their first three drives, and holding a 21-14 lead, Longo deviated from a formula that was working and went into his bag of tricks. Maye took the snap and looked for a pitch to Downs behind him that almost looked like a flea-flicker design, and took a 10-yard sack from Jasheen Davis. Davis sacked Maye again on third down, killing the drive.

Wake scored a touchdown in four plays to tie the score up, effectively killing Carolina’s momentum gained when the defense stopped the first two Deacon drives.

Phil Longo dials up gadget plays to explode in his face at inopportune times. Recall the Duke game this season when Carolina ran a trick play that failed to get Kamari Morales a touchdown and led to a missed 52-yard field goal try. This happened at Virginia in the second quarter on Halloween night 2020.

Carolina’s offense is so good, it’s hard to understand why the Heels need trick plays to finish off opponents. Just keep giving them their medicine and save the gadget plays for when we need to get yards/points when we’re down!