Before we get down to the nitty gritty here, let’s just take a moment to soak this in.
Even the most wildly optimistic prediction for Carolina’s season probably didn’t include this: a quarterback who’s getting serious Heisman buzz, and locking down the Coastal title with two games left in the regular season. It also includes an astounding 6-0 true road record for the first time in school history. It is truly a special time for Carolina football, and after all of the speed bumps, potholes, and disappointments of seasons’ past, just take some time to just soak this in and enjoy it.
Carolina won Saturday night like they had won on the road all season: by making fans reach for their nearest heart medication and making just enough plays at the end to take care of business. How they did it, though...that was a little unusual.
Let’s not waste any more time on platitudes and just dive right into our Winners, Losers, Honorable Mentions, and #ACCRefs moment of the week!
Drake Maye-Seriously, I should save myself some work and just cut and paste most of what I write week after week about Drake. The thing is, the rest of the country seems to really be taking notice of what we’ve known this season in Chapel Hill: this kid is something special.
31-49 for 448 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in the air. 19 rushes for 71 total yards and one touchdown on the ground. Passes to ten different receivers, nine of whom had positive yardage. Antoine Green knocked out, Josh Downs limited, and still just carries on. Oh yeah, this pass that I didn’t fully appreciate in real time but is just...one you’re going to see a lot:
I mean...moves in the pocket, leads his receiver down the field, and throws in the opposite direction of where he’s aiming for a perfect strike over two Wake defenders. Good Lord.
Before this game, the Heisman buzz on Drake was starting to pick up to the point where he was interviewed by the 6 PM Sports Center in the middle of the week. The rest of the country has now noticed, and he responded with arguably his biggest game. The really scary part? He should have had over 500 yards passing if it weren’t for a few drops by his receivers, and with better play calling down around the goal line late he could have pumped up his total more (we’ll get to that). At the very least, Maye is arguably the biggest reason that the Heels were able to earn a trip the ACC championship game, and that may have locked up a trip to New York for the Charlotte-native. Whether or not he’ll have that “next step” to get first place votes remains to be seen.
Josh Downs-Downs was clearly not 100% by the end of the game, and yet he kept making play after play until the final whistle blew. His importance grew with the loss of Antoine Green about halfway into the game, and he played like he knew it. Hey Josh, how many touchdowns did you score?
My friends and I debated during the game about where Downs would go in the draft. He’s for sure gone after this year, and he’s going to hear his name called, but you have to be careful to not overreact to his skill in today’s NFL. I argued that teams viewed the receiver same way as running backs, interchangeable to a certain extent, but a check of the draft history shows that six receivers were taken last year in the first round, five in 2021, and six in 2020. Downs absolutely has the tape to show that he can be a versatile player on the field, and is willing to make the difficult catch, but I do worry about his size. Either way, he’s been amazing on the field, and if not for Drake Maye would probably be a leader for ACC Player of the Year.
Here’s hoping that he doesn’t need to go full-out next weekend against Georgia Tech and can rest up for the next two really important games.
Fourth Quarter Defense-Let’s give credit where credit is due: the defense held Wake Forest scoreless in the fourth quarter. That’s right. Wake Forest, the squad that hung over a 100 points against the Tar Heels the last two seasons, was held scoreless in the final quarter on Saturday night with the game on the line. This included a huge fourth down stop when Dave Clawson decided to go for it deep in Tar Heel territory instead of extending their lead. Then Cam Kelly came up with the Sam Hartman interception that fans had been begging for all night. Finally, when the Tar Heels had a God-awful series at the goal line that ended with them only getting a field goal, the defense took advantage of a hurried Wake offense and made them turn it over on downs with just over a minute left. From there, Drake Maye was able to seal the game.
Our X-Factor post last Thursday indicated that familiarity might work in the Tar Heels’ favor. Gene Chizik had an idea of both what the opponent would do and how his personnel played against it before. The defense held Wake scoreless for its first two drives while the offense jumped out to a 14-0 lead. In all, Wake had twelve drives in the game, and seven of them ended without points, including the final three. There were some boneheaded things, sure, but considering this Wake team hung over 50 on Clemson earlier this season, you really can’t do anything but tip your hat to the situational defensive work that gave Carolina the chance.
Goal Line Playcalling-Woof. Just...woof. Some of the problems deep in the red zone reared their ugly heads for the first time all season, and it arguably couldn’t have happened at a worse time. First, as Carolina got down to the Wake 1 as the third quarter ended, Longo seemed discouraged by the fact that Maye couldn’t surprise Wake with a QB sneak and decided to complicate things more. When you’re at the one, perhaps trying a bunch formation a few yards away from the line isn’t the best call on two plays straight? Maybe, I don’t know, try just playing big boy football, put a Tight End in as a fullback, and just hand it off to your tailback and get the push?
Instead, after the sneak, Maye went into the shotgun twice, allowing Wake time to get some push and penetration, and they were able to disrupt both plays. Then, later in the fourth when the defense had miraculously held Wake scoreless, the Tar Heels were again staring at the end zone five yards away when they just...collpased. On first down Maye scrambled around and took a sack, and then on second and third down Maye rolled left when the rest of the team went right and he just chucked it wide out of the end zone to no one.
Basically, it looked like Maye was under strict instructions to not throw the ball unless someone was literally wide open with no one around him, as this aggressive team went way conservative. The question is, if that’s what you’re going to do, why not hand it off there to at least force Wake to burn some timeouts? You’re afraid of a fumble when it hasn’t happened all night? It’s just absolutely baffling play calling and that it didn’t cost Carolina the game is a miracle.
Fourth Down Defense-Hey, credit where it’s due for how they handled the fourth quarter, but up until that point, the boom-or-bust nature of the defense was very busted. One of the reasons that Wake decided to be aggressive on fourth down in the fourth quarter was that they had been beyond successful on that down so far. Wake was 4-4 on that down before finally being stopped, and they weren’t just simple gains, either. Their first conversion saw them gain 40 yards, their second saw them score a touchdown, their third saw them gain 22 yards, and the final one early in the third gained them ten. So, it wasn’t just that they barely got yardage, they got huge chunks. It’s no wonder they had the confidence to try in the fourth quarter after starting at their own one, and while the defense managed to stop Hartman, it was really close. It, arguably, was because they tried to run it instead of passing it like they had on other fourth downs. This defense needs to learn how to get off the field better, although at this point in the season is that really fixable?
Secondary-A big part of the problem with the defense was just how bad the secondary played, again. My friends pointed out to me that Cam Kelly pulled down his late-game interception because he was basically playing at the linebacker spot. After struggling for a couple of weeks, Sam Hartman cruised to a 18-31, 320-yard, four-touchdown game. When you decide you’re going to bring pressure, as a secondary you have to stay disciplined and stay on the receivers that go out there, and the Tar Heels continually had trouble doing that. The worst was when Storm Duck was roasted (get it...roasted Duck) for a 60-yard touchdown pass a mere three plays after Carolina had retaken the lead. Ultimately, the defense made plays when it mattered, but at this point there needs to be some serious discussions after the season on the state of the secondary. After four years and the talent that was brought in, it shouldn’t be this bad.
#ACCRefs Moment of the Week:
I know our friends in Raleigh will love to talk about a pass interference call that shouldn’t have been made because...they were at home? But we’ll stick to the clown show that was in Winston-Salem, and to be fair, let’s point out big ones on both sides.
First...how Myles Murphy didn’t get called for a face mask, I will never know. There are several officials who are supposed to be looking in the area of the line of scrimmage. It happened on Wake’s first drive and to say it put Wake in a bad mood the rest of the game is an understatement
Refs missed a blatant face mask on UNC and the fans here aren't happy about it. Clawson is all the way out on the field letting ref Gary Patterson have it after the Deacons punted the ball away— BFriedACC (@BFriedACC) November 13, 2022
Wake fans are probably going to find this and point out other things they would disagree with, including the targeting call that ultimately knocked out Antoine Green, but by the letter of the law it was correct.
On the UNC side-how exactly do you call a fumble on the field when a player clearly throws the ball forward without anyone being touched? The play happened in the third when Wake batted a ball down, it went backwards, and the refs just let the play go on. The ref noted the ruling on the field was a fumble, and even Wake didn’t celebrate too much cause they knew that it wasn’t a fumble. Someone in Greensboro got in the ear of the ref, because without even a review it was quickly corrected.
Not a good night for the ACC officials, or in other words, a typical Saturday for ACC officials.
Cedric Gray led the team in tackles again with nine, and if he doesn’t end up on one of the All-ACC teams, writers are mostly punishing him for the entirety of the UNC defense. He’s been so rock-solid on the line and is a big reason they’ve been able to make the stops they have been...Antoine Green probably would have been the leading receiver for the game had he not missed half of it for what UNC is calling an upper body injury. In his four catches he had 81 yards, and was just not able to be guarded by Wake. His absence in the second half is probably a big reason why the offense sputtered, as he’s become such a huge downfield option that stretches the defense it opens so much else up...Elijiah Green continues his great story by taking the majority of snaps at tailback on Saturday, rushing for 66 yards, getting a score, and catching 30 yards worth of passes. It’s amazing that someone who wasn’t even on the depth chart can make this sort of impact, and he only has room to grow as he had several short-to-no gains running the ball...Give it up to Noah Burnette who could have let the missed extra point get to him, and instead calmly hit what turned out to be the game winning field goal in the fourth quarter. That’s the sort of short memory you want to see from someone who has the game on his foot...it was really good to see Bryson Nesbit catch some passes Saturday, to the tune of 63 yards. The offense runs so much better when he’s another option for Maye
Your ACC Coastal division champs are back at it this Saturday in Kenan against Georgia Tech. Here’s hoping they can hit the 10-win plateau while staying healthy for the Black Friday game against the red guys in Raleigh.