If there’s a silver lining to last night’s soul-crushing loss to Georgia Tech, it’s that it proves you absolutely care about Carolina football. If you were just wearing Tar Heel gear because of basketball, then this wouldn’t bother you. Maybe it’d be a slight annoyance, but if you felt sick to your stomach after all of the hype, anticipation, and expectation built through a season of close shaves, then congratulations! You love UNC.
There’s virtue in that.
Anyhow, here are three things learned from last night’s 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech.
Heels flinch in the bright lights
Everyone is entitled to a bad day at the office. Drake Maye has been outstanding this season, and aside from his two-interception day at Miami was the only comparable performance, but he still threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns.
But in the very next game after his magnificent performance at Wake Forest—when UNC put out a Heisman campaign video for him—to be a disaster like this, surely has to be some sort of perilous sign.
Maye was uncomfortable in the pocket all night. Antoine Green was out, so Maye wasn’t able to go over the top. Bryson Nesbit and Gavin Blackwell had the longest catches of the night (36 and 33 yards, respectively) but both had plenty of YAC. Green’s absence didn’t keep Georgia Tech’s safeties honest, as they didn’t have to account for his straight line speed.
Maye was sacked six times, two short of the total the Jackets put on Sam Howell last year in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Fortunately, none of them were the type of killshot that hobbled the redshirt freshman, so he should be good to go against NC State.
Maye will know what he has to look forward to on Friday, as NCSU has an even better defense, and they’ll be looking to cause havoc to buttress their suspect offense.
3rd & 4... 3rd & 9...
After Josh Downs failed to secure the winning touchdown catch, Georgia Tech took possession at their own 19-yard line with 4:10 left in the game. UNC had all of its timeouts. The Tar Heel defense got to 3rd & 4, and for the millionth time in the game, let a swing pass to the running back reach the sticks.
On the next set of downs, Carolina got the Jackets to 3rd & 9 after a massive false start. Hassan Hall rushed right up the middle and got the first down.
In the distant future, alien scientists will study the ruins of human civilization on Earth and discover records of Carolina fans arguing about Gene Chizik’s defensive philosophy. Georgia Tech only scored 21 points, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t that bad. But not being able to count on UNC getting off the field when they absolutely had to... on 3rd & 9???!!! That’s insane!
The offense did the defense no favors, it never should have come to that scenario. But if by some miracle, Carolina can keep it close or take a lead against Clemson in the fourth quarter, we’ll need to count on the defense to get a tough stop. Can they do it? It remains to be seen.
It’s no secret that Carolina has put an emphasis on Drake Maye’s arm and his telepathic connection with Josh Downs to make the offense go. But it seemed like the Heels thought they could make hay with the run game against Georgia Tech, and the early results were promising.
ELIJAH GREEN WAS MOVIN' pic.twitter.com/6VZVzSOuax— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 19, 2022
I mean, that’s the first play of the game. Carolina fans must have thought this game was in the bag.
Elijah Green was robbed of a second spectacular touchdown run thanks to a hold on Nesbit (that really looked like he just got driven into the ground) on the opening drive of the third quarter. That would have put Georgia Tech behind 23-7, and maybe taken some of the sting out of their tail.
It was also nice to see Omarion Hampton out of the doghouse. This was his first time rushing since the Pitt game. Hampton had a crucial fourth down conversion, and a 25-yard gain. The true freshman let blocks develop in front of him and seems to have learned the lesson that sometimes to go fast, you must go slow.
Hopefully against NC State, Elijah Green will need to take a break from running for a 75-yard touchdown again, and if that’s the case, Hampton will be eager to resume his deputy role and show Mack Brown that he can be trusted not to fumble the ball, and challenge for the lead role next season.