It’s been three halves of football since Antoine Green has played a snap for the Tar Heels.
With a potential Heisman candidate in Drake Maye, Biletnikoff award semi-finalist Josh Downs, as well as a bunch of tight ends that have become a lot more involved in the offense, you’d think the loss of Green wouldn’t mean much. Unfortunately it has, and now how healthy he is on Friday becomes the X-factor for what to expect against the Wolfpack.
The numbers don’t lie: in six halves of football, Carolina has only scored 26 points — three touchdowns and a field goal. Drake Maye has looked arguably more pedestrian without his deep threat, and without that threat to stretch the field, both Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were able to bracket Josh Downs on coverage, making it a lot tougher for Maye to get the ball to him.
Now, the way to relieve that pressure would be for another wide receiver to step up. The problem with that, of course, has been that no one has done that to help out their quarterback. Drop after drop made it to where defenses can concentrate on Downs, and Maye has started to panic just a little bit more. Corners and safeties also can stay tighter and run to make a play when you don’t have a guy who you have to worry about bolting down the field. All of this blended together to create this horrid stew of offense that we’ve seen since the second half kickoff against Wake.
Having the air attack is going to be important against NC State. The Wolfpack are reeling as they, too, are down to their third string quarterback and gearing up for perhaps their most meaningful game left this season. Yes, they’ll have a bowl game, but with what they were expecting this clearly is going to be the game that’ll mean the most to them. In their last two losses, State has given up 330 yards in the air against one of the league’s worst in Boston College, and 214 yards in the air against a Louisville team that was also playing a backup quarterback. Even in their victory over Wake Forest, the Deacs were able to accumulate 397 yards in the air. While State has a chance to to get to Drake with their pressure, it’s clear yards are there for the Heels if they can force the issue.
The problem, though, is that if Antoine Green isn’t out there to stretch the field again, it’ll allow State to bracket Downs and keep their backfield closer. This will allow them to gamble with corner and safety blitzes which will speed up Maye, and as we’ve seen, when you speed him up even he may not be able to find the open pass catcher. With Green, the State may be less likely to gamble, which gives Maye some time to find the open guy, even if it isn’t necessarily Green.
The good news for Carolina fans is that Green practiced this week, according to Mack Brown. The fact that he was out there bodes well for his chances at playing this weekend, and that will likely affect how State game plans their defense. With any luck, even if he isn’t at 100%, just having him out there will open up the field just a little bit more for everything else the offense wants to do.