For the eternal optimist Tar Heel fan, there was a lot to be proud of in UNC’s 28-27 loss to Oregon in the Holiday Bowl. Drake Maye played an inspired game for most of regulation, the defense kept Oregon in check compared to how well the Ducks did during the regular season, and there were a number of young players that stepped up when their number was called.
However, there are people like me that can’t help but be exhausted by seeing the same ending to the movie that is Carolina football over and over again. While I am certainly proud of what the Heels were able to do against the Ducks, it’s hard not to be frustrated over the poor defensive play-calling in Oregon’s final drive, which ultimately led to the Heels’ demise. There were also a few offensive drives that stalled out that shouldn’t have, and Noah Burnette’s missed field goal earlier in the game suddenly became a huge deal. One-score games became Carolina’s MO this season, so it was only fitting that the season ended in that fashion.
To avoid dwelling on the negatives and focus on the positives, the Heels truly did put up quite a fight against the Ducks. Drake Maye returned to his impressive self, finishing the game with 206 passing yards, three passing touchdowns, zero interceptions, and 45 rushing yards off 12 carries. He fought hard all night long in hopes to lead the Heels to their tenth win, but eventually Oregon’s defense slowed him down just enough to change the game. After scoring 21 points in the first half, the Heels failed to score a touchdown in the second, and only had 120 yards of total offense in the second half compared to 215 in the first. Give Oregon’s defense a lot of credit for making adjustments, as they did just enough to help Bo Nix & Co. get back into the game.
Speaking of Bo Nix, his numbers were eerily similar to Drake Maye’s in this one, though he threw one of the wildest interceptions that I’ve ever seen in my life — Power Echols pulled in the football after it was kicked a couple of times in the air, and Drake Maye was able to immediately throw it to Kobe Paysour for the touchdown. That was the last “mistake” that we would see Nix make, and ultimately he was the hero of the game for the ducks.
On the final drive of the game for the Ducks, the Heels played rather soft coverage to keep everything underneath them. Predictably, Nix took advantage and marched their offense down the field for a touchdown, which set up the extra point try to take the lead. UNC’s last hope was that the Ducks would miss the kick and the game would go into overtime, but the kick hit the goal post and snuck in for the extra point. UNC tried to squeeze in one last scoring drive, but it was too little too late.
The Tar Heels deserve a lot of credit for what they were able to accomplish this season, but they will undoubtedly have some work to do between now and next season. Mack Brown will have to sit down and figure out what went well, what didn’t go well, and what he is able to change in order to make this team a true national contender. He only has one year of Drake Maye left barring something crazy, and I have a feeling there isn’t a quarterback behind him with his level of talent. Brown needs to nail 2023, or it will be increasingly more difficult for this team to find any kind of significant success.