UNC entered the Holiday Bowl as a 14.5-point underdog against Oregon. Drake Maye, Carolina’s would-be Heisman contender came into this game without his offensive coordinator and top two receivers: Josh Downs had opted out to prepare for the NFL and Antoine Green was a late scratch due to injury.
Despite playing without his full arsenal, Maye put on a first half display that made true believers out of any college (or NFL) fan watching Fox last night.
All of Maye’s three touchdown passes were throws in-between defenders, and usually deep into his reads. On his first to Andre Greene (the freshman’s first career TD catch), Maye pump faked to Kobe Paysour running the underneath route, and got Trikweze Bridges to sit on it, freeing space in the back corner of the end zone for Greene to make a play in single coverage against Dontae Manning.
Maye was able to make this throw while back peddling under pressure, and he had to place it perfectly, because the 6’3” Bridges still had the athleticism to break off of Paysour to try and get a hand on the ball before Greene snagged it. It was an NFL throw that I’m sure pleased a lot of scouts that were watching the game.
For the second touchdown to Bryson Nesbit, Maye was looking for his tight end all the way, but had to be patient to let Justin Olson and Kobe Paysour run their pick routes underneath, and for Nesbit to stack linebacker Keith Brown. It was still a tricky seam throw, as there were two deep safeties behind in the end zone, and Brown was underneath to mess with the ball if it’s not perfectly thrown. Fortunately for Carolina, it was:
Maye’s third touchdown pass may have been his most impressive. He made it on his third read before throwing the ball. His first read, going from left to right, was to Andre Greene, who ran a nine-yard curl, just short of the first down marker. His second read was Bryson Nesbit, running a deep out, maybe 12-13 yards. His third read was to Kobe Paysour, who was running a Josh Downs-memorial stutter-step route that shimmied past Bennett Williams to get open down the right hash mark.
Maye stepped up into the pocket and had to put some mustard on the pass, since it needed to get into Paysour’s hands before Williams could recover. If Maye put any air underneath it to let Paysour run and catch it in the end zone, either of Oregon’s two safeties could have made a play on it.
Maye finished the night with 206 passing yards and 45 rushing yards. Oregon was able to mix up coverages and spied Maye well in the second half, forcing Carolina to kick two field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Maye nearly had JJ Jones for touchdown #4, but under-threw the ball a bit. That could have been the game-winner.
All told, it was not a bad night for Carolina’s quarterback, and he should look even more dangerous once he’s settled in with new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and his remaining receiving corps. He will no doubt miss Downs and Green, but the future looks bright with Andre Greene and his new transfers.