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UNC vs. Oregon: Three Things Learned

Changes are still needed, but the fight was there for the Heels.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 28 SDCCU Holiday Bowl Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That has to be one of the oddest seasons of college football I’ve witnessed. Somehow this squad played 14 games and still only won nine. In a lot of ways, the final game of the season was the whole season in a nutshell: rough start, awesome middle, sputtering at the end.

The stats, though, put the 2022 Holiday Bowl as a loss, puts the Tar Heels on a three-game bowl losing streak, and end the 2022 season on a four-game losing streak after being 9-1 and up 17-0 against Georgia Tech. You don’t want to overreact after an exhibition game of this sort, but there are definitely some things we’ve learned for the future after Oregon’s thrilling 28-27 win over the Tar Heels. Here’s three of them.

Drake Maye made his national impression

As great of a season as Drake has had, when it came time for him to be on a network broadcast, he really hadn’t played well. Carolina played on ABC three times this season, and they were all mediocre to bad games for the potential 2023 Heisman candidate. Fans knew how good he could be, but you hadn't been able to hear a network broadcaster praise him in person.

With this being the only bowl game Fox had, and with it matching up Oregon with the Tar Heels, Fox decided to send out their “A” crew of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt to San Diego, and at least in the first half, Maye delivered. At one point, Klatt said that Maye was one of the two best quarterbacks he’d seen live this season, and the other was Caleb Williams. They spent time diagraming just how well he was throwing the ball, and praising him for the moves he was already making at a young age. The last touchdown Maye threw even got the Gus Johnson treatment with how it was done.

Don’t discount what this means for any sort of potential campaign next season. Klatt won’t see Maye in person again, but any big game he calls he’s going to have that performance in the back of his mind. That’ll get the attention of other national broadcasters, the key is going to be how he builds on it.

Be mad at the macro, not the micro

Carolina’s defense just hasn’t been good all year, but to be upset about their performance Wednesday night is just not being fair. The only two teams to hold Oregon to fewer points were Georgia and Utah, and they won against the eventual Pac 12 champions. On top of that, the Ducks came in surrendering only four sacks all year, and yet Kaimon Rucker powered through to knock down Bo Nix for a six yard sack early on.

Want more proof? Carolina held Oregon to a three-and-out after a great special teams play to down the ball inside the one, then screwed up on special teams by not telling the officials about a number change for George Pettaway. Rather than fold, the defense pulled off a three-and-out again. Would it have been great for the defense to have stopped Oregon once on their final two drives? Of course, but once they stopped trying to run the ball and went tempo Carolina just wasn’t able to adjust. One more score by the offense changes that calculus and they win anyway.

And, come on, you have to give them credit for this:

As for the offense, the anger over Phil Longo was justified as the Tar Heels came into the game with a fairly simple plan to let Maye cook. They stubbornly stuck with the run, and most of the passes Drake tossed weren’t longer than 10 yards, but the benefit of this plan was that he had multiple options to just keep the chains moving and get the ball down the field. There wasn’t an attempt to focus on one receiver, nor ridiculous reverses or motions, just a simple plan to move the ball down the field — which when you have someone like Maye, it’s going to work more often than not.

In the micro, though, it’s worth being upset that the offensive side of the ball completely wilted in the second half. UNC held Oregon scoreless until they were up by ten, and they only had three points total to show for it. You can argue all you want about going for the field goal up seven, but it was clear that the Tar Heels suffered by having an inexperienced play-caller oversee a redshirt freshman on offense. There was little adjustment in the second half with Oregon’s defensive adjustments, and the execution late is what gave Oregon the time they needed to get the game winning score. You hate the effort of this team wasn’t rewarded with a win, but Oregon is arguably the second best team they’ve played all year, and there’s no shame in admitting you lost to a better team.

It’ll be interesting to see what changes are coming now that this game is behind us. A lot of the problems still showed themselves at the end of that game, and if Carolina wants to take that next step forward Brown always talks about, they have to be more consistent.

Bowl Games shouldn’t be played at baseball stadiums

To be fair to the good folks at Petco Park, this was the third year in a row this game was supposed to be played there but the first time it actually happened because of the pandemic. That said, the field was an absolute embarrassment, and the big reason why is that no matter how nice the grass is, when you try to put down sod in an area that isn’t designed to have grass normally, you’re going to have issues.

As such:

If you look at the time of that tweet and other photos THI posted around that time, you’ll see even before the game things just looked bad. By the end of the first quarter the area around the 25 yard line toward the Carolina end zone was a mess, and both field goals that were attempted there were missed because of the conditions. In fact, the PAT after Oregon’s tying score to put them in the lead was almost missed, and I’m pretty sure it was because the grass over there was horrid.

It’s not the fault of the ground crew, these baseball-only stadiums are designed to only drain in the outfield. The infields aren’t designed to hold grass, and this is the result. Please, for the love of all that is holy, play the future Holiday Bowls at San Diego State’s new football stadium. Snapdragon Stadium has the capacity for a bowl game, handles big events, and is more suited for a game like this. Please move this game there before you have a situation where this awful turf gets someone hurt.