Tar Heel fans, we have a new quarterback. Drake Maye, a week after winning the job of replacing Sam Howell as signal-caller for the UNC offense, had a sterling debut against the Florida A&M Rattlers in leading his team to a 56-24 win. Maye completed 29 of his 37 attempts for 294 yards and five touchdowns, adding 55 rushing yards for good measure, and looked poised and polished throughout as the UNC offense didn’t really appear to miss a beat from last season to now.
Maye established his control of the offense early, spreading the ball to six different receivers in the first quarter, including two touchdowns — a lofted beauty to Kamari Morales and then a nice throw on the run to Bryson Jennings. All told, Maye completed passes to 10 different receivers, going through half-field progressions and using his eyes to manipulate the defense like a veteran passer. Downpouring rain didn’t help him early, as he had a few wobbly passes and placement issues on his first several attempts, but even then, his arm talent was good enough that he got balls where they needed to be, with only a couple of exceptions. When the rain let up and he got a little more comfortable, even those minor issues were mostly cleaned up, and from then on, he was putting on a passing clinic. His fifth touchdown pass, his second of the day to Josh Downs, was one of his best throws of the day; he spotted Downs open going deep over the middle of the field and placed it perfectly for Downs to be able to get it without breaking stride but also avoid running at full speed into the safety coming to help from the other side of the field.
Maye also showed off a little with his legs — he took off for a designed quarterback run on 3rd and 9 early in the game and shook off a couple of tacklers to gain 42 to really jump-start the UNC offense, and then later made an incredibly athletic play near the end zone that was just inches away from being an early contender for UNC’s highlight touchdown of the year. His mobility also showed in the pocket, where he navigated muddy situations well and got out of trouble easily when he needed to. He didn’t take a sack despite seeing some pressure, and finished with a rushing line of four carries for 55 yards.
In a game where the Tar Heel defense struggled to put an undermanned opponent away, Drake Maye and the UNC offense were going to have to play above expectations immediately for the Heels to get out of this game with the kind of comfortable victory they expected. Maye did pretty much everything you’d want him to and more in leading them to do exactly that, and while it’s only been one tune-up game, he looks to have his offense ahead of schedule.
A few other Heels could have been deserving of this honor if Maye hadn’t been so dominant: Linebacker Power Echols was a revelation on defense, constantly finding himself around the ball on UNC’s good defensive plays and leading his team with 10 tackles, 9 solo. And true freshman running back Omarion Hampton went over 100 yards in his first time seeing a college football game, taking 14 carries for 101 yards and two scores.