Last week, I gave you one bit of advice following the week 0 win against Florida A&M.
Same advice this week.
By its very nature, football results in overreaction because we only see a team twelve times in a regular season, and thus it’s tougher to see a big picture. Following the 63-61 win-yes WIN-over App State on Saturday, it’s easy to get caught up in the comedy of errors that allowed the Mountaineers to continually catch up to Carolina in the fourth quarter. Don’t worry, there’s a segment of this post that’ll go over it and point out some genuine worries for the rest of the year.
But let’s not forget the actual result-Carolina won. Despite surrendering a fourth quarter lead...several times...unlike Raleigh a mere three games ago, they managed to hold on for a road win in arguably the toughest road environment they’ll face the entire season. That’s not an exaggeration when you considering their other road games are in Atlanta, Miami, Durham, Charlottesville, and Winston-Salem. It was widely reported that the App State ticket was the third highest in the country, and they set a record in Boone for a crowd that was ready for the biggest opponent to visit their home stadium in their history, and yet Carolina won. The Tar Heels hadn’t won on the road since Miami in 2020, and hadn’t won a road game with a full house (aka pre-pandemic) since November 30th, 2019 in Raleigh. So, if you’re wondering why Mack Brown did this...
Now you know.
Take in the win, relish the chaos in the Coastal, and know that the Tar Heels have one more game and an off week before they have to figure out Notre Dame. With that in mind, lets bask in some glory, roll in the mud, and point out others worth mentioning this week:
Drake Maye: It feels like such a cop-out to list him as he is the most obvious person to stand out Saturday, but anytime you go 24-36, 352 yards, and four touchdowns in the air plus 76 yards and a touchdown on the ground, you’re going to turn heads. You especially turn heads when it’s your second start of the season. It was easy to wonder last week if the performance by Maye was a result of playing an FCS opponent in Chapel Hill, but now he certainly looks like the real deal. Not only did he make passes look effortless, he did so with great decision making and poise in the pocket that doesn’t befit someone who’s only a redshirt freshman. He had two touchdown passes when he was about to get absolutely blown up, and the accuracy was insane:
DRAKE MAYE DJ JONES— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 3, 2022
UNC RETAKES THE LEAD!!
He’s not perfect by any means. He has the propensity to take hits when he should just be sliding, and his fumble in the fourth quarter deep in UNC territory breathed life into the Mountaineers as a 13 point lead became 6 in an instant. That said...he did this without Josh Downs. If you’re looking for something to really be optimistic about, it’s that eight receivers caught passes for Carolina on Saturday and not one of them was Downs. His absence actually moved the line from Carolina being favored to App State being favored, and with defenses having to take him seriously when he’s back on the field, Maye has shown this offense has multiple options. The next step will be how he fares against a defense with a stronger pressure front than App State, because the offensive line looked...porous and surely future opponents will send the house a lot more. Either way, though, it’s pretty clear Mack made the right choice for a starter.
Phil Longo: Look, the offensive coordinator for the Tar Heels has taken his lumps in the past, and one could argue he made the mistake of relying on Sam Howell too much last year. You could also argue his red zone decision making was...questionable. That said, you can’t deny he has called two amazing offensive games this season, putting Maye in the best position to succeed with short passes, running plays at the right times, and making sure the ball is spread around to all available catchers including-gasp-the tight ends! Carolina had six-SIX-red zone scores on Saturday, mixing up the pass and the run. Every single touchdown was scored by a different person. Yes, Maye deserves all the credit he’s getting but lets give credit to the OC for the calls that have put him in a great position to succeed and seemingly taking the lessons from last year and applying it to a new quarterback. We’ll see if this is permanent or not as the weeks go on, but after two weeks when you have no real concerns about the offense, you have to credit the coordinator.
Cedric Gray: Seems odd to single someone out as a positive on defense when they put up that performance, but we have to give kudos to Gray who was a beast on the field. He was seemingly the one guy who App State couldn’t solve, as he racked up 13 total tackles, 6 of them solo, and read a pass perfectly to pull down an interception-something the corners had some issues doing. It appeared that App made sure last week’s hero Power Echols wouldn’t hurt them, and Gray slipped in to take that mantle. Before we shred the defense like App did, let’s make sure he gets his kudos cause, believe it or not, it could have been even worse without his performance.
Dre Bly: The secondary was torched for 361 yards in the air, but that’s only part of the story. If it weren’t for how erratic Chase Brice was for the first three quarters of the game, he easily would have gone for over 400. Go back and look at the film, and you’ll see multiple passes that were either dropped, long, or just wildly misplaced that bailed Carolina out of leaving guys wide open. The one pick Brice threw was to Gray, not to a corner as Tony Grimes wasn’t able to catch a lob pass over his shoulder-which, to be fair, is a difficult catch for anyone. All of this is to say, when it’s the secondary that continually gets torched and the defensive coordinator has changed, maybe it’s time to look at the coaches for the actual position. There appears to be too much evidence now that while Bly is an amazing recruiter, his area that he’s supposed to be actually coaching is really just deficient. Last season, Mack Brown chose his guys over Jay Bateman, and when his guys are the ones recruiting well and communications issues are identified, well, you are just going to get more of your guys in to fix it. It’s tough to argue with the decision in the age of the transfer portal, but it’s fair to wonder at this point just how much better this group is going to get under Bly and if it’ll be time to move him into a special role and let someone else take over.
Cam Kelly: I’ve tried my best to not call out players by name in this post, because they play the game and I don’t-but at this point watching Kelly getting beat continuously is just painful. If a receiver for App State made a big play, chances were you were going to see Kelly getting beat or him coming from behind. This is after the signature touchdown from the loss in Raleigh came after...you guessed it...Kelly was beat. The problem for the secondary is that there still isn’t a lot of depth there to sit him in favor of someone else, and as a senior it’s legitimate to wonder if this is the best he’ll be. Gene Chizik is going to have to quickly figure out a way to hide him in coverage, whether it’s dialing up the pressure up front or rotating the secondary around more, but the word is out on Kelly. Maybe now that Chizik has seen it with his own eyes he can adjust.
Oh, and the unnecessary roughness penalty that gave App the first down on Third and 18? Yup.
Situational Awareness: Look, let’s get this out of the way right now: you shouldn’t blame a kid for scoring a touchdown. The point of the game of football is to score, and in the heat of the moment it’s difficult when there’s a wide open field in front of you to just take a knee. You try taking a moment when you can run into the end zone holding the football for six and passing that up. Thus, I’m not upset at D.J. Jones nor Bryson Nesbit for scoring their respective touchdowns late when the smarter play would have been to go down and either milk more clock or end the game. That said, that’s on the coaches for not making sure those players knew time and situation to just go down. Jones is at least defensible, as it was a guaranteed score that put the Tar Heels back up by 7 instead of risking App being able to call their two TO’s and only getting a field goal. Nesbit, though, should have been told before he ran out “just get the ball and go down, then the game is over.” If that point wasn’t made strong enough to him, it’s on the coaches and not the kid. Besides, an eight point lead with 28 seconds left should be secure-except we all knew the way the defense played it wasn’t.
Note that I’m not adding Mack Brown accepting the holding penalty when App was driving in their own territory down 14 with about nine minutes left. Mack had an explanation for that one with Jones Angell afterword, saying that he had read analytics, saw that Vanderbilt had declined that penalty to bring up 4th down, the other team went for it, got it, and scored. App was down fourteen with the clock running, and would have been at their 45 yard line. It was-clearly-a “go for it” scenario as Carolina had already answered the Drake Maye fumble by scoring, and App knew their defense wasn’t stopping Carolina’s offense. The thing is, it worked. Brice only rushed for four yards on 3rd and 18, which would have set up a 4th and 14 at the App 39. At that point, they have to seriously considering punting, and even if they don’t their options on 4th and 14 are less than 4th and 8. The ridiculous late hit call on Kelly-and as much as you can skewer Kelly when you look at the play again you realize the call was garbage-saved that drive and had people questioning Mack’s decision. Make no mistake, it was the right call. It backed up App, gave them few options, had them in a worse fourth down position than it would have been, and milked time off the clock. The refs bailed out App on that drive, and then Carolina’s defense did the rest.
The running backs continue to be a source of strength for Carolina, as Caleb Hood led all rushers thanks to a 71 yard rush, George Pettaway only had 36 but cashed it in once and also caught the ball for 12 yards, and while D.J. Jones will likely continue falling down the depth chart in terms of guys getting handoffs, he did catch the Drake Maye pass as he was getting lit up on the jailbreak blitz to put Carolina up late again. The problem with having all this talent is that you have to go with a Hot Hand approach, which could force guys to overplay and make mistakes, we’ll see if one stands out to narrow the field...Kobe Paysour sure filled in nicely for Josh Downs, didn’t he? The redshirt freshman led all receivers with 92 yards caught, doing it on 8 catches and netting a touchdown, alleviating a huge concern going into the game. It takes pressure off Downs to rush his return, meaning he has the luxury of sitting out next week and then taking the bye week to return for Notre Dame...Noah Burnette sure seems to be something you don’t see these days-a reliable college kicker. The redshirt sophomore is perfect in his kicks so far, and on Saturday both of his makes were well over 40 yarders, and both of them could have been good from 50.
Next up for the Tar Heels: Georgia State in Atlanta at the converted Turner Field, noon Saturday. The Panthers gave South Carolina a game, only losing 35-14 in Columbia, so 3-0 isn’t assured.