As college football’s playoff expands and the bowl season becomes more and more unnecessary, it’s tough to get too upset over a result of a bowl game. Still, when you have a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter, you’d like to end the season on a high note.
It wasn’t to be, though, as Carolina’s defense wilted in the final quarter, allowing the Oregon Ducks to come back from ten down and take a 28-27 win for the first Holiday Bowl played at Petco Park. The game was a lot like Carolina’s season in a nutshell: a promising start, breaks going their way, great numbers about two-thirds of the way through, then utter collapse. Due to this, there is a lot to like...and a lot not to about their last game of the 2022 season.
So let’s do this one last time: here’s your winners, losers, and honorable mentions for the 2022 Holiday Bowl.
Drake Mays-There’s no secret about the fact that Maye is going to be building a Heisman campaign in 2023. Because of the way the award is voted on, one of the biggest ways that you can help yourself win is to be on voters’ minds at the start of the year. Thus, the last impression you make to build the year of hype is a big one, and Drake Maye succeeded on that part.
This was the only bowl game that was going to be on Fox Sports this season, and due to the nature of who was playing, they sent their top team of Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt. They clearly had notes that Maye was someone to watch, and they were quick to sing his praises when they could. He also deserved the praise as he made several passes that demonstrated an ability beyond that of a typical college quarterback, and should make fans eager for how he’ll grow in the offseason now that he knows he’s a starter. Just listen to Klatt sing about Maye:
"I get excited when I see a great QB play... This guy is one of the best players I've seen all year." @joelklatt has nothing but high praise for Drake Maye after @UNCFootball's third TD of the first half ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/pGHoFginey— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) December 29, 2022
Maye did this in front a pretty big national audience, too. The game pulled in nearly four million viewers, which was third-most of the non-NY6 games. It was only beat by the FSU/OU and Washington/Texas bowl games, and it was the most watched Holiday Bowl since 2016. In short, Maye delivered and delivered in a big away in front a of a big audience. The final stats weren’t even that great-18/35 for 206 yards-but he did have three touchdowns and no turnovers. He also rushed for a net of 45 yards.
You wish that Maye would have had a better second half, but ultimately he did enough to earn some heavy praise from a top broadcasting team in one of the most watched bowl games of the season. That’ll do nothing but build the Heisman hype train for next season.
Power Echols-In a postseason that has delivered some of the best games in the CFP era, there still hasn’t been a defensive highlight like the one that Power delivered in front of everyone. It’s arguably the best interception of the year, and I’m not sure if you’ll see an interception like this again.
In a game where the officiating was...spotty...you have to give the officials a ton of credit here for letting this continue to play out which allowed Echols to get a 40-yard return, which turned into immediate points for the Tar Heels when Maye had the touchdown pass on the first play. Did the official see it never touched the ground? Who knows, but it would have been easy to blow the play dead with the way it was bouncing around and Echols would have been robbed of a highlight.
Defensive Front-Did the defense falter at the end of the game? Yes, but up until that point the defensive front for the Tar Heels kept the Ducks to only 14 points, turned them over with the Echols pickoff, and did something few had done this season: sack quarterback Bo Nix. Going into the game, the Oregon offensive line had only allowed four sacks and yet Kaimon Rucker bulldozed his way through to make that number five. The defensive front for the Heels managed four tackles for loss including that sack, and when Oregon was trying to mix up the run and the pass, they kept the Ducks in check. It was only when the Ducks went down ten and went into their two minute offense that the pressure failed to really get there, and that’s when the Carolina secondary was toasted. There’s some stuff to build on here, even if it was not nearly enough to win them the game.
Petco Park-The field was atrocious for this game. There’s no other word for this, as rains earlier in the week soaked the temporary grass that filled in the infield. The part of the field that is permanent grass was by far in better shape, while the side that wasn’t...well...
This was before the game. It just got worse as the game went on as the ground crew kept having to run out and try to fill in spaces with sand. Both kickers missed easy field goals on that side of the field, and Oregon almost had to go to OT thanks to the extra point being shanked so bad it bounced off the goal post. When Noah Burnette had to kick on the other side, though, the kicks were clean and no-doubters. It’s a miracle that no one was seriously hurt in this mess, and for an exhibition game it’s just shameful to put players in danger like that. It’s probably the biggest reason Antoine Green was a very late scratch, as he didn’t want to risk his NFL prospects on that slop. Here’s hoping San Diego either plants that grass a lot sooner next year...or moves the game to the new stadium built for SDSU.
Secondary-The Ducks did Carolina a favor by not really testing them down the field for a majority of the game, and you have to think that they were wondering why they waited so late when they saw how easy it was to move the ball down the field at the end of the game. Oregon shifted their line to a primary pass block, the front couldn’t get any pressure on Nix, and Nix just had an easy time finding the weak link in the Tar Heel secondary-which is to say the entire secondary.
It’s not surprising considering all of the transfers and the patchwork defense that the Tar Heels had to go with to play in the game. The transfer portal has been good to them in that regard, and those coming in have to know they’ll easily get a chance to make their mark. It can hardly be much worse.
Lonnie Galloway-The receivers coach was the one who called the plays in the Holiday Bowl, and while he seemed to have the right plays in the first half, in the second he showed his inexperience and really didn’t adjust to how the Ducks played the potent Tar Heels offense. They only managed two field goals in the second half, when all they needed was for one of those field goals to be a touchdown.
Keep in mind he was handcuffed by the fact that Josh Downs had declared for the NFL draft and opted out, and that Antoine Green essentially opted out before the game started when he saw the field conditions. Experienced play callers will adjust back when the defensive figures out your game plan, and Galloway basically continued with the “Let Drake Maye try to do things” plan. It didn’t work to well by the end, and it likely cost Carolina the game. Still, it’s not a permanent move for Galloway, and his position-wide receivers-is one of the best performing groups on the field, so it won’t really mean anything for his long term prospects on the team as Chip Lindsey will take over as the Offensive Coordinator next season.
Elijah Green didn’t do a lot to become the slam-dunk starter going into a crowded running back room next season. He only managed a pedestrian 2.9 yards per carry, and as the game went on showed he didn’t have the necessary moves in order to make defenders miss as well that is needed for the role. Running backs as a whole will be a big concern going into next season...George Pettaway may have sealed up the returner position, with several great kickoff returns, including a 56 yard scamper that set up Carolina with great field position. With the crowded room at running back, he may have found his way to get some play...Kobe Paysour staked his claim as the top receiver going into next season while the rest figure out their place. With seven catches for 98 yards and the touchdown, the connection between him and Maye continues to grow, and it should only get better with an offseason of work.
That’ll do it for the football season. With the new semester about to start, there will be early entries and transfers that’ll pop up on campus, and before we know it spring practice will be here. The schedule affords them plenty of chance to make some noise, the question is: are the changes done with the staff or are more coming? It’ll be interesting to watch.