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UNC Football: Position Grades vs Miami, Part 1 - Offense

Things started a little slow, but eventually the Tar Heels got back to their ways against a talented defense

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

As we come back down, but not too quickly, from the emotional (and possibly otherwise) hangover that accompanies a late-night, big-time win, it’s now time to start looking a little more closely at UNC’s win over Miami. As always, we’ll start with the offense, which got off to a slow start before roaring to life in the second half and breaking the 40-point mark for the 3rd straight game.

Quarterback: B+

Depending on who you ask, this was possibly Drake Maye’s worst game of the year — he completed just over 50% of his passes when he’d been over 70% in every other game this season, had his second-lowest yards per attempt number after the App State game, was ineffective on the ground, and dealt with pressure, on the whole, with significantly less composure and know-how than he had been. On the other hand, he threw a season-high four touchdowns, had a season high in yards per completion, and didn’t turn the ball over — in other words, he made a bunch of big plays and didn’t hurt his team. Miami’s ability to get consistent pressure, especially in the first half, clearly rattled him, but didn’t stop him making a few key plays to keep the Heels out of trouble: finding J.J. Jones on a scramble drill to avoid punting out of the Heels’ end zone, an absolute rocket to Tez Walker for the Heels’ first touchdown of the day, a couple of key scrambles. Things got better for him as the UNC run game got going and Miami couldn’t just rush with impunity — after the first half, he was 8/19 for 105 yards and a score, and in the second half, he was 9/14 for 168 and 3 scores. This was Maye’s best downfield passing game of the season, mostly with Walker on the receiving end. Maye’s downfield accuracy beat a leaping cornerback on the 55-yard score and hit Walker in stride to set him up for a run-after-catch touchdown on a deep dagger that put the game away.

Running Backs: A-

Against a defensive unit that hadn’t allowed better than 3.7 yards per carry to any of its opponents so far, Omarion Hampton absolutely feasted. His combination of strength and speed terrorized the Canes’ interior, and he took his 24 carries for 197 yards for nearly 8 yards per carry. I was almost surprised Chip Lindsey didn’t spam him the way he did against App State, but with the gameplan clearly being to pass to set up the run, Hampton saw a lot of light boxes and punished them accordingly. He was rewarded for his work with two touchdowns from near the goal line: a two-yard rush on a quick pitch and a four-yard reception on a nifty fake reverse.

British Brooks is taking more and more of a backseat as the games go by, and with performances like his yesterday, he’s not really showing that it shouldn’t happen. He had a couple of impressive runs but left several yards on the field, and crucially, called on to convert a 3rd and 1, couldn’t fight through first contact and lost 2 yards. He ended with 5 carries for 15 yards, and brings this grade down from A to A-minus.

Wide Receivers: A-

With the unfortunate news that Kobe Paysour is out indefinitely with a broken foot, the Tar Heels will be looking for somebody to replace him as a security blanket, and that didn’t quite materialize on Saturday night. Nate McCollum, the starting slot receiver who basically added Paysour’s snaps to his, caught only 3 of his 7 targets for 19 yards, 15 of those coming on one reception on a screen. Most of the misses weren’t really on him, but the middle of the field was available to be taken and I didn’t think he really took advantage. The other two wide receivers who caught balls did pretty well, though: J.J. Jones broke a cornerback’s ankles on a scramble drill for Maye’s first completion, and Tez Walker, of course, absolutely took over the game. In his first game as a starter, against a talented defense, Walker caught 6 balls for 132 yards and three incredible touchdowns: one on a glance route, one on a deep post where he just ran past the coverage, and one on a dagger where he got schemed open before outracing the Miami secondary to the end zone. He added a rush on a well-timed reverse for 20 yards, and another rush on a less well-timed one that lost a yard. Last week, Walker’s production came on intermediate and short routes as he worked back up to speed, but this time, he was getting everything he wanted, and made the ‘Canes defense look absolutely silly.

Tight Ends: B

The tight ends were unremarkable in the receiving game: John Copenhaver and Bryson Nesbit had a combined 4 catches for 48 yards, most of that coming on a pass to Copenhaver in the flat that got 30 after he broke a couple of goofy tackle attempts. Where they shone was as blockers, especially in the outside run game. Nesbit, Copenhaver, and Kamari Morales all opened holes for Hampton and receivers in the screen/reverse games alike, engaging linebackers and defensive backs and not letting go. Morales might have even gone overboard once or twice and got flagged for holding once, but the aggression was great to see and it was a key reason that the UNC run game was as successful as it was. Morales also had a miscue that was almost devastating, but on the other hand, made up for it almost immediately — the details are in the OL section.

Offensive Line: C

The Heels’ line had probably its worst day of the year so far, certainly its worst with Willie Lampkin in the lineup. Drake Maye was hassled early and often by Miami, whether or not they were bringing pressure, and Miami ended up sacking the Tar Heel quarterback 5 times with 8 additional hurries. One of those sacks was almost disastrous, as Maye was hit as he wound up to throw from the goal line and fumbled — it could have been a safety or a defensive touchdown had Kamari Morales, who whiffed on a chip block to free Reuben Bain, not followed his miss, scooped up the loose ball in the end zone, and fought back to the line of scrimmage. The good part was that after a pass-heavy few drives, Miami started taking defenders outside of the box, and that was when the line got to flex a little bit, moving people and opening holes in the run game for Hampton. It’s also worth noting that four of those five sacks were in the first half.

If that had been it, the offensive line would’ve had a B or so — more sacks than you’d like, but they tightened up, allowed the Heels to dominate on the ground, and did enough in pass protection for a better second half. But I can’t go without mentioning the penalties. The UNC line was flagged for four holding penalties throughout the game, a couple of them negating huge plays through the ground and through the air. Corey Gaynor, a 7th-year player facing his former team, had two of them, and that’s just unacceptable. Ed Montilus, starting in place of William Barnes at guard, was also called for at least one hold.