Being a Carolina Football fan is fraught with moments of waiting for things to all come crashing down. Rarely do things ever seem to line up in just the right way to where the program can break free of being known only for basketball to put itself up on the biggest stage in college sports. We saw it last year with a loss to Notre Dame early then a completely flame out of the last four games. This year, with a schedule that was so front and back loaded there was plenty of room for skepticism.
Be skeptical no more.
Now at 6-0, Carolina is not only already bowl eligible but they enter their “easiest” stretch of the season before the schedule ramps up again. Great teams keep the throttle down, and we all know the history of Carolina in Atlanta, but if you aren’t excited by what this team is putting tougher I don’t know what to tell you.
Great teams also cover, by the way, which Carolina did thanks to their last Interception.
Let’s get to the weekly list of who was great, who wasn’t, and who deserve a shout out:
Devontez “Tez” Walker-Man, talk about an introduction. He was simply remarkable with his six-catch, 132-yard, three TD performance. Drake Maye was not at his best on Saturday, but when it was aiming for Tez the pair produced tape that’ll be shown in the lead up to the NFL Draft for both. Mack was interviewed by Molly McGrath before the game and ended it by saying he hoped Walker would have a good game.
I think he did.
How amazing it is that after all of the junk he had to deal with, and the pressure that immediately was put on him once the NCAA cleared his eligibility that he showed out to that degree in the biggest stage UNC has been on this season? He is clearly a special player, and while some of his amazing plays were due to just absolute ridiculous coverage by Miami, he showed why Carolina fought so hard to get him to play. The love in Kenan Stadium for Tez is palpable, and it only grew as the game went on.
Cedric Gray-Carolina doesn’t win that game without a stout effort from the defense, and Gray was the star of the show for them. He recovered two turnovers — the fumble in the end zone and one interception — plus led the team in tackles with ten, including one for a three-yard loss.
Due to the game being the ABC spotlight, fans had the benefit of more cameras that allowed Gray to be in the spotlight. The broadcast team of Sean McDonough and Greg McElroy, in their second time calling the Tar Heels, kept singling out Gray as one of the best linebackers in the country. It’s pretty easy to imagine Gray’s draft stock managed a surge after this one, and it’s well-deserved for the man who felt like he was having to do a lot of the work himself last season.
Omarion Hampton-A beastly 197-yard effort that produced one touchdown on the ground, and then he added 20 yards in catches with another score. A big struggle for Carolina in the first half was when offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey seemed to get a little too pass-happy with Maye. He likely saw just how badly the Miami secondary struggled against Georgia Tech last weekend and figured with a significantly better quarterback, they could be picked apart from the start. The problem was Miami also got a ton of pressure on Maye, and it wasn’t until Hampton started running the ball that things started to shift.
A healthy Hampton has been a key to this 6-0 start for Carolina, as he already has 658 yards on the ground with 112 carries, an absurd 5.88 average. He took advantage of the aggressive Miami pass rush, and once the Canes had to start taking him seriously Maye started getting time to carve them up in the air. On a night folks were expecting Drake Maye to take center stage, it was his teammates around him that showed why UNC needs to be taken seriously.
Offensive Line-Miami will be the best defensive line Carolina will see until the end of the season, and they arguably have the most talent of anyone on their schedule. The book is clearly out that the way to beat Maye is to speed him up and force him into bad throws or take sacks. On the second part, Miami succeeded to the point where Carolina was forced to commit multiple holds. Carolina’s line had so many holding penalties, Hampton wouldn't bother to celebrate his passing score because he saw a flag on the field and assumed it was another hold. Eventually the line got it together for the third quarter explosion, but sooner or later a team that’s a lot more disciplined than the Canes will not let them wrangle out of these mistakes.
Fourth Quarter Attitude-As dominant as the defense was throughout the game — only surrendering 17 points through the end of the third quarter — the Tar Heels were sloppy in the fourth quarter on both sides of the ball. UNC settled for two field goals after making some monstrous plays, meanwhile Miami was able to cash in some deep touchdown passes to make Tyler Van Dyke’s stats look better. It kept them with some hope that they could come back. The Tar Heels basically went conservative on both sides to try and preserve the lead, and while you can understand the move to try and protect both sides from injury against an aggressive team, we’ve seen this play out several times in college football to where a team is able to complete a comeback when you get too conservative. One more touchdown in the fourth would have really ended it, and Carolina needs to develop just a little more killer instinct if they want to go far.
Jinxes-Carolina has managed to fly in the face of a lot of jinxes that existed before the season. They were doing poorly in the all white “Stormtrooper” uniform, but won in them. They hadn’t won in a bit in the mid 90’s throwback, and now that one is over. They also managed to fly against one of the most powerful jinxes in college sports-the College Gameday big game unanimous vote:
Also: shoutout to Scott Van Pelt who had been 10-5 picking against UNC going into the season. He moved to 0-3 picking against Carolina, taking the points against Minnesota, Pitt, and Miami — though he did have to sweat out the final drive as a touchdown would have gotten him there as Miami was +3.5 at the time of his pick. Maybe it’ll make the “Bad Beats” segment.
Drake Maye did not have a game that will get him a lot of Heisman love, nor do I think he much cares. Still, on a “bad” night against a ton of pressure, he threw for 273 yards, four touchdowns, and didn’t turn the ball over once. Despite taking five sacks, he also was quick to get rid of the ball safely, and slid more when he scrambled. His all-around game is showing up, and now he has his top target for the rest of the season...After showing out for a couple of weeks to the point of being the ACC player of the week, Nate McCollum had a pretty quiet night, only catching three passes for 19 yards. It seems like Miami focused on him, unfortunately they forgot about Walker...Tom Maginness will be punting the rest of the season as Ben Kiernan was injured last weekend and out for the season. He did very well, keeping the ball away from Miami’s return team and pinning the Canes inside the 20 twice. He also didn’t have any blocked...Noah Burnette also deserves some real kudos for seizing the kicking job back and not yet missing a kick. He again made all his extra points and his fourth quarter field goals kept Miami at an arm’s length away and keep their hope faint instead of real.
We’ve entered “watch for the trap” territory now with the next two weekends. First up, another night game with Virginia coming to Chapel Hill at 6 PM, and the first time Carolina will be on The CW. With a spot in the ACC Championship game firmly in their control, they can’t afford to take anyone lightly.