Not everything was perfect but the Tar Heels came away with a solid 31-13 victory over Minnesota yesterday. There were several positives to draw from this one, but perhaps the most significant was the emergence of a legitimate top receiving threat in Nate McCollum. Still recovering from a groin injury through the first two weeks, the Georgia Tech transfer exploded with 15 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown.
Carolina made a point to get McCollum involved right off the bat as he was targeted on all five of Drake Maye’s pass attempts on the opening drive, amassing four catches for 65 yards. It was capped off with a 46-yard pitch-and-catch between the duo as the Heels struck first.
McCollum’s early impact was instrumental in terms of establishing Drake Maye and the passing game in what proved to be a tough matchup for the running backs. Despite throwing a couple interceptions, Maye looked as confident as he’s been all season, going for 414 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Having a guy he can rely on to make plays all over the field certainly helps.
After the first half, McCollum appeared to be on his way to breaking multiple records with a ridiculous 11 catches (13 targets) for 130 yards and a score. Due to game script, he didn’t see as many looks in the second half and fell just one reception short of the UNC single game record (16).
Regardless, McCollum announced his arrival in a big way. His ability to make tough catches in traffic and make plays after the grab was reminiscent of Josh Downs. The Heels had struggled to be effective on obvious passing downs, but McCollum presents a reliable option for Maye during critical situations.
With the NCAA still foolishly ruling Tez Walker ineligible, there have been legitimate questions about this Carolina receiving corps. In the midst of the NCAA’s ineptitude, McCollum flew under the radar a bit. Well, that is no more. McCollum has made himself known and should continue to be the team’s chief playmaker at the receiver position.