UNC’s first road trip to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers would be a tough one traditionally, but things don’t feel that way for a few reasons. First, Pitt’s starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec has been struggling quite a bit, which is something we will go into more detail about in a moment. Second, the Heels offense is riding into this game with a lot of momentum on their side. Finally, not only does it feel like the Heels offense is finally starting to hum, the defense has continued to impress three games into the season.
On paper, it’s hard to see how this game doesn’t end with the Tar Heels getting to light up the tower again, but will Pat Narduzzi REALLY stick with his starting quarterback, or is he pulling the ol’ Clemson in the ACC title game thing? Let’s start by discussing this as well as two other keys to Saturday night’s game.
Phil Jurkovec could make this an easy game for the Heels
It doesn’t normally feel like UNC is blessed with an opponent that has a struggling quarterback, but this weekend they will face off against Phil Jurkovec, who so far has only completed 46% of his passes this season. He also has thrown for four touchdowns and three interceptions, with all three of those interceptions happened against West Virginia last weekend. Pat Narduzzi claims that he is sticking with Jurkovec despite his struggles, but one has to wonder when enough is enough when it comes to the 23-year old signal caller.
This is actually where things get tricky for the Tar Heels. Narduzzi already has Christian Veilleux in his back pocket despite his claims that even in the West Virginia game he never considered sending him in to replace Jurkovec. While the Heels have faced issues before with not having tape on quarterbacks (I’m still bitter), the good news is that there is tape on Veilleux from his time at Penn State. This game will go one of two ways: Jurkovec plays the entire game and it could be a long day for the Panthers, or Veilleux will enter the game at some point and give the Panthers a new look that could potentially make things difficult for the Heels. I hope Mack Brown is fully prepared for both scenarios.
Pitt’s offensive line could spell trouble for either quarterback
Whether it’s Jurkovec or Veilleux lining up behind the center, things aren’t as simple as “the quarterback needs to play better” for the Panthers. The Panthers have allowed pressure on 44.8% of their dropbacks on snaps where teams aren’t bringing extra pressure. According to David Hale on Twitter, that is the worst mark in the country, and is somehow even worse than their percentage last season.
Pitt has allowed pressure on 44.8% of its dropbacks when the defense did not bring an extra pass rusher (i.e. no blitz).— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) September 20, 2023
That’s the worst mark in the country & up 34% from last year.
Of note: Alabama is 126th. Colorado is 125th.
This is great news for UNC, who hasn’t really been able to get to the quarterback very much since their first game against South Carolina. The Heels were able to record just one sack in both the Minnesota and App State games combined, so it goes without saying that Gene Chizik’s group could use a confidence boost. I expect UNC to throw everything they have at Jurkovec in the backfield to force him to make poor decisions early and often.
Will we finally get the real Drake Maye back?
I realize how crazy it sounds to say that a guy that completed 73% of his passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns hasn’t been himself lately. The problem, however, is that Drake Maye is now up to four interceptions for the season, which matches his total amount of touchdown passes. Anybody have that stat on their preseason Bingo card?
To be fair, the Heels did anticipate giving Maye additional help in receivers Tez Walker and Nate McCollum to start the season. The positive is that Maye does have McCollum back, and he looked incredible against Minnesota last week. He finished his night with 15 catches for 165 yards and a touchdown, which was leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else’s production; running backs included.
Call me gullible, but if anybody were to ask me if I was concerned about Maye’s play so far, I would say no. I think he is still the same uber-talented, intelligent quarterback that helped the Heels make it to the ACC championship game last season. I just hope that he can shake off whatever has been going on with some of his bigger errors this season, and that Saturday he will remind every NFL scout why he is the best quarterback in the country.