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UNC vs. Pitt: Game Preview

Who are we? Who do we want to be? If it’s anything good, we absolutely must beat Pitt.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Three wins in three games is a great way to open the season. Now that ACC play is beginning, we’ll get a chance to really see what’s under the hood, and so far, Mack Brown has reasons for both optimism and concern.

Drake Maye hasn’t set the world on fire like most expected. Part of that likely stems from a Tez Walker-sized hole in the offense, but with Nate McCollum healthy and firing like he was against Minnesota, Maye and offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey could start cooking with grease.

Pitt is next on the schedule, and many had this game circled on the calendar after last year’s thrilling 42-24 win that was close until the fourth quarter. Pitt has been pitiful since, and after getting humiliated by rival West Virginia last week, they’ll be looking to right the ship.

What happened to Phil Jurkovec? After throwing for 313 yards and two touchdowns against Sam Howell and the Tar Heels back when he was at Boston College, many thought his transfer to Pitt would provide the Panthers with the perfect bridge at quarterback. Instead, Jurkovec has been spectacularly bad. Horrendous. Just, really awful.

Against West Virginia he completed just 8 of 20 passes for 81 yards. If I was generous, I’d add three receptions to get his completion percentage above 50%, but those passes were caught by Mountaineers. He didn’t have much help. While Jurkovec was pouring sugar in Pitt’s gas tank, the running backs only managed 130 yards of offense, averaging 3.6 ypc.

If Narduzzi is going to let Jurkovec throw, the Tar Heels need to steal some possessions for Drake Maye and the offense. If the Panthers run, Gene Chizik’s crew need to rediscover their form from the South Carolina game and bottle them up.

J.J. Jones is UNC’s leading receiver with 179 yards. He has played all three games of the season so far. In second place? Nate McCollum with 173 yards.

Expect McCollum to take over the top spot by the first quarter.

Drake Maye locked on to the Georgia Tech transfer — making his first start of the season after nursing a groin injury — hitting him for his first seven completions. So far, McCollum has the shoulders to carry the load. His 15 receptions against Minnesota were more than the rest of the team combined (seven other players recorded 14 catches total).

Pitt surely took good notes, so expect McCollum to get bracketed in coverage. This means Kobe Paysour, J.J. Jones, Gavin Blackwell (if he returns from concussion protocol), and the triumvirate of tight ends needs to step up production with decreased attention. If Maye can pull the strings all over the field, it should open up room at the line for Omarion Hampton and British Brooks to punish the Panthers. Minnesota was stingy against the run, so Carolina leaned on Maye’s arm. Hopefully Mack Brown can slap Pitt equally with the offense’s left and right hand.

Prediction: UNC 31, Pitt 17