It wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but the Tar Heels were able to leave Pittsburgh with a 4-0 record for the first time since 1997. Equally important is the fact that they did so in the cursed Stormtrooper uniforms, hopefully slaying the demons that were woven into the all-white thread. Mack Brown and his team deserve a lot of credit, but I have a feeling that there will be a lot for these coaches to discuss during the bye week.
Let’s jump into the three things we learned from an important win in Pittsburgh.
A lesson in playing down
It’s rare to see a team learn a huge lesson in real time, but a light bulb seemed to go off in UNC’s brains during the first half of the game. The defense opened the game by allowing Pitt to march down the field and score, and the offense looked like a lesser form of themselves for a large chunk of time. It wasn’t until Alijah Huzzie returned a punt back for a touchdown that it felt like momentum started to shift, and from there we saw the good version of UNC take over the game. The Heels went on to score 17 unanswered points, and for the rest of the game held the Panthers to just seven more points.
We have seen UNC play down to their opponents too many times in the past, and for most of the first half it felt like that was exactly what we were watching. It’s also worth noting that in the fourth quarter, the Tar Heel offense did stall out, so it still feels like the lesson hasn’t been 100% realized. Regardless, they deserve credit for a decisive road win, and hopefully they will build on what they were able to do during their time off.
Alijah Huzzie appreciation
Let’s take a moment and discuss how dominant East Tennessee State transfer Alijah Huzzie was last night. The junior cornerback ended his night with a 52-yard punt return for a touchdown, a pass breakup, and two interceptions. Huzzie has been impressive in his first four games as a Tar Heel, which is good considering the fact that nobody went into this season having warm fuzzies about the secondary.
Huzzie was very close to having a couple more interceptions on top of the two that he was able to reel in. It felt like he was in the frame during most plays, despite only having one tackle for the night. After their first four games, we can see that there are definitely some legit elements of UNC’s defense, which is a breath of fresh air considering what we all witnessed in the past. Expect to hear Huzzie’s name more and more as the season progresses.
We have to stop saying Drake Maye doesn’t have receivers
The narrative surrounding UNC’s offense after Tez Walker was named ineligible is that Drake Maye didn’t have really anybody to throw to outside of Nate McCollum. Clearly J.J. Jones didn’t get the memo, which resulted in him catching six passes for 117 yards against the Panthers. He was also one of four Tar Heels to catch a pass for 20+ yards, and his best catch of the night was good for 52 yards.
The absence of Walker on this offense definitely hurts, but Maye has proven that he is able to work with who he has. Kobe Paysour has looked impressive, Nate McCollum had a great game against Minnesota, and John Copenhaver has been a solid weapon. It’s probably time to leave the “Drake Maye doesn’t have anybody to throw to” narrative on the shelf, because the NFL-bound quarterback still hasn’t had any issues slinging the ball all over the field. It’s also worth noting that last night was probably Maye’s cleanest performance so far — he finished the night with 22 completed passes for 296 yards and a touchdown.
The offense still has a lot of work to do to reach their full potential, but we can all rest easy knowing that the weapons are all there. Now, it’s just about using them properly and making smart decisions. Yes, I’m talking to you, Chip Lindsey.