Look, 4-0 for the first time since 1997 is nothing to sneeze at. It hasn’t always been easy to watch on the offensive side, though. The move from Phil Longo to Chip Lindsey has taken a fair amount of the high-flying aerial show out of the the arsenal for the first few games, as the Tar Heels have mostly taken to what the opposing defense will give them. Yet, Carolina has averaged nearly 36 points a game so far, and the Red Zone in non-Appalachain State games has been near perfect.
So with that, let’s take a look at the report card for the offense after their 41-24 win over Pittsburgh.
I don’t think you’ll get too many arguments here that this was Drake’s best game of the four. He had zero turnovers and three touchdowns—two rushing and one left-handed wizardly pass that just left Pitt confused as to what happened. Statistically, he did better against Minnesota, it’s true. The reality, though, is that once the Tar Heels went back up by 17, Lindsey did everything he could to dare Pitt to beat them with their offense instead of risking further hits on Maye. He also had arguably his best thrown ball of the season with a bomb to J.J. Jones that was in stride, defended well, and right where it needed to be. The downgrade here is for the sacks he took—granted more on the line than him—but he needs to learn to just get rid of the ball. There are times now when it’s clear Maye is starting to hear footsteps, and considering the hit he took on the flea-flicker, it’s not hard to understand why. The Tar Heels needed Maye to be Maye on Saturday, and when Lindsey gave him the chance he converted. This included the perfect Touchdown Sandwich to end the second and start the third, and really it was all window dressing after that.
Running Backs: C
Omarion Hampton gets credit here for his rushing touchdown, again showing how strong he is in the lower body, and he also had a nice 26 yard scamper. The Carolina backs weren’t a net negative, but for the second game in a row they really didn’t do much. Hampton led with 66 yards, and British Brooks added a scant 12. It took Carolina several opportunities at the goal line to get their third quarter score, and that was taken in by Maye. Credit does go to the Pitt defensive front, but it’s clear now that teams have prepped themselves for how to attack Carolina’s run game. It will be a while before they see a front as stout as the last two, however, and Lindsey not abandoning the run means teams still have to prepare for it.
After the Tar Heel offense focusing so much on Nate McCollum last week, J.J. Jones was able to step up and haul in 115 yards, including the perfect dime that Maye threw his direction. Kobe Paysour also gets credit for his touchdown catch, as he knew his QB enough to follow him and stay open in the end zone. Six different receivers (or tight ends) caught passes from Maye tonight, a better ball distribution that speaks to how they are all working to provide a target. Overall, they seem to be developing a bit of a rhythm with Drake now; it’s just a shame they couldn’t do more of that in the second half because of the really conservative play calling.
Offensive Line: D
This was arguably the worst game the UNC offensive line had played all season. Maye took five sacks, and he also took a nasty shot to the face mask from a basically unblocked Pitt defender. Their consistent failure to keep Drake off the ground forced the really conservative play calling in the second half, as it was clear that Lindsey wasn’t going to let his quarterback take any more punishment. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the line had been able to make some room for the running backs, but they also suffered there, too. Carolina only averaged 2.0 yards per carry, and the best back, Hampton, managed just 3.7 in that category. Take away his 26-yard run, and that plummets to about 2.5.
Again, credit the Pittsburgh front that, even as inept as their offense had been, had kept their opposition from scoring. The 41 points that UNC put up was by far the most of their games so far this season, and the reason is the strong work up front by the Panthers’ defensive line. Still, that’s two games in a row where the running game hasn’t really produced for the Tar Heels, and the sacks are going to force Drake Maye into more bad decisions or get him hurt before the season is over. The bye week is coming at a good time, and hopefully they can adjust their protections for a big stretch coming off the break.