Last night the Tar Heels delivered a 31-17 beating to South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Classic. While the score doesn’t exactly scream “beating” on paper, the game never really felt like it was in question in the second half. The Heels scored 14 unanswered points in the third quarter, and held the Gamecocks to just three points in the entire second half. If we’re being honest, it might be the most impressive season opener win that we’ve seen from this team in a while. Yes, better than smoking Florida A&M in a Week Zero game. Don’t @ me.
There were plenty of things that we learned about this team last night, but let’s focus on the three biggest takeaways of the night.
This defensive front means business
The Tar Heels finished their 2022 campaign with just 17 sacks, which was one of the worst totals in the NCAA. The pass rush was so bad that quarterbacks had all the time in the world to pull magic out of their helmets in order to keep drives alive. Thankfully it was a completely different story last night, and Spencer Rattler hit the dirt nine times. Even better is that six different Tar Heels got in on the action, with Amari Gainer and Kaimon Rucker leading the team with two apiece.
Rattler was uncomfortable in the pocket all night long thanks to what Gene Chizik was dialing up for his group, but also it can’t go without saying that his offensive line made quite a few mistakes as well. There were at least a couple of sacks where it just seemed like an offensive lineman completely missed their assignment, which led to the defense getting clear paths to Rattler. The Heels deserve a lot of credit for what they were able to do, but also South Carolina’s O-line deserves some credit as well. We will see if this defensive front can repeat their performance next Saturday against App State.
Mack Brown was very serious about improving the run game
Ever since Javonte Williams and Michael Carter left UNC, the run game just hasn’t been the same. Part of the reason is that British Brooks didn’t play at all last season, which means George Pettaway and Omarion Hampton were thrown into the fire pretty quickly. In UNC’s first game under offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, we got a glimpse of how good the running back room is, which should take a lot of pressure off of Drake Maye both physically and mentally.
British Brooks led the team with 15 carries for 103 yards, and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Omarion Hampton contributed 37 yards as well, and Drake Maye tossed in 25 rushing yards just for fun. The Heels’ success running the ball resulted in them having the ball for 32:37, which went a long way in keeping Spencer Rattler off of the field as long as possible. If they can continue to run the ball like this, UNC is going to have a much easier time maintaining control of football games, especially in the fourth quarter when things historically get really messy for them.
Drake Maye is good with or without his best receivers
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: last night could’ve went better for Maye. His two interceptions were unfortunate errors, but thankfully the defense was able to bail out said mistakes. It’s also worth noting that one of the interceptions was a really good play by South Carolina’s secondary, and the other hit the receiver in the hands before ending up in the hands of the Gamecocks.
With that out of the way, Maye was still really impressive in his first game of the 2023 season. He finished the night completing 24 of his 32 throws for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He threw passes to nine different Tar Heels, with Kobe Paysour leading the team with seven catches for 66 yards and a touchdown. There was a lot of talk leading up to the game about Maye missing his top two receivers, but he is so good at what he does that it didn’t matter as much as it should have. One can only hope that UNC can still find a way to get the Tez Walker mess straightened out, but for now it looks like Mack Brown’s star quarterback is determined to cook anyway. I can’t wait to see what he has for App State when they come into town next Saturday.