If I told you the Tar Heels would beat South Carolina by 14 points in the middle of the offseason, you’d probably guess that UNC put up 56+ points. Chip Lindsey’s crew only put up 31 points in Carolina’s 31-17 win, but there are some new wrinkles worth examining into the young season. Let’s see how UNC performed on the offensive side of the ball against the lesser Carolina.
Part of Drake Maye’s grade is results versus expectations. Coming into the season as a top two quarterback and potential Heisman candidate, you’d like to see less turnovers and more touchdown tosses.
But let’s not ignore that this was a fine display for a season-opener against an SEC defense. Drake Maye started the game hot, completing his first 11 passes of the night. He ended the game 24 for 32 passing with 269 yards, two touchdowns and two picks.
As Carolina seeks balance on offense, we may see Maye’s numbers dip, but precision like he showed in the first quarter should be the norm if he is to accomplish what we all believe he’s capable of. He’s already generating buzz among scouts and NFL media:
Drake Maye creating outside of structure— Ted Nguyen (@FB_FilmAnalysis) September 3, 2023
I’ve seen so many crazy QB plays today my brain hurts pic.twitter.com/tdkjjarmZA
Running Backs: B
Carolina’s running backs found a lot more room to run than their counterparts in garnet and black. Mack Brown discussed his desire to have two main running backs handling the workload, and based on one game’s evidence, he could have a healthy formula.
British Brooks returned from a torn ACL to open the game with an 8-yard reception and a 5-yard rush. He galloped for 103 yards on 15 carries, good for a 6.9 ypc average. Omarion Hampton was RB2, and although he didn’t bust loose for any long carries, he did cross the goal line twice, once against 13 men, and once when the offense hurried to snap the ball after a Gavin Blackwell catch at the one-yard line:
The running backs had 31 carries (as part of 39 total rushes) and helped Carolina win the time of possession battle by five minutes, despite having three turnovers. Being able to dominate time of possession will be a huge help to the defense for the rest of the season.
Wide Receivers: C+
Four wideouts had a reception against South Carolina. With Tez Walker still in NCAA purgatory, Kobe Paysour took to the forefront, a role he excelled in when Josh Downs was injured last season. He led all receivers with 7 catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.
But he also tipped a pass that got intercepted. Gavin Blackwell dropped two passes, including one on fourth down that hit him square in the hands. He also got undercut on a rollout to the right for Maye’s first interception.
Carolina was able to mix up their offense to good effect, but they clearly could benefit from a #1 receiver to stretch the field and commit double-teams to open up action underneath. Tez Walker’s eventual return (knock on wood) could be a game-changer.
Tight Ends: A
UNC has three outstanding tight ends that could start for most other ACC teams. All of them were excellent, catching three passes each on all nine of their targets for 120 yards, a bonkers touchdown, and a well-deserved taunting penalty.
Seven of the nine catches either went for first downs or a touchdown. Drake Maye has a comfy safety blanket with this trio. John Copenhaver may have been the best of the bunch after spending last season as the #3 tight end. Aside from his excellent blocking, he’s paired great hands with downfield speed. Suddenly, he’s one to watch for the NFL Draft.
Offensive Line: A
UNC’s offensive line has come under fair criticism for the past couple years. But last night, they gave a good account of themselves.
First and foremost, they surrendered zero sacks. To understand the importance of this, consider Drake Maye last year, getting sacked 40 times. Consider his counterpart Spencer Rattler in the ice tub today, after being demolished for eight sacks.
The O-line also plowed the road for British Brooks between the red zones and for Omarion Hampton on the goal line. Shane Beamer would’ve killed for a tenth of this output, as he had to watch his own unit give up eight sacks, 16 tackles for loss, while only gaining 11 rushing yards. Two of their three running backs finished with negative yardage, and their longest rush was 15 yards from Rattler on a scramble.
Mack Brown wanted to settle his running back stable down to two main starters.
He wanted the defensive line to cause more disruption and get to the quarterback.
He wanted Shane Beamer to listen to whatever he had to say at the postgame handshake, even if Beamer wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.
By GOD the DISRESPECT pic.twitter.com/8DevwAFWqD— Unnecessary Roughness (@UnnecRoughness) September 3, 2023
Only down marks is for time management at the end of the first half. Otherwise, excellent first game.
Also, bonus points for keeping the heat on the NCAA for their ridiculous handling of the Tez Walker situation.