Yesterday, before launching into the winners, losers and honorable mentions post, I mentioned that the very nature of football forces us to look at the micro rather than the macro. Even our posts that try to break down what we saw, including the three things learned and post ratings, are meant to focus on what we just saw and not the progression of things.
The fact is that we really should consider the first two games as a whole and not just the game against App State. There are things now that we can say that we know for sure… and things that we still have no idea how they will work. With Georgia State closing in this weekend and then a bye, it’s worth examining what we do and don’t know, as the Tar Heels have two games under their belt.
Known: Drake Maye
I don’t think anyone had any reasonable expectation at the beginning of the season that Drake would look East fine after two games. All the intelligence that came out of practice plus what was shown in the spring game was promising, but naturally we had some concerns about what the offense would look like with a different quarterback under center. Every thought was that we would have already seen Jacolby Criswell play for a significant amount of time, because they were so close.
Drake Maye has completely eradicated the competition. He has started 53 of 73 shooting, 72.6%, 646 yards and nine touchdowns with no interceptions. He also has 131 rushing yards with another touchdown, and in both games he jump-started the offense by making big first downs early in the game. He’s also doing something that should make other teams fear this offense: throwing to multiple receivers. Despite the 646 yards, neither game had a 100-yard pass reception, and he has been using receivers, tight ends and running backs effectively. Going into the year, defenses thought they’d have to focus on Josh Downs and take chances on everyone else, and now Maye is going to be really tough to play. Even when you send pressure, he has had the poise to find the open man and turn the negative into a positive.
At some point, Maye will struggle, at some point he will have an interception, and at some point, if he doesn’t learn to slide, he will get caught. We may still see Criswell at some point this season, but Drake Maye has a hammerlock on the position, which is a big question mark removed for the rest of the year.
This isn’t a bad thing, mind you, it actually speaks to the depth at the position and the fight that will be ongoing for a standout running back. Still, after two games, there is no going back. You could argue after FAMU that Omarion Hampton was going to be the one, and then he only rushed for 19 yards on eight carries against App State. Caleb Hood was the complete opposite, he only gained 12 yards on four carries against FAMU, but gained 87 yards against App State with the 71-yard wound down the middle. DJ Jones seems to be the one with the most trouble, however, he caught Maye’s ball from the backfield for the last passing score UNC had on Saturday.
On some level you expected a guy to have risen up to be the guy you could always count on now, but as it stands, this group has proven that if they’re in trouble, someone else is immediately ready to step up and take it. The hits. . He’s going to be a valuable tool for wearing down defenses, and the fact that Maye has no problem using them as additional receivers means you’re likely to see a lot more two sets back as the year goes on.
Known: pass receivers
That Josh Downs was going to miss on Saturday actually changed the line by about four points, as it was around Carolina -2 before word got out, and it closed around App -2 before the start. He spoke to the conventional wisdom that Carolina was skinny and inexperienced at wide receiver and without Downs to divert attention, the Tar Heels would struggle.
Not that much.
As mentioned above, he has ten pass catchers against FAMU and eight against App State. Tight ends are intricately involved in offense, multiple sets feature two running backs and then one can run down the line to catch a short shot, and Maye is constantly finding the right read to keep the chains moving. The fact that he’s not zeroing in on one guy will also help Maye in the locker room, but more importantly, it’ll get defenses mixed up because even if you put your best corner on Downs, there’s clearly going to be a mismatch somewhere. It will be interesting to see how the defenses adjust now that there are two games on the record, but any concerns about the ability of the pass receivers have been allayed.
Unknown: Gene Chizik
Based on the comments on my last post, most of you will want to put this as “known, he’s no good”, but I’d say his effect is still the biggest unknown. It honestly speaks to how broken the defense was that is still struggling at this point, but it hasn’t all been bad.
Let’s look at an alternate reality here: The defense seemingly turned the corner after App State went up 21-7. Take a look at the unit chart after the third touchdown: missed field goal, punt, attempted turnover, interception. There’s also the end of the half in the middle, and with all of that calculated, Carolina turned from a 21-7 deficit to a 41-21 lead. Despite being hit all over the place, the defense held on for four straight drives, then gave up a touchdown drive, then had to get back on the field immediately when Drake Maye fumbled in the 25th. The offense atones and App State is again down 14 with more than nine minutes left. Carolina gets to a 3rd and 8, stops them, Mack Brown accepts a ten-yard holding call to force 3rd and 18, and the defense stops Chase Brice again for just a four-yard gain. It would be the 4th and the 14th, clock ticking, the 14th application in the middle of the quarter.
Except the referees decided that Cam Kelly hit Brice too late, he was tricked into calling the target and he couldn’t raise the flag for unnecessary roughness. First drop. Unspoken, the defense AGAIN buckled down, and on 3 and 10 forced a bad shot from Brice… except for a pass interference call that, at best, happened long before the ball was in the air and App gets another 15 free. yards The defense was effectively off the field twice on that drive, the umpires breathing new life into App and then returning to the end zone.
So what if none of those flags happen? App State likely has no chance, Carolina is likely to score at least one more time to go up 17 or 21 with about five minutes remaining, and while we’ve seen this team give up something like that before, considering how Carolina handled onside kicks. On Saturday, it’s fair to say it would be over, and we went from yelling about the defense to just scratching our heads.
This is not to excuse them at all. App’s 21-7 lead had to start and the way FAMU was in the game until the fourth quarter is mind blowing, there is little defensive pressure in the backfield and the secondary is a mess. That said, Carolina is 2-0, and when the defense needed to make big plays to give the offense a chance to change the script, they did. Power Echols and Cedric Gray have stepped up to make some standout plays, and sometimes we have to shrug our shoulders and say that when a defensive player takes 88 snaps, he’ll wear himself out.
That is why Chizik remains unknown. We’re only two games into the season, presumably Georgia State should give them an easier game than App, and then they have a week to study three weeks of tape while Notre Dame plays twice and then they have to come to Chapel Hill. We need to at least see if there’s going to be an improvement from this game to the last, or if we’re just looking at ten more App State games. The fact that he’s not an acquaintance is worrying, and you might have expected to see more, but there are bits and pieces that at least offer some hope.
Known: Carolina is 2-0
A winning season is much more likely now, 3-1 in the non-conference probably means a 5-3 ACC streak makes them 8-4, which, by the way, is pretty much what they had in the Orange Bowl season. , and with the last year of chaos on the Coast, they have a legitimate chance to compete for the final Coastal Division title.
This season looks like it’s going to be more fun than it was a couple of weeks ago, we’ll see if we’ve learned anything else after Georgia State this weekend.