Beating a team three times in a row is tough. Beating a team on the road is tough. Beating a team when you’re a 4-5 point underdog is tough. It’s no surprise, then, that the manner in which the Tar Heels defeated a Wake Forest team that just two weeks ago was ranked No. 10 in the country … was tough.
Now that it’s over and we can all take a collective deep breath, let’s look at three things we learned at a Coastal Division stall party in Winston-Salem.
Antoine Green took a bad jab from AJ Williams that looked like it might have disrupted Green’s previously injured collarbone. He was out for the rest of the game after that hit. Josh Downs, who was absolutely spit roasting the Wake Forest secondary, had to go to the locker room in the second half for treatment.
Losing the team’s top two receivers, considered by some to be the best duo in the country, would have spelled disaster for many teams. Fortunately, UNC already has the experience of operating without them this season.
Kobe Paysour was Carolina’s leading receiver against App State and Georgia State. He had a huge catch for a first down with 13 yards added after the catch. JJ Jones, who had a tough fall, also had a HUGE 25-yard catch on 3rd and 7th:
This game also saw the return of Tar Heel tight ends to a more featured role, with Bryson Nesbit catching three passes for three first downs on the first drive and John Copenhaver making big plays.
You always want guns like Green and Downs in the field at all times, but it’s comforting to know that Drake Maye has more guns he trusts in case they’re missing.
Slow mesh is a difficult concept to defend, especially for deep security. You can see the running back and Hartman literally walking to the line of scrimmage, and you want to get down quick to stop a big win, but once you bite in, that’s when Hartman takes out the ball and throws it over your head to one of his high receivers.
Kelly was bitten several times in the game, as many ACC safeties have this season. But in the fourth quarter, when Carolina’s defense had to bow to save the game, Kelly was able to intercept a pass from Hartman that seemed destined for six points.
Sam Hartman will be delighted to see Cam Kelly. Along with his pick that led to the game-clinching field goal, Kelly intercepted Hartman twice last year at Kenan Stadium. One of the key ingredients to Wake’s downfall this season was Hartman’s sudden disregard for keeping the ball, but Carolina had none in the first half.
Getting a huge recovery/turnover in fourth on downs followed by Kelly’s pick was absolutely massive, especially when few Tar Heel fans were confident they would get the saves needed to win the game.
Carolina’s offense has been exceptional this year, thanks in large part to the emergence of Drake Maye as a generational quarterback, but also because Phil Longo has honed his call for the game to a razor-sharp edge. He had worked through his red-zone issues and masked UNC’s lackluster running game with passes and swing screens.
Wake Forest couldn’t stop Carolina’s attack in the first half. After scoring touchdowns in their first three practices and holding a 21-14 lead, Longo deviated from a formula that was working and got into his bag of tricks. Maye took the snap and looked for a pitch at Downs behind him that almost looked like a chip flicker design, and took a 10-yard sack from Jasheen Davis. Davis sacked Maye again on third down, killing the drive.
Wake scored a touchdown in four plays to even the score, effectively killing the momentum Carolina gained when the defense stopped Deacon’s first two drives.
Phil Longo composes games of gadgets to explode in his face at inopportune times. Remember the Duke game this season when Carolina performed a passing trick that failed to get a Kamari Morales touchdown and led to a missed 52-yard field goal try. It happened in Virginia in the second quarter of Halloween night 2020.
Carolina’s offense is so good it’s hard to understand why the Heels need smart plays to finish off their opponents. Just keep giving them their meds and save the gadget sets for when we need to get some yards/points when we’re down!