The 4-1 North Carolina Tar Heels handled business Saturday afternoon, beating 2-3 Virginia Tech 41-10.
UNC played the best they have all season, with both sides of the ball getting the job done. The offense stayed hot, led by quarterback Drake Maye who produced a five total touchdown day.
North Carolina’s defense also changed their season tune, mixing up schemes and causing havoc for the Hokies’ offense. This game was needed for UNC’s confidence after coming off their first season loss in the 45-32 defeat against Notre Dame.
Now, 1-0 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, UNC’s schedule only gets more challenging as they prepare to finish their schedule against Miami, Duke, Pittsburgh, Virginia, Wake, Georgia Tech, and NC State.
Before we look at what stands in the way of an ACC championship bid, we break down the five key takeaways from the win this weekend.
Drake Maye continues his impressive season
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) looks to pass as Virginia Tech Hokies defensive lineman C.J. McCray (56) and defensive lineman TyJuan Garbutt (45) pressure in the second quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest story from this year is how good Maye has been for North Carolina. Many expected a void when Sam Howell left for the NFL, and no one expected the quarterback play to stay at the same level and the transition to be this smooth. However, Maye has done just that.
Yesterday Maye had five total touchdowns for the fourth time this season.
Achieving this in just five games makes the odds of him beating the record of six games with five total touchdowns or more in a single season in his favor.
Against Virginia Tech, Maye finished with 26 on 36 passing for 363 passing yards and three passing touchdowns. He also showed his mobility tacking on another 73 yards on the ground with two rushing touchdowns.
The Defense can play!
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels defensive back Cam’Ron Kelly (9) breaks up a pass intended for Virginia Tech Hokies wide receiver Kaleb Smith (80) in the fourth quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
What brought the most smiles Saturday afternoon was how good the Defense looked. This season has been a significant struggle for North Carolina’s defense, failing to stop any of the four previous teams from scoring more than 24 points.
That streak ended Saturday as the UNC defense contained Virginia Tech to 10 points in the first half before shutting them out in the second half. They made it a nightmare game for Hokies quarterback Grant Wells who finished completing 16 on 26 passes for 139 yards and one interception.
It was a complete game for UNC’s defense that allowed the team starters to get a break, letting the reserves get a chance to play. If the Defense can keep up this level of play, North Carolina has a good shot at steamrolling the rest of their games.
Josh Downs is just that good
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Josh Downs (11) is tackled by Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Chamarri Conner (1) in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
After missing most of the season, Downs returned last week with what felt like a teaser for his game this past weekend against Tech. Downs is arguably a top wide receiver, showcasing those skills Saturday.
Downs finished with eight receptions and 120 receiving yards, lighting up the Hokies’ secondary. The junior continues to prove that he is the best wide receiver in the ACC and arguably top 10 in the nation.
It doesn't matter the weather. UNC can still get it done
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels run on to the field before the game at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The weather wasn’t the prettiest for the North Carolina versus Virginia Tech game, but that didn’t stop the Tar Heels from striving. UNC controlled all aspects of the game from passing, running, special teams, and Defense.
They won the battle in the trenches with UNC finishing with 160 rushing yards to Techs 99 and moved the chains better with 24 first downs compared to 14. UNC also won the turnover battle despite having two fumbles, and neither was a loss, while the Hokies threw an interception for the only turnover of the game.
The one sour spot
Oct 1, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Virginia Tech Hokies defensive back Armani Chatman (9) breaks up a pass intended for North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Gavin Blackwell (2) in the third quarter at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest flaw from Saturday’s game was the penalties. It wasn’t the worse. However, UNC did lose that battle when it came to hearing the ref whistle.
North Carolina had four penalties for 25 yards; Virginia Tech had three penalties for 22. It was only a three-yard difference. However, after such a great game finding the flaw becomes more of a nitpick task.
If UNC can play the rest of the season, only worrying about having three more yards loss in penalties, I wouldn’t be shocked if they are playing for the ACC title.