Gophers know North Carolina’s Maye ‘can do it all’ at quarterback

Drake Maye read the defense, faked a handoff and sprinted untouched Saturday for the winning touchdown in North Carolina's double-overtime victory over Appalachian State.

Just after he hopped across the goal line, Maye flipped the football with a flick of the wrist that would make former NBA star George Gervin jealous.

"Just having fun, making plays and did a little finger roll,'' Maye told reporters.

Maye is having all kinds of fun in Chapel Hill. He's the popular star quarterback for the 20th-ranked Tar Heels and a dynamic player who's projected to be a top-five pick in the 2024 NFL draft. The Gophers will get an up-close look at what the hype's all about when they face North Carolina on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.

If you listen to the Gophers coaching staff, Maye is a combination of Dan Marino's arm, Steve Young's feet and Tom Brady's moxie.

"He's one of the best players in the country, not just his position, but just in general,'' Gophers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi said. "And he was always hurting people on the run last year. But he can make all the throws. His arm strength is off the charts.''

Added Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, "He's exactly as advertised. … He can do it all.''

Sign up for our Gophers Update newsletter

Maye built his reputation on an outstanding season as a redshirt freshman last year when he passed for 4,321 yards and 38 touchdowns while rushing for 698 yards and seven scores, earning ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors.

This year, the balanced Tar Heels haven't called on his passing as much, as evidenced by his two TD throws. However, his accuracy — 45-for-62, 72.6% — and decision-making helped North Carolina control South Carolina in a 31-17 win in the season opener and turn back Appalachian State's upset bid.

The 6-4, 230-pounder also has a streak of bravado. On his winning run against the Mountaineers, he let offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey know that he felt the run-pass option play would work.

"Obviously, I voiced by opinion,'' Maye told reporters. "I want the rock in my hands.''

Hot commodity

Maye wasn't an overnight sensation for the Tar Heels. In fact, the five-star player who was ranked the No. 4 quarterback prospect in the 2021 recruiting class by 247Sports initially gave a verbal commitment to Alabama in July 2019. He changed his mind and chose North Carolina nine months later. Last year, Maye led the Tar Heels to a 9-4 record and an ACC Championship Game appearance.

As a player at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, Maye received scholarship offers from other big-name programs like Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, Ohio State and Tennessee. After his breakout 2022 season, some big names came calling again with name, image and likeness offers, trying to get him to transfer.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi said two teams each offered Maye $5 million to transfer, though Narduzzi wouldn't identify the teams. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown also accused other unnamed coaches of tampering with Maye. "You know who they are,'' Brown told reporters in December. "Just look at all the ones who are getting all the top recruits.''

Maye downplayed the speculation of the $5 million offers.

"Those rumors weren't really reality,'' he said in an ESPN interview. "… Pitt's coach ended up putting that out there. I don't know what that was about.''

Leadership on display

In last week's back-and-forth game against Appalachian State, Maye led the Tar Heels back from two second-half deficits not only with his play, but also with his thinking on the fly. Lindsey told reporters that Maye audibled out of passes and into runs eight times, decisions that helped Hampton rush for 234 yards and UNC finish with 319 yards on the ground.

"The nature of the game is give [the defense] the right look and see what's the best to run and what's the best to pass,'' Maye said. "My job is to decipher that.''

Brown was especially pleased with how Maye handled the game late in the fourth quarter when he drove the Tar Heels to the Mountaineers' 22-yard line for a chance to win. Ryan Coe missed a 39-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.

"Drake did an unbelievable job with the 1-minute drive at the end,'' Brown said.

On Saturday, Maye expects the Gophers to mimic the approach they used against Eastern Michigan by running the ball to keep the clock moving and shorten the game. It's a strategy that can work well with the new NCAA rule that doesn't have the clock stopping after a team makes a first down, except for the final two minutes of each half.

"It's an advantage to some of those teams like Minnesota and App State,'' Maye said. "They're going to run the ball and keep it away from me. So, we've got to battle and take advantage of the drives we do get.''

Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis is focused on North Carolina's defense, but he's also a student of great QB play and puts Maye in that category. He's studied Maye's footwork in the pocket, hoping to pick up a tip or two.

"I have a lot of respect for him,'' Kaliakmanis said. "He's a great player, and he's earned all the recognition he's getting.''