Saturday was stunning on many occasions for the UNC football program. Not only did it fall at home to unranked Georgia Tech, but the high-powered offense of the first 10 games of the season was nonexistent.
The Tar Heels fell 21-17 to the Yellow Jackets and what was considered to be a trap game coming into the matchup, turned out to be all of that… and more.
Heading into the game, not only was UNC a deep sleeper for the College Football Playoff, but the Tar Heels were in the middle of a Heisman Trophy campaign for quarterback Drake Maye. Both crashed and burned on Saturday.
“I think our whole offense was off,” UNC head coach Mack Brown said postgame. “I always get afraid when you score on the first play at the game, everybody relaxes and thinks we’ve got this. And I hate it. It sounds foolish, but I hate it. For an immature team, a young team like ours, you can get complacent fast and I thought that’s what happened.”
While the offense struggled immensely, it didn’t start like that. On UNC’s first play of the game, it was an 80-yard touchdown run for Elijah Green. Then, two possessions later, it was a 16-play methodical drive for the Tar Heels that ended in three points. After another possession that ended in a red zone trip but no points, the Tar Heels punched it in for seven shortly before the half.
It was a 17-0 lead with four minutes before halftime and things were going just about as expected. But then a late touchdown for Georgia Tech flipped things.
“Yeah, we didn’t score touchdowns in the red zone, we left 14 points off the board in the first half and then they go down and score very easily right before the half,” Brown said. “… So it’s a 14-point swing when it should have been a 14-point swing for us.”
In total, UNC had five red zone trips, and one other drive that ended at the GT 23 yard line. The Tar Heels came away with just one touchdown. Overall they were just a 2-of-5 red zone performance.
“I think our offense screwed the whole thing up,” Brown added. “Six sacks, can’t make third downs, can’t make fourth downs, can’t score in the red zone, dropped passes. We get a first down run where there’s a fumble and we lose 13 yards. There’s so many uncharacteristic things that happened tonight, it was a really, really awful night offensively.”
Maye, who came into the game without an interception in five games, threw one in the red zone on a very poor throw. He also had at least one touchdown in every single game this season. That streak ended on Saturday.
Maye finished with his worst performance of the year, going 16-of-30 for 202 yards and one interception. He also rushed for just 13 yards. Completions, passing yards and rushing yards were all season lows.
The connection between Maye and All-American candidate wide receiver Josh Downs was also uncharacteristically off. Downs, who missed some of the first half with a knee injury, had just three catches for 31 yards… on just five targets.
Downs’ final catch of the game didn’t come until late in the fourth quarter on a key third down in Georgia Tech territory.
What ended up being Downs’ final target of the night summed up the entire game. On a fourth down play with 4:10 left in the game on the Georgia Tech 19 yard line, Downs was lined up in the backfield next to Maye. Maye rolled out to the right and found a wide open Downs in the corner of the end zone. The ball hit Downs right in the numbers and somehow goes right between his arms, falling to the ground and ending the comeback chance for the Tar Heels.
“I’d say you’re one of the best players we’ve got and you’re one of the main reasons we’ve got nine wins,” Brown told reporters what he would say to Downs. “So get your head back up and start working on next week.”
Overall, the Tar Heels finished with just 365 yards and went 4-of-14 on third downs. Both were season lows.
“You have a 60-yard run called back for a guy that runs over Bryson Nesbit and it’s thrown really, really late. You have a dropped touchdown pass, you have another dropped pass that they thought was a catch and a fumble and they rule that one off. It was a night where not one thing happened for us good offensively.”
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