North Carolina football: Stock report following dominant win in ACC opener
North Carolina crushed Pitt 41-24 in its ACC opener in Week 4. The game was close before the Tar Heels started to pull away towards halftime and they didn’t let go of the lead.
Mack Brown has his team at 4-0 to start the year. After going into halftime up 28-17 the offense slowed down a little, outscoring the Panthers 13-7 in the second half. The defense held their own and kept Pitt out of the game.
North Carolina faces Syracuse in Chapel Hill in Week 6 after a bye week of rest. Before that game kicks off, here’s how North Carolina’s stock looks:
Player of the Week: Drake Maye
Drake Maye learned how to take care of the football in Week 4. He finished with 296 yards passing with 3 total touchdowns and no turnovers. Maye scored with his arms and legs on Saturday.
While Maye has had some turnover problems in the last few weeks, he continues showing why Brown put faith in the young gunslinger time and time again.
It’s worth nothing that Maye also only missed on eight of his pass attempts, going 22-for-30 in the game. As long as Maye keeps performing, so will his team.
Newcomer of the Week: Alijiah Huzzie
ETSU transfer defensive back Alijah Huzzie had a big game on Saturday against the Panthers. Huzzie snagged 2 interceptions and returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 4.
The veteran has looked like a nice addition to the North Carolina secondary so far. Aside from the pair of interceptions, he also has 17 total tackles and 4 pass deflections.
Huzzie has played in every game for the Tar Heels so far, and this trend should continue with the numbers he’s been putting up heading into Week 5.
Biggest Surprise: North Carolina secondary
For a team that ranks 11th in the ACC when it comes to passing yards allowed (238.8) per game, North Carolina held Phil Jurkovec and Christian Veilleux in check.
Jurkovec left the game with 109 yards passing after suffering an injury. Veilleux finished the game with 85 yards passing and 2 interceptions.
Something to watch will be how the defense handles Syracuse in Week 6.
Biggest Concern: Third-down conversion rate
North Carolina went up and down the field multiple times against Pitt, but one area where the offense struggled was on third downs. The Tar Heels went 5-of-14 on third downs.
While fans likely won’t care too much since the result of the game was 41-24, this could prove fatal for North Carolina in future ACC contests.
Some of the tougher games left on North Carolina’s schedule are Syracuse, Miami, Duke, Clemson, and N.C. State.
Pitt is obviously not one of the better teams in the conference, so North Carolina was able to get away with it. However, the offense will need to be better in those situations as the year goes on.
Developing Trend: J.J. Jones picking up where Josh Downs left off
J.J. Jones leads North Carolina in receiving yards through four games with 296 on the year. His performance on Saturday was no different than it has been for him in 2023. Jones finished the game with 117 yards receiving on 6 catches.
After losing top wideout Josh Downs to the NFL Draft last year, someone needed to step up and Jones has done just that so far. Downs now plays for the Indianapolis Colts, but Jones has done a fine job of picking up where the former North Carolina receiver left off.
Key Stat: 2.0 yards per carry
North Carolina had success through the air, but it was a struggle to gain yardage against Pitt on the ground for the Tar Heels.
Brown has North Carolina as the eighth-best rushing offense in the conference heading into Week 5 at 167.3 yards per game. Like with third-down conversions, North Carolina could run into some problems later this season if it’s too one-dimensional on offense.
Omarion Hampton scored and finished the game with 66 yards rushing on 18 carries. That comes out to around 3.66 yards per carry.
First Impressions of undefeated Syracuse:
Syracuse will be no slouch coming into the matchup. The Orange could also be undefeated heading into the Week 6 showdown with North Carolina. Syracuse plays Clemson this weekend while UNC will be idle.
Syracuse is coming off of a 29-16 win over Army. Veteran quarterback Garrett Schrader leads the way on offense. He has 972 yards passing and 6 touchdowns so far this season.
Sophomore LeQuint Allen is the main man in the backfield. Allen has 311 yards rushing with 6 touchdowns so far.
One thing to note about Syracuse from its previous matchup were the penalty troubles. Syracuse had 6 penalties for 65 yards. North Carolina could gain an edge if Syracuse isn’t locked in on the road.
North Carolina and Syracuse meet for the first time since 2020 on Oct. 7. Kickoff will be at 3:30 p.m. ET.