3 takeaways from North Carolina's 31-13 home victory against Minnesota
It took 2 overtimes for North Carolina to come out with a win in its home opener against Appalachian State last week.
The Tar Heels didn’t have to work nearly as hard Saturday.
With Drake Maye finally showing the form that has made him a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender and a defense that looked more like it did in an opening win against South Carolina, Mack Brown’s team barely had to sweat in a 31-13 victory against Minnesota at Kenan Stadium.
Here are 3 takeaways from the impressive performance:
Tis better to receive
Drake Maye put up decent passing numbers in the Tar Heels’ season-opening wins against South Carolina and Appalachian State. But they’ve hardly been Heisman worthy.
That’s not necessarily the star quarterback’s fault, though. With top receiver Tez Walker ineligible and fellow transfer Nate McCollum hobbled by a leg injury, Maye has been throwing to a depleted receiving corps.
That changed against Minnesota. With McCollum healthy again and back in the lineup, Maye responded by throwing for 414 yards and 2 touchdowns – the 2nd time in his Tar Heel career that he’s surpassed the 400-yard plateau. That includes 4 completions of 38 yards or more.
How important was McCollum to that performance?
The transfer from Georgia Tech caught double-digit passes or more than 100 yards by halftime. He finished with 15 receptions — one off the school record — for 165 yards and a touchdown.
UNC’s defense was vastly improved from last week’s double-overtime struggle against App State. End Jacolbe Cowan recorded the Tar Heels’ 10th sack of the young season – but 1st since the opener against the Gamecocks – while linebacker Power Echols and cornerback Armani Chatman both intercepted passes.
Echols’ came on an acrobatic catch of a tipped pass during the 1st half to halt an early Gophers’ drive.
Chatman was a much easier play, though significantly more important to the outcome. With Minnesota having narrowed UNC’s lead to 21-13 and driving late in the 3rd quarter, Chatman – a transfer from Virginia Tech – picked off a pass lofted into the end zone by Minnesota backup quarterback Cole Kramer.
It marked the 1st time UNC has intercepted 2 passes in the same game since a November 2021 win against Wake Forest.
‘Free Tez Walker’
A chant could be audibly heard from UNC’s student section as the final minutes ticked off the clock in the Tar Heels’ 3rd straight victory to start the season.
“Free Tez Walker. Free Tez Walker,” they said.
It was a reference to the controversy over the Tar Heels’ receiver, who has been ruled ineligible for the season as a 2-time transfer. The fans aren’t going to get their wish, as Walker’s appeals have been exhausted.
But they did at least get to cheer for their hero when Walker was shown on the Jumbotron, sparking a loud ovation.