Entering the week 3-0 and flirting with a spot in the Top 25, North Carolina failed its biggest test of the season so far.

The Heels fell 45-32 to Notre Dame, as UNC’s defense again let it down in a massive way. And for the 1st time this year, the Tar Heels’ offense couldn’t bail out the other side f the ball.

After going 3-and-out on its first series and missing a 44-yard field-goal attempt on its next trip, Notre Dame rattled off 6 straight scoring drives as Carolina’s defense showed everyone again that it simply isn’t good. A Notre Dame offense that was struggling just as much as Carolina’s defense had been looked electric, as it was the Tar Heels’ defense that lost the battle of bottom-20 units in the country.

On the other side of the ball, Drake Maye and company looked fairly human against the best defense it has faced this year. The Heels finished with 367 yards and 32 points, but they couldn’t muster enough consistency to hang with the Irish.

Here’s what went right and wrong Saturday afternoon for the Tar Heels:

3 things I liked

Josh Downs and Antoine Green are back

The Heels hadn’t had their full stable of receivers the past few weeks, as top dog Josh Downs missed wins against Appalachian State and Georgia State and Antoine Green had yet to make his season debut.

But Saturday, both were back and looked like they never left. Carolina started with the ball and marched down the field, finishing off an efficient game-opening scoring drive with a jump ball from Maye to Downs. A few drives later, Downs was the man in the end zone again for the Heels as he pulled in his 2nd touchdown grab of the half.

It was Green who exploded during the 2nd half, as he finished the game with 3 catches for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. He had an 80-yard and 64-yard touchdown down the stretch of the game, as he showcased his explosiveness.

Carolina’s receiving corps played well in the absence of Downs and Green, but the Tar Heels need them to be the guys moving forward. In their 1st games back from injury, they looked like they never left.

Drake Maye wasn’t bad

UNC’s offense had some issues as it couldn’t keep pace with Notre Dame, but Maye really wasn’t one of them.

He finished the game 17-for-32 with 301 yards, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions, as Carolina moved the ball through the air pretty well for the most part. He didn’t get much help from the running game, but he started well and helped lead the Heels to a little bit of a comeback that ultimately was too little, too late.

But in his 1st game against a major opponent, Maye didn’t look out of place. He actually made some really, really good throws against by far the best defense he has faced all season.

Heels have the big-play splash

Carolina’s offense had 5 passing plays go for 15 or more yards and 4 running plays go for 10 or more, as it showed once again that it can hit the home run at any time.

Of course the most obvious example was Green, who had 2 receiving touchdowns during the 2nd half that went for greater than 60 yards.

It was less consistent on the ground, as 3 of the 4 chunk plays came from Maye himself, but the redshirt freshman quarterback showed again he can make the highlight-reel play, this time against a good defense.

3 things I didn’t like

Carolina’s defense seems like an unfixable problem

Even in a 3-0 start, Carolina’s defense didn’t look like a Power 5 unit. And against a Notre Dame offense that on paper was just as bad, Gene Chizik’s group couldn’t stop a nose bleed.

The day started well for Carolina. A 3-and-out followed by a missed field-goal try meant 2 stops on 2 drives, but from there it went completely off the rails. The Irish scored on their next 6 drives, with touchdowns on 5 of them. They put up 576 yards of offense and 6.8 yards per play, as a unit that had nothing during its first 3 contests looked like it was among the best offenses in the country.

And the problem for Carolina at this point is this doesn’t seem fixable. The Heels just don’t have the pieces on the defensive side of the ball. For 1 whole drive they looked good, and then Notre Dame just overpowered them in every phase of the game.

As the Heels get into ACC play, this defense is going to be a massive, massive issue. The offense is good, but stoppable, and it’s going to have to bail out the defense each and every game. And that’s not a recipe for success.

Running game disappeared

While Maye was fine for the most part, Carolina’s offense came back to earth because its running game disappeared.

The Heels rushed for just 66 yards on 28 attempts, good for just 2.4 yards per carry. A ton of that was Maye, who put up 36 yards on 13 attempts.

The rest of the team combined for 30 yards and 2 yards per carry. Freshman Omarion Hampton, who had been great, had just 28 yards. Nobody else had more than 3.

With the way UNC’s defense is playing, its offense has to keep the ball. It needs a running game to counter Maye’s attack through the air, to run some clock and keep the defense off the field. Against a good defensive front from Notre Dame, the running game completely disappeared.

Heels couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down

As bad as Carolina’s defense was as a whole, it also really didn’t help itself on 3rd down.

Notre Dame went 8-for-14 on 3rd-down conversions, and it had a few huge conversions that changed the momentum of the game. Carolina had a prime opportunity to get a 3rd stop in a row to start the game right before the end of the opening quarter, but Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne scrambled for a big 12-yard gain on 3rd-and-7.

That wasn’t the only time Notre Dame was able to get the big yards it needed on 3rd down, as even when Carolina’s defense did well in brief bursts it couldn’t get off the field.

With all of its problems exposed, Carolina really could have made it a game Saturday if it was even just a little better at ending drives defensively.