The North Carolina Tar Heels are set up to face the #15 Oregon Ducks tomorrow, December 28th, looking for their 10th win of the season and first bowl win since the Military Bowl in 2019.
The Tar Heels have lost 3 straight up until this point, with heartbreaking losses to Georgia Tech and NC State in Kenan Stadium. In addition, the Heels suffered a 29-point blowout against #9 Clemson in the ACC Championship.
It’s safe to say that the past month for the Heels has held almost nothing but disappointment with a defensive transfer portal explosion, loss to a rival at home, and overall a significant offensive meltdown in the last 3 games that UNC could not afford.
UNC’s offense started off extremely strong and explosive with a plethora of weapons, but by the end of the season it seems as if those weapons were somehow narrowed to only 1 or 2 options. No, the others didn’t transfer or get injured, but it is a mystery why they were suddenly excluded from the game plan or rarely utilized.
One of those go-to weapons, junior wide receiver Josh Downs, declared for the draft and therefore opted out of the Heels’ bowl game in an Instagram post on December 6th.
Without his number one option, quarterback Drake Maye will have to prioritize spreading the ball around to a greater extent.
Although Maye will still have his number two receiving option, arguably one of the best deep-ball receivers in the country, fifth-year wide receiver Antoine Green.
Green struggled with injuries early in his career, but had a breakout season last year and this year has totaled 43 receptions for 798 yards and 4 touchdowns. Even with a shoulder injury that forced him to miss the first 3 games of the season, Green has proven that he is not only a valuable option for Maye but also an underrated NFL talent.
It is likely that sophomore wide receiver Kobe Paysour will start in the slot in place of Downs. When Downs missed 2 games with a sprained MCL, Paysour stepped up and played a large part in the Heels’ wins over Sun Belt teams App State and Georgia State. In these two breakout games he totaled 13 receptions for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Paysour will have to step up to fill the role of Downs in the slot, as he has accomplished in the past, in order for the Heels to have a chance to defeat the Ducks.
Names we haven’t heard called in a while are those of UNC’s tight end trio, who also need to be utilized in this offense for it to return to its explosiveness.
The three, senior Kamari Morales, and sophomores Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver combined for 1,026 yards receiving in 2022, 3rd among all tight end groups (behind Georgia and Utah).
UNC’s secondary is depleted of most of its starters, with senior CB Storm Duck, junior CB Tony Grimes, and senior safety Cam’ron Kelly transferring.
Oregon’s offensive line has only allowed 4 sacks all season, so the Heels’ defensive line will have to work in order to get to Bo Nix. Pressuring the quarterback should be the number one priority for UNC’s defense.
I think this will be a decently high-scoring game, a battle between two top quarterbacks in college football, Bo Nix and Drake Maye.