— text and picture by Patrick Magoon freelance writer for WIZS
In a first-ever matchup against the Minnesota Gophers, the North Carolina Tar Heels (UNC) heavily relied on a passing-dominant offensive strategy to move the ball downfield. UNC’s success through the air paved the way for a 31-13 victory.
Wide receiver Nate McCollum, a transfer from Georgia Tech, shined in his debut for UNC, catching 15 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown.
“I was ready to go,” said McCollum. “Last week, I only played a few snaps and I’ve been itching to work myself back up.”
McCollum demonstrated a strong connection with quarterback Drake Maye, who overcame two sloppy interceptions and threw for a season-high 414 yards.
During UNC’s first offensive series, Maye repeatedly targeted McCollum, who caught four of five passes, including a 46-yard touchdown.
After UNC claimed an early lead, the Gophers’ offensive unit quickly advanced the ball 50 yards into Tar Heel territory. However, the series ended immediately when linebacker Power Echols intercepted quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis’ pass at the UNC 16.
On offense, Maye proved he can do it all, including throwing deep passes, running efficiently, and punting when necessary. With three minutes left in the first quarter, Maye punted the football 36 yards to the Minnesota 13.
“I’ve never seen anybody do it better than Drake,” said UNC head coach Mack Brown. “We’ve had some great quarterbacks, but Drake has a knack of finding the open player, and he’ll do that next week.”
Throughout the first half, UNC dominated in time of possession and converted seven of nine third-down attempts.
Early in the second half, Minnesota, looking for answers, made a change at quarterback. Cole Kramer entered the game. Although Kramer only attempted one pass, which fell incomplete, he led a run-heavy Gophers offense for 170 yards. Kaliakmanis later returned under center.
For much of the second half, UNC’s stout and versatile defensive unit hindered Minnesota’s offensive success. The unit, led by Echols, linebacker Cedric Gray, and defensive back Antavious Lane, amassed 52 tackles, eight PDs, one sack, and one TFL. UNC’s defense allowed only 133 yards through the air and limited the Gophers to just three third-down conversions.