Everyone in the stadium thought they knew. The defensive coordinator fans in the stands even the commentators were sure it was time for Cam Sexton to lob a ball in the direction of Brandon Tate UNC's resident playmaker and then-NCAA leader in all-purpose yards.
Surely he would be the one getting the ball with North Carolina trying to claw back into the game.
Twice they were fooled.
Twice Sexton used Tate as a diversion to lure defenders away from Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster for big plays.
The first strike came on a play in which Tate ran a 10-yard comeback. The safety helped down on Tate" leaving Nicks all alone on a corner route. Sexton recognized this and threw the deep ball to Nicks.
With the ball in the air? ""I was thinking touchdown"" Nicks said.
The second touchdown" the eventual game-winner was preceded by a fake end around to Tate. After the fake Sexton rolled out and threw a fade just high enough for Foster to reel in.
That was the final act of the offense" completing a remarkable revival of Sexton by the receivers presaged earlier in the week by Nicks.
""(Hakeem) had made a catch in practice that was just unbelievable last week on a piss-poor throw by me" Sexton said. I said ‘Man you saved me right there. I appreciate it' and he said ‘Cam" I'm here to bring you back to life.'
""And Saturday"" he did it.""
The attention given to Tate is just what Cam Sexton wants.
""You got a guy like Brandon Tate who garners a lot of attention" that brings Hakeem open and then there's Brooks Sexton said. They're all three great athletes" and they have to be respected.""
Tate managed only 130 all-purpose yards against Miami" which sank his average to 231.75 per game good for second nationally.
Foster and Nicks are by no means just riding his coattails however.
Nicks led the team in receptions and yards in both of his years with the Tar Heels" and Foster has been runner-up in receptions each year.
""(Tate) opened up the underneath passes because he's caught so many passes deep" Foster said. I haven't seen how other teams prepare for us but I'm sure that it has been tough" with our being three receivers who are doing real good.""
First to 1"000?
Hakeem Nicks is the wunderkind of North Carolina receivers.
He holds the UNC record for receiving yards by a freshman and doubled up the second receiver (Tate) for an encore in his sophomore campaign.
In the preseason if anyone was to pick the most likely receiver to be the first ever at UNC to break through the 1000-yard barrier it'd be Nicks.
With his 6-foot-1 210-pound frame the junior Nicks plays bigger than he is consistently going into congested areas of the secondary and emerging with the ball.
Nicks said he was disappointed to fall 42 yards shy of 1"000 last year.
""Yeah"1000 receiving yards is unfinished business for me because I wanted to get that last year but I just fell short Nicks said. Hopefully this year" I pass it — me and Brandon both.""
With both averaging about 89 yards per game" they are both on pace to break 1000 yards on the season" with about 70 yards to spare.
""My mentality is always just make a play"" Nicks said.
""And I pretty much think that's what all our mind-sets are — just be patient and when the ball comes our way"" to do something with it.""
Having amassed 1"975 yards through the air for his career Nicks has done just that.
A quiet leader
With Tate and Nicks around" it's easy for the less vocal Foster to be overlooked.
""I'm not too much of a talking guy" Foster said. I might bring a guy to the sidelines and say something to him" but I'm not like stand up in front and try to motivate people. That's really not me.""
That does not stop Foster from being a leader"" particularly with his body of work in the weight room.
""I do most of my leading by example"" Foster said. Most of the people see how hard I go in the weight room.""
Foster can bench press up to 400 pounds"" and he is eyeing the NFL Combine's 225-pound bench press bar with intentions of putting up astounding numbers for a receiver.
""I'm not too good with reps" but I can lift weight Foster said. My endurance is not that good; it's decent. I can only do 18-20 right now" but I want to get up to 30.""
Foster believes there is more than one advantage to being an avid weightlifter.
""I like to lift weights for the look" too Foster said. You want to be intimidating. If you go out there and you skinny they'll be like ‘aww' but if you go out there and you look big it's kind of intimidating" like ‘man.' And you've won half the battle.""
The numbers don't lie
The stats say this is one of the best receiving corps in the NCAA" as Tate and Nicks hold the top two ACC receiving yards per game spots and they rank 27th and 29th nationally.
The players are not shying away from the attention" either.
""I definitely think you can argue that (it is the best trio in the country)"" Nicks said. Our focus is just to contribute to the team the best way possible.""
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