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Monday December 5th

Who will start at quarterback for UNC? Question looms large ahead of football season

<p>Redshirt first-year Drake Maye (left) and sophomore Jacolby Criswell (right) will be competing for this year's starting quarterback position. Photos by Caroline Bittenbender and Helen McGinnis.</p>
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Redshirt first-year Drake Maye (left) and sophomore Jacolby Criswell (right) will be competing for this year's starting quarterback position. Photos by Caroline Bittenbender and Helen McGinnis.

With Sam Howell gone to the NFL, the North Carolina football team has an important question to answer: who will be the starting quarterback next season? 

UNC elected not to send a quarterback to the 2022 ACC Football Kickoff coming up on July 20 and 21, keeping the answer to that question close to the vest. 

The Tar Heels have two quarterbacks presumed to be the frontrunners for the open spot — sophomore Jacolby Criswell and redshirt first-year Drake Maye. Both have seen limited action during their UNC careers, but neither have shown enough to set themself apart from the other.  

“We’re pushing each other every day,” Maye said at a press conference on June 22. “It’s good for both of us, (Criswell) is very talented. Obviously, we both played a few games. We’re just trying to battle it out and make each other better.” 

Criswell and Maye were both considered among the best players of their class in their home states of Arkansas and North Carolina, respectively. However, Criswell and Maye have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to how they play under center. 

Jacolby Criswell 

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Criswell came to UNC in 2020 as a dual-threat quarterback fresh off winning the Arkansas Gatorade Player of the Year. Criswell passed for 2,869 yards and rushed for 1,282 yards, scoring a combined 51 touchdowns in his senior season. Criswell didn’t see much game time in his first season with the Tar Heels, but in his second year, he got significant game action in both the Georgia State and Wofford game. 

Against Georgia State, Criswell attempted just two passes, one of which was a throw on the run to sophomore Bryson Nesbit for a 47-yard touchdown.

Criswell started the first half of the Wofford game for the Tar Heels as Howell sat out with an injury. He ended his first drive of the game with a touchdown, powering through multiple Terrier defenders on his way to his end zone. On UNC's next drive, Criswell showed his ability to improvise, using his speed and scrambling ability on a broken-pass play to make a 26-yard gain into the red zone.  

Although he didn’t throw an interception or fumble the ball against Wofford, there were times where Criswell would overthrow or miss his receivers. Early in the second quarter, Criswell overthrew open wide receiver Justin Olson, forcing UNC to punt the ball for the first and only time that game.

Despite the mistakes against Wofford, Criswell is entering the 2022 season with confidence in both his arm and his running. 

"Any throw there is, I can make regardless,” Criswell said at a press conference on June 22. “It doesn't matter if it's on-platform, off-platform, I'll be able to do it. I trust my abilities. I don’t question my abilities. I’ve been doing this since I was eight years old. I feel like I’m prepared to make any throw... as well as using my feet.” 

Drake Maye 

Maye was considered one of the best quarterback prospects in the class of 2021 and has shown in his limited playing time that he has the ability to live up to the hype that's associated with his family name.

Last season, Maye took over in the second half against Wofford and flaunted what made him such an impressive prospect – his passing ability. As a senior at Myers Park High School in Charlotte, Maye threw for 3,512 yards, tallying 50 touchdowns and just two interceptions while running the ball less than three times a game.

On his first drive against the Terriers, Maye made reads quickly and completed back-to-back passes to junior wide receiver Josh Downs and Olson. He also showed pocket presence on both of these plays, hanging behind his offensive linemen until he had an open man.  

In the fourth quarter of the same game, Maye fired a pass to sophomore wide receiver J.J. Jones that was placed perfectly between the Wofford defensive backs for a 46-yard gain. He also showed what he can do on the ground, using his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame to get past defenders while running for 38 yards on four attempts. 

Maye's performance wasn't perfect, though. After being rushed out of the pocket by a Terrier defender, he ran out of bounds for a four-yard loss, instead of throwing the ball away. 

Both quarterbacks have their different strengths, Criswell with his ability to improvise and Maye with his passing. But as the season opener gets closer, the looming question for North Carolina still needs to be answered – who will get their chance to be the starter for Mack Brown and the UNC offense? 

The answer is unknown at this time, yet, Brown doesn't seem to be fazed.

“If you don’t have a quarterback, you don’t have a chance to win,” Brown said at the June press conference. “We have a really strong quarterback room so I’m not worried about that position.” 

@thenoahmonroe

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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