Just when UNC head coach Mack Brown's postgame press conference on Saturday appeared to be over, he flipped the script, posing a question to the media in attendance.
"For corners — how can you back up and cover Josh (Downs) and Antoine Green?"
In North Carolina’s 41-10 win over Virginia Tech, it was clear that the Hokies didn't have the answer. The duo, who Brown cited as "two of the best receivers in the country," combined for 107 of the team’s 164 receiving yards in the first half to spark the North Carolina offense.
UNC's struggles with the run game were quickly on display, as the Tar Heels rushed for just 89 yards in the first half. The reliability of Green and Downs proved essential in moving the ball down the field quickly and helped UNC jump out to a 24-10 halftime lead.
"They are so good when they’re out there that it just makes a huge difference," Brown said. "If people continue to try to stop the running game, they're open. They're just there. They’re hard to cover."
While he didn’t record a touchdown, Downs may have played the biggest role of anyone in the receiving corps. In his second game back from injury, Downs recorded nearly a third of the team’s total receiving yards, leading the team with 120 over the course of eight catches.
This feat is especially impressive considering Downs had missed three weeks of practice earlier in the season with a lower-body injury.
"Josh may be our best player," Brown said. "He’s so quick and it's amazing what he's been able to do not being able to practice."
Green also missed significant time, as he spent the first three games on the sideline with a collarbone injury. After the game, graduate tight end Kamari Morales said the team joked about the senior wideout having "fresh legs."
Since returning to play against Notre Dame last week, Green has caught three touchdowns and tallied 209 receiving yards. On Saturday, Green was able to slip behind Virginia Tech's defensive backs in the second quarter for a 16-yard touchdown reception to put UNC up 21-3 after the extra point.
Morales said he "wasn't surprised" about Green's breakout performance in his last two games.
"A lot of people don't give 'Toine his credit for his speed." Morales said. "He ran track in high school and he's a longer guy — like, he can stride. If he can run, he can separate from you."
After Green and Downs dominated the first half, Bryson Nesbit emerged as a force in the second. The sophomore tight end recorded three 20-plus yard receptions in the third quarter, including a 25-yard pickup for a touchdown.
Morales, who scored UNC’s first touchdown of the game, said that having Green and Downs back on the field has helped him and the other tight ends get looks from Maye.
"If people cover (Green and Downs), they're going to leave the tight ends open." he said. "I need those guys on the field for sure. It definitely creates personnel problems."
After a 45-32 loss to Notre Dame last week, Brown told his players that they had to “create their own energy.”
While Brown admits that the team “really should’ve had more” than 41 points, he said that the Tar Heels “had a great night offensively” overall. According to Downs, the team is "clicking at the right time," as it moves into a significant chunk of conference play.
“I was glad to see the team grow today," he said. "For the past few years I haven't really seen it as much, but to go out there and finish the game strong and not let a lesser opponent hang with us was definitely great to see. It showed a lot of growth in us and I feel we can keep building on that going into Miami next week.”
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