CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — At halftime, the No. 17 North Carolina football team trails Virginia, 14-10.
The Cavaliers marched down the field on their first drive and scored on a quarterback sneak from Brennan Armstrong within the first five minutes.
A sequence of passes by UNC redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye quickly took the Tar Heel offense to the redzone, but a costly false start penalty followed by a Virginia sack forced North Carolina to settle for a field goal.
From there, neither offense could seem to click until late in the second quarter, when Maye connected with four different receivers, capped off by a chaotic cross-field quarterback scramble for a touchdown. Virginia answered with a four minute drive capped off by a rushing touchdown.
Here are the three takeaways from the first half:
Virginia offense thriving without starting wideouts
Until junior defensive back Storm Duck picked off Armstrong’s pass on a deflection by junior linebacker Cedric Gray, the Cavaliers' offense seemed to be picking apart North Carolina’s defense with ease.
Virginia has the fifth-worst rushing offense in the ACC at 131.6 yards per game. So far, the Cavaliers have rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Gray, North Carolina’s star linebacker, has already registered 13 tackles. To put this into perspective, his season-high for a game is 14.
Maye struggling to connect with receivers
Maye has just 109 passing yards in the first half against an experienced Cavalier secondary. Virginia has only allowed 193 passing yards per game and has pressured Maye into two hurries and a critical red zone sack. The Cavaliers’ 26 sacks on the season are good for third in the ACC.
On most pass plays, Maye has been forced to either settle for checkdowns to junior wideout Josh Downs or scramble. UNC’s lone touchdown came in the red zone when Maye appeared to be boxed in near the right sideline, then proceeded to sprint back across the field into the end zone.
On that same drive, the Tar Heels gained favorable field position on a questionable pass interference call. Before that play, senior wideout Antoine Greene dropped a wide open lob into the end zone.
Elijah Green impresses in starting role
With starting sophomore running back Caleb Hood out for the season, sophomore Elijah Green has provided consistency in the run game — something the North Carolina offense has lacked in recent games.
Although Maye leads the team in rushing so far with 44 yards, most of his yardage is from scrambling on intended pass plays. On six carries, Green has netted 42 yards, including a 17-yard gain down the middle.
The Tar Heels have still resorted to passing on 19 of their 34 plays, but with the wideouts struggling to create separation against Virginia’s third-ranked ACC passing defense, North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo may elect to give the ball to Green more in the second half.
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