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UNC football's offense prepares for a physical matchup against Pittsburgh

Then UNC redshirt first-year quarterback Drake Maye (10) catches the snap at the homecoming football game against Pitt on Oct. 19, 2022 at Kenan Stadium. UNC beat Pitt 42-24.

For the first time since 1997, the UNC football team has started 3-0 in back-to-back seasons following a commanding 31-13 win against Minnesota on Saturday. 

Between a stout defensive showing and 519 yards of total offense, North Carolina has positive momentum heading into ACC play against Pittsburgh. 

With the prospect of emerging 4-0, the Tar Heel offense must fire on all cylinders to overcome a talented Pitt defense. 

Here are the keys to a strong offensive showing against the Panthers:  

The Maye-McCollum Connection:

In the absence of preseason standout wide receiver Devontez 'Tez' Walker due to eligibility issues,  junior Nate McCollum has stepped into the No. 1 wideout role for the Tar Heels. The McCollum-Maye chemistry was strong on Saturday with the Georgia Tech transfer hauling in 15 receptions, one shy of tying the UNC single-season reception record.

McCollum recorded 165 yards and one touchdown, while sophomore quarterback Drake Maye completed 29 of 40 passes and racked up 414 passing yards in the game.

Minnesota was McCollum's first start, however, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey doesn't think the mojo between Maye and McCollum is a one-off. 

“They've worked extremely hard since Nate got here,” Lindsey said. “Through spring ball, through the summer, they have a really good feel for each other. I think it's one of those things [that's going to] continue to grow as the season goes.” 

Maye isn't only targeting McCollum though — he's been leaning into a spread offensive style which has resulted in six Tar Heels averaging 25 or more receiving yards per game.

Distributing the ball around the field has relieved Maye from being the sole offensive producer, as versatile running backs like British Brooks and Omarion Hampton can handily gain yards on the ground if necessary. 

Playing complementary football will be a crucial advantage for the Tar Heels as they begin ACC play, and have thus far showcased an efficient pass-and-run game.

“We're trying to find an even balance and at the same time [follow] what the defense is doing,” Maye said. “And we are trying to establish the run and we have some backs that are making big plays.” 

This balance will be essential against a physical Pitt team, as Brown and his coaching staff will rely on whoever is producing in the moment. 

Clean up the O-line and prepare for a physical Pitt defense: 

Both a healthy run game and a dominant air raid rely on the success of the offensive line, which will have their work cut out for them against the Panthers.  

The Pittsburgh defense is known for its intensity, and this year is no exception. Despite losing first-round NFL draft pick Calijah Kancey, this year’s squad is led by senior lineman Dayon Hayes and junior linebacker Solomon DeShields, who have recorded 7 and 17 tackles, respectively.

The Pitt defensive line will match up against a thin UNC offensive line, whom Brown praised for their role in UNC’s 319-yard rushing day against App State, but expects more from after last week's lackluster performance. 

“We made some mental mistakes Saturday, and we actually missed some people and had some run through,” Brown said. “And we just can't do that. So we were disappointed in some of our offensive linemen on Saturday.” 

The Panthers run a fast and aggressive defense under defensive coordinator Randy Bates, who has coached the No.1 rushing defense in the ACC for the past three years. To come out on top against the Panthers, the offensive line will look to buckle down and open running lanes in order to aid Maye and the receivers.

In-game adjustments and a well-thought-out plan will be critical when playing the Panthers who have limited opponents to just 3.3 yards per carry. 

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“Their M.O. is they’re gonna be physical, they're gonna play fast, they're gonna challenge you and make you earn it,” Lindsey said.


@dthsports |