After UNC’s 31-13 win against Minnesota on Saturday afternoon, head coach Mack Brown had one thing to say about Nate McCollum.
“He became Josh Downs for us today,” he said. “He was the guy, the go-to guy.”
Sophomore quarterback Drake Maye echoed Brown's sentiment, likening the junior wide receiver's ability to find open space to that of former UNC standout Downs, whose 22 career receiving touchdowns is a program second-best.
It's easy to see why.
McCollum, a transfer from Georgia Tech, racked up 165 receiving yards and 15 catches — just one away from tying UNC's single-game record for receptions — on Saturday to carry the Tar Heels to a third consecutive victory. McCollum's spatial awareness and knack for getting open helped expand UNC's air game, as Maye finished with 414 passing yards, almost matching his combined 477 passing yards in the first two games this season.
McCollum had only played limited snaps prior to Saturday due to a lower body injury and had never started for North Carolina.
"Last week [against Appalachian State], we just weren't sure," Brown said. "We weren't sure how much he could do. We didn't want to put him back out there and get him hurt again. And then after the game, he said, 'You know I could've played more tonight.'"
Before Saturday's game, McCollum confided in Maye that he was “itching to play.”
“Once you hear that from anybody, you know you're expecting them to be clicking on all cylinders,” Maye said. “[McCollum] showed that tonight.”