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'It starts with me': Drake Maye, UNC offense crumbles in 39-20 loss to N.C. State

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UNC sophomore quarterback Drake Maye watches the from the sidelines in Carter Finley Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023 during the football game against N.C. State.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Following UNC football’s 39-20 loss to N.C. State in its final game of the regular season, there was one phrase that Drake Maye repeated over and over in the postgame press conference in slightly different variations: “It starts with me.” 

To be fair, the offensive meltdown that the Tar Heels — who led the ACC in total offense entering Saturday — displayed against the Wolfpack did start with the sophomore quarterback.

North Carolina only managed to make it 1 yard up the field on the first drive of the game. It didn't get better from there.

Maye appeared completely out of sorts throughout the first quarter, not making a single completion in just three attempts. Despite a slight improvement in the second half, he still only managed 254 total passing yards his fourth-worst performance of the season — catapulting the team to its fourth loss of the season in what might have been his final game as a Tar Heel. 

“I’ve got to do a better job, I’m the ultimate decision maker,” Maye said. “Ball's in my hand, touches my hands every play, so at times when I felt like we didn’t answer, it just falls back on me.”

Throughout the game, it seemed like Maye was unable to find any answers, repeatedly throwing the ball away and failing to connect with his typical targets. The entire offense appeared lost without their captain steering the ship. 

Typical top-receiver junior Tez Walker notched just 29 yards on an 18 percent completion rate in his worst performance of the season. Sophomore running back Omarion Hampton, who entered the game tied for first place nationally in total rushing yards, was only was able to put up 28 on the night, breaking his streak of six consecutive 100-yard performances. 

“We got so far behind we couldn't run it,” saidhead coach Mack Brown.  “He didn't touch it much tonight.”

At the end of the opening 30 minutes, UNC had less than half of N.C. State's total yardage.

“We were off in the first half,” Brown said. “It was as bad as I've ever seen us.”

Despite a slight rebound in the third quarter, recording two touchdowns, the Tar Heels were ultimately unable to overcome the deficit that they had fallen into at the beginning of the game. Succumbing to the rivalry loss cemented a worse regular season record than they ended with last year.

On top of that, the game could be Maye’s last in Carolina Blue. The Huntersville, N.C. native said he hadn’t yet decided if he would appear in UNC’s bowl game, but it's probable that he will sit it out to prepare for the NFL draft.

It seems like the worst possible ending for Maye, especially after the dream 6-0 start of the season for the Tar Heels, who entered the season with high expectations due to the talented pool of recruits and the Heisman hype surrounding their quarterback. 

After the game had concluded, Maye could only describe the ending of the season as “embarrassing,” something that senior linebacker Cedric Gray was quick to corroborate.

For Maye, who called UNC’s home win against Duke two weeks prior a “fairytale ending,” the game must have felt more like a nightmare. 

To cap it off, in what might have been his final pass as a Tar Heel, Maye threw an interception right into the gloves of N.C. State safety Devan Boykin to put what Maye dubbed the “dagger” into the game.

At the end of the day, Maye was right. North Carolina's weak performance did start with him — and it ended with him too.

@PeaceGwen

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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Gwen Peace

Gwen Peace is the 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. She has previously served as a senior writer. Gwen is a sophomore pursuing a double major in media and journalism and peace, war and defense.