The immediate aftermath of North Carolina’s 39-10 loss to Clemson had less to do with what went wrong in the ACC Championship game and more to do with major roster decisions that will not only shape who plays in the Tar Heels’ bowl game, but what the team looks like next season.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye tried to quell the speculation that he would consider leaving Carolina to play elsewhere next season. He said he had not been contacted by any other school and he plans on returning to Chapel Hill.
“That’s my intentions, Carolina kid, it means something wearing that Carolina blue,” said Maye, whose family roots at UNC are deeply entrenched. “So that’s my intentions. I love this place and these fans have been great. It’s been a heck of a season, first year for me. I couldn’t ask for more, I’d probably wish the games would have gone a little different at the end here.”
If there’s a legitimate question of opposing schools trying to lure Maye — whose father, Mark, is a former UNC quarterback; whose mother, Aimee, also graduated from Carolina; whose oldest brother, Luke, was on the 2017 men’s basketball national title team; whose younger brother, Beau, is his roommate who also plays basketball for the Tar Heels — then that would mean no one in college sports is off limits.
Maye said he wouldn’t appreciate any school trying to contact him directly, but said he didn’t have a plan in place to handle it because he, “hadn’t thought that deep into it.”
Maye also hinted that his loyalty was because of, “The way that Carolina treated me and put their trust in me, a redshirt freshman quarterback.”
Here are a few other takeaways after the Tar Heels’ loss:
Decision time for Downs
Junior receiver Josh Downs left the locker room hauling the name placard with the ACC Championship logo that was over his locker. He recorded 11 catches for 100 yards in what could have been his final game in a Carolina uniform.
Downs is eligible to declare for the NFL draft. If he does that, he could also decide to skip out on UNC’s bowl appearance to begin his draft preparation. His decision in that regard is arguably the second-most important on the team.
Downs said he “wasn’t entirely sure,” when he’ll make a decision, saying he has a few weeks to make it.
“I’m not really too worried about the future,” Downs said. “I mean, of course, I’m worried about it, but not a whole lot. I mean, we got one more game.”
Red zone means stop
The Heels lack of a consistent run game is partly to blame for their inefficiency in scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 20. Carolina ran the ball eight times inside the red zone. Four of those runs ended with tackles for losses. That made their total rushing yards on eight attempts zero yards.
The Tigers knew UNC had to throw the ball to score and they picked Maye off twice in his 13 red zone passing attempts.
“We struggled a little bit the red zone against Georgia Tech and NC State, so, same thing,” Downs said. “We just didn’t finish when we had the opportunity to red zone.”
Carolina’s Lejond Cavazos made his second straight start at cornerback. Freshman Will Hardy made his first start at safety as did freshman Marcus Allen at cornerback.
That may have played a part in how much success Clemson quarterback Cade Klubik had throwing the ball as the Tigers’ game plan.
The Heels allowed seven pass plays of more than 15 yards, including a 68-yarder and a 43-yarder that both set up touchdowns. (They had allowed five and four, respectively, the past two weeks against Georgia Tech and N.C. State.)
In the first half, with Klubick getting comfortable and confident, the Heels didn’t want to put them in man-to-man coverage much out of fear of getting beat.
The result was Cole Turner recording Clemson’s first 100-yard receiving game of the season with three catches for 101 yards — and Klubnik winning the game’s MVP award.