Last month we took a dive into the ACC Quarterbacks of 2022, detailing their attributes and projecting how they would get on. At the time of writing it appeared that UNC were torn between Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye, they both played bit part roles last year behind Sam Howell, and there were plenty of questions around who would lead the Tar Heels into the 2022 regular season.
The build-up to last weekend’s game saw Drake Maye named as starting quarterback. It was just six days before the Week 0 clash with Florida A&M. UNC were billed as 44-point favorites leading up to the game, and despite a sluggish show on defense, Maye showcased what he had to offer by leading them to a 56-24 victory.
Who is Drake Maye?
Maye left Myers Park High School as a four-star prospect after being named MaxPreps North Carolina Player of the Year, initially committing to Alabama. However, he later decommitted from the Crimson Tide and pledged himself to the University of North Carolina. His decision was likely based on Bryce Young’s presence, with Maye seeing his chances of playing time limited by the dominant five-star signal caller. It’s also worth noting that playing in Chapel Hill meant that Maye could play in front of his friends and family in his native Carolina.
Although the move to UNC was initially difficult, given the presence of Sam Howell, Maye now has every chance of being the long term starting quarterback for the Tar Heels. Especially if his debut is the sign of things to come.
Maye’s debut for the Tar Heels has made waves in the national media. He was ranked number one in Athlon Sports’ list of the best debuts for quarterbacks in week 0, earning high marks for such a composed and commanding performance.
The debut was also record breaking, Maye’s five touchdowns in his debut game set a new UNC programme best as he finished an impressive 29 of 37 passes complete, 294 yards and no INTs. However, his play also allowed a running game that picked up 314 yards as the A&M defense threw everything at the passing game.
He targeted ten different receivers, albeit relying a bit more on Josh Downs, hitting the wide receiver nine times for 78 yards and two touchdowns, but overall he worked the field without hitting any big downfield passes. His longest reception was for 33 yards, but it was an assured performance which will have excited the Tar Heels’ fans.
Not to be limited to just the pass, Maye also showed some positivity on the ground. He picked up 55 yards from four carries, including a nice 42-yard run in the first quarter that would have settled the nerves.
For a player that stands at 6’5, 220 pounds, Maye’s footwork in the open field was mesmerising from the off, pushing him all the way to the FAMU 19 yard line, where he then found Kamari Morales in the end zone to make a 19 yard completion and the opening touchdown.
He looked nimble on his feet, and shifted his body weight with ease and composure. This enabled him to avoid a few tackles, as he used his body to pick up an extra three or four yards after first impact down the sideline. It was just an early indication of what he can do with the ball when options are limited down the field, and he looked assured throughout his run.
From a throwing perspective, the opening touchdown was exactly what the UNC faithful wanted to see. Maye had a defender running at him, threw it slightly off balance over two defenders to find Morales in the end zone. He used all his height to loop it over the defenders but he did so quickly and effectively.
The first two scores of the game saw him manage the pocket beautifully, showing off nice composure and finding the open receiver for the second touchdown. However, his third touchdown was more impressive. He was pressed and forced out of the pocket around the 10-yard line, went left and found the open receiver in the end zone. Another demonstration of how he can adjust to what is going on but also showcase what he can do with his feet.
Opposition defenses will surely already be worried, as Maye showed that anything around the 20-30 yard line could easily wind up with a receiver catching the ball in the end zone. Three times from an open pocket he waited for the opportune moment and released the pass beautifully into the hands of his receiver.
There’s no doubt that Maye had a highly productive day at quarterback for UNC. He looked assured within the pocket, but he also showed what he can do with his feet when pressured into moving outside of it. His three touchdown passes to the end zone were perfect, timing the pass beautifully with the runs of the receivers whilst also showing composure when pressed into making something happen away from the designed play.
It was the perfect debut for the redshirt freshman, and there is little doubt he will show the same ability in the next couple of games before a tough run of games from week four onwards.
With Notre Dame, Miami (FL), Pittsburgh and Wake Forest all to come before the end of the season, it will be very interesting to see how he adapts to stronger opponents, but from what we saw in Week 0, Drake Maye is one to watch for 2022.
By Jake Tweedie – @AccukAnalysis1