CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Drake Maye threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more to continue his strong start to the season and North Carolina opened up Atlantic Coast Conference play with a 41-10 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Maye, a redshirt freshman, was able to consistently throw downfield, with 13 of his 26 completions going for at least 15 yards. He finished with 363 yards, going 26 of 36.
“Drake continues to do some amazing things,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “Standing in the pocket or moving and finding the open guy, he’s a special player.”
Josh Downs led UNC (4-1, 1-0 ACC) with eight catches and 120 yards, and tight end Bryson Nesbit added 98 receiving yards on four receptions.
Grant Wells completed 16 of 26 passes for 139 yards and ran for a touchdown, but the Hokies (2-3, 1-1) struggled overall against a Tar Heel defense that turned in its best performance of the season.
Linebacker Cedric Gray picked off Wells in the second quarter, which set up a 16-yard touchdown pass by Maye to Antoine Green one play later to give UNC a 21-3 lead, and the Hokies never got closer than 11 points.
The Tar Heels gave up nearly 500 yards per game in their first four contests, but UNC limited the number of big gainers by Virginia Tech. Wells never got in an extended rhythm, as the Hokies finished with only 273 yards and only had 92 in the second half.
TARGETING TIGHT ENDS
Part of UNC’s success in the passing game can be attributed to Maye having myriad options to throw to. As has been the case earlier in the year, UNC once again utilized its tight ends frequently in the passing game. Each of Nesbitt’s four receptions went for at least 18 yards, and Kamari Morales and John Copnehaver combined for five receptions, 64 yards and a touchdown. On the season, the trio of Nesbitt, Morales and Copenhaver has 33 receptions and five touchdowns.
VIRGINIA TECH OFFENSIVE WOES CONTINUE
For the second straight game, Virginia Tech was held to 10 points. The Hokies scored on two of their five first-half possessions but punted five straight times to start the second half. Outside of a 34-yard reception by Kaleb Smith and a 25-yard run by Keshawn King, Virginia Tech provided no big-play threats. “We dropped too many balls and misfired on some,” Virginia Tech first-year coach Brent Pry said. “We’ve got to create more opportunities for explosive plays.”
Virginia Tech: For the first time this year, Virginia Tech’s defense, which ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed per game, looked vulnerable from start to finish, allowing UNC to record 527 yards of offense. That’s not good news for Pry’s team as it prepares to face ranked opponents in two of its next three games.
“I told them we’re closer than they realize,” Pry said of his message to his players. “I’m watching them and there are just some 100-level things that we’re not doing that we do in practice. We just feel like we’ve got to do more out there.”
North Carolina: Maye continues to look more assured than most first-year starters, and UNC’s offense has hardly skipped a beat so far without Sam Howell, now in the NFL. But as impressive as Maye was, Brown might be most encouraged by his defense matching the offense’s big day.
That’s what I’ve been seeing in practice,” Brown said of his defense’s performance.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies remain on the road with a trip to No. 24 Pittsburgh on Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels will visit Miami on Saturday.