Drake Maye leads No. 21 UNC into battle against Pitt

No. 21 North Carolina will strengthen its grip on the top spot in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division if it can top visiting Pitt on Saturday night in Chapel Hill, N.C.

UNC (6-1, 3-0 ACC) is coming off a bye week, having last played on Oct. 15, when it went north on Tobacco Road and beat rival Duke 38-35 in Durham. That contest was another stellar outing for Tar Heels redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye, who completed 28 of 38 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing 18 times for a net gain of 70 yards in the win.

Maye leads the ACC in adjusted passing yards per attempt this season with a mark of 11.4. He also leads the conference in completions (162), passing yards per attempt (9.9), touchdowns responsible for (27), completion percentage (70.1), passer rating (184.8) and total yards (2,661).

Simply put: The Tar Heels wouldn’t be in a position to potentially play for an ACC championship this season if it wasn’t for Maye.

But he could be better, according to UNC offensive coordinator Phil Longo. He told reporters this week that Maye spent the bye week working on his mobility and protecting the football.

“We want (Maye) to move when he needs to move, but we would like to have quieter feet in the pocket,” Longo said. “There are times, and Drake could tell you where we kind of skate to the left or the right, and we’ve got a good pocket. And now you’re making the life of the O-line a little bit more difficult.”

Pitt (4-3, 1-2 ACC) has the potential to make things difficult for Maye and the UNC offense. The Panthers have 21 sacks this season — tied for 21st in the nation — and average 6.4 tackles-for-loss per game.

The Panthers’ defense hasn’t always been stout as this season, but under Pat Narduzzi, it’s typically been a source of pride for Pitt. Since Narduzzi took over in 2015, Pitt has 18 defensive touchdowns and are 13-5 when they have at least one.

“You look at the defense, there’s still things that we can get better at,” Narduzzi said this week. “Defense will have a great challenge (against UNC). Offense has got to rebound and take the football and score points.”

The Panthers are coming off a 24-10 loss at Louisville. Last season, Pitt had offense powered by quarterback Kenny Pickett and a lethal passing attack that led it to an ACC championship. Pickett is now in the NFL, his top receiver — Jordan Addison — bolted for Southern California and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple went to Nebraska. So now, this is an offense fully molded in Narduzzi’s vision.

And against Louisville, it mustered just 158 passing yards.

Still, Narduzzi stood behind quarterback Kedon Slovis after a performance with two interceptions and zero touchdowns.

“I think he’s done a great job,” Narduzzi said. “I watch practice every day, and we’re playing our best football player right now at quarterback. I’ve got no doubt about it. Kedon is our best quarterback to help us win a football game right now.”

UNC and Pitt have a history of playing some pretty competitive games. Twelve of the 15 meetings between the two sides have been decided by single digits. Pitt has won two straight in the series, both in overtime and both in Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 0-6 in Chapel Hill.

–Field Level Media