North Carolina offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey had a pleasurable time Monday rehashing the Tar Heels’ thrilling victory over Duke, and especially the play of quarterback Drake Maye.
“Drake kind of willed us to the win,” Lindsey said.
Omarion Hampton rushed for 169 yards, tight end Bryson Nesbit made some terrific catches, wideout Tez Walker was a constant deep threat and the offensive line graded out well Saturday for the Tar Heels (8-2, 4-2 ACC), now ranked No. 22 in the AP poll as they gear up to play at Clemson (6-4, 3-4).
It all added up to 47 points, and against a Duke defense that made the Heels earn all 47 as Lindsey said the Heels used every play call they had in the game plan.
Then there was the defense — and more questions for defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
The Heels gave up 45 points, including seven after Maye’s worst mistake of the game, an interception that was returned to the UNC 14. Again, the Heels appeared to be gasping for air — figuratively and literally — in the fourth quarter.
The Blue Devils had scoring drives of 70, 54 and 75 yards in the final quarter. Running back Jordan Waters had two of the touchdowns on runs of 13 and then 23 yards, easily getting to the edge and beating UNC defenders in the race to the end zone.
With 41 seconds left in the fourth quarter and UNC leading 33-29, Duke turned a fourth-and-7 situation into a 30-yard touchdown. With UNC blitzing, leaving its secondary in man coverage, Duke’s Jordan Moore got behind cornerback Marcus Allen down the right sideline and grabbed the Grayson Loftis pass for the score.
“We brought everybody we could bring and they isolated a guy and they made a play, and sometimes that happens,” Chizik said Monday. “Sometimes, opponents out-execute you in those moments.”
Duke scored 22 points and had 209 yards in total offense in the fourth quarter as UNC struggled, mightily, as it did in a fourth-quarter collapse and loss to Tech. The Yellow Jackets also had a 22-point fourth period.
“There were some explosive passes on that 70-yard drive, which got things started,” Chizik said. “We weren’t great in pass execution in coverage. We could have done some things better in the rush, as well. And in some of those cases, they made good plays.
“We’re looking at that. We just have to find a way in the fourth quarter to play better football.”
UNC coach Mack Brown said Monday that fatigue could be an issue, and noted linebackers Cedric Ray and Power Echols probably have been logging too many plays. Gray was in for 77 snaps against Duke and Echols had 76.
“I have to think we’re getting tired and I’ve asked our coaches to look at it,” Brown said Monday. “We don’t substitute at linebacker and we have to. They’ve got to be worn out, to play as many snaps as they have and at this time of year.
“We’re rotating up front. We’re rotating at safety. But we missed too many tackles at safety. We lost our edge twice.”
Brown noted that on the two Waters scoring runs around the left side, a safety and a corner could not force the two plays back inside or make the tackle once it became a foot race.
“I have to think it’s fatigue,” Brown said. “ I don’t know. We’re struggling with it to try and figure it out.”
That’s Chizik’s job, to figure it out. The Heels’ defense had issues with tempo in the Georgia Tech game, but believed that was corrected in the next game — against Campbell — with quicker and fewer defensive calls.
But if the Heels believed they could rattle Loftis, a true freshman in his second start, they were wrong. Loftis was accurate enough on many of his throws and again in overtime, when he hit Moore for a 6-yard TD pass in the second OT.
The Heels again will look to address and clean up those mistakes as they game-plan for the trip to Clemson and the game Saturday in Death Valley.
Brown, noting the Tigers’ back-to-back wins over Miami and Georgia Tech, pointed out a lack of turnovers and what he perceives as renewed confidence at Clemson. It will be the third straight home game and Senior Day for the Tigers, who whipped UNC 38-6 in the 2022 ACC Championship game.
Brown said he watched Clemson dismantle Georgia Tech 42-21 with a disturbing thought.
“They’re the old Clemson again,” Brown said. “I said, ‘Uh, oh, the boys are back. They woke up.’”