CHAPEL HILL, NC — North Carolina soccer coach Mack Brown met with reporters Monday for his first media availability of the week leading up to Saturday’s game against visiting Georgia Tech.
The Tar Heels (9-1 overall, 6-0 ACC) come after their 36-34 away win at Wake Forest that clinched the ACC Coastal Division title. Drake Maye accounted for 519 total yards and four touchdowns while Josh Downs had 11 catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns while playing through body cramps in the second half.
The win marked the fourth straight game in which UNC has overcome a second-half deficit. Two games remain in the regular season, and then the Tar Heels have a December 3 date in the ACC Championship game against Atlantic Division Champion Clemson.
UNC moved up two spots to 13th in Sunday’s AP Top 25 poll and awaits the release of the third edition of the college football rankings Tuesday night. The Tar Heels were No. 15 in the CFP Committee’s second installment last week.
Georgia Tech (4-6, 3-4) loses to Miami 35-14. The Yellow Jackets have been under interim coach Brent Kay since Geoff Collins was fired in September. Georgia Tech fielded freshman Zach Pyron and Akron traded Zach Gibson as quarterback against Miami, with starter Jeff Sims still sidelined with a foot injury.
Here are our running notes of what Brown said Monday at Kenan Football Center…
— Comments on the shooting in Charlottesville, Virginia. “We have to be smarter and figure this thing out. We can’t keep having useless deaths. This isn’t the news you want to wake up to.”
Brown’s daughter, Barbara Brown Wilson, is an associate professor and faculty director at the School of Architecture in Virginia.
– UNC receiver Antoine Green (Upper Assault) will be evaluated later in the week and his status with Georgia Tech will be determined closer to game time. He had four catches for 81 yards at Wake Forest before going over the middle late in the first half after a big hit. Wake Forest defender AJ Williams drew a well-aimed penalty on the game.
No update from UNC on safety Ja’Qurious Conley (knee) who suffered a setback from injury in training last week.
– Brown said UNC is “still a crazy team” with equal parts affection and mystification. “For some reason we can’t play a full game. We just can’t step on the gas and send someone away. … And then it’s like we need to sleep for a while. I do not know. It’s something that can beat you.”
— Winning Wake Forest Player of the Game: Maye and Downs (Offensive), Defensive End Kaimon Rucker (Defense), Tight End John Copenhaver (Special Teams). Brown said Maye and Downs are as good as any quarterback-receiver combo in college football. Tight end Bryson Nesbit, running back Elijah Green, offensive linemen Corey Gaynor and Asim Richards, Copenhaver and Antoine Green are recognized as high profile contributors on offense.
“He’s one of our best defenders,” Brown said of Rucker. “He’s a tenacious pass rusher. He even played injured (in Virginia).” Defensive lineman Kevin Hester Jr. and Myles Murphy and linebackers Cedric Gray and Power Echols are recognized as high-profile contributors on defense.
Defensive back Will Hardy, running back DJ Jones, walk-on linebacker Jake Harkleroad and running back George Pettaway are recognized as high profile contributions on special teams.
– Brown points out that UNC is 9-1 for the fourth time since 1980. “These guys are accomplishing things that haven’t been accomplished here in a long time,” he said.
Brown said when he became Coastal Division champion his players “didn’t get back in, and they did with a couple of games left.” But he reiterated that the Tar Heels make “totally too many mistakes that will eventually be beaten” if not corrected.
– Downs have set an ACC record for catches over a three-game span with 37 receptions. Brown said Gray is “everywhere on the field and playing at a high level” at linebacker. Gray’s 108 tackles in the season and 10.8 tackles per game lead the ACC. “This was an all-Jeeps team,” Brown said.
UNC’s offense had 16 explosive games at Wake Forest. The Tar Heels converted 10 of 16 third downs to first downs but went 0 to 2 on fourth downs.
“Not only did we play offensively, but I was disappointed with the goal in the red zone,” Brown said. In the second half, UNC was tamped by Wake Forest’s 1-yard line on three tries and finished that drive without a goal. The Tar Heels later got to Wake Forest 5 before settling for Noah Burnette’s field goal, which turned out to be the game’s winner. “We have point touchdowns,” Brown said. “That’s just not acceptable and we’re just not.” He added that there’s “a certain tenacity that you have to have in the red zone run game.”
– While pulling out another narrow win in another anxious ending, this time at Wake. “We won the fourth quarter 3-0 and ended up winning the game by two.”
— Brown said Georgia Tech dominated UNC when the teams met last year, a 45-22 loss in September that knocked the Tar Heels out of the AP poll to stay. “They killed us. It was awful,” Brown said. “I watched it this morning and it made me throw up.”
On the firing of Collins earlier in the season, Brown said he “hated seeing Geoff let go so early in a lawsuit because he was taking an options team.” Brown said he’s heard good things about Kay, the interim, from people who he respects in the coaching business.
Brown said Georgia Tech beat Duke and Pittsburgh, teams that rallied the Tar Heels to defeat them. “And they’re going to play hard,” Brown said. “They’re still fighting for a bowl bid, so they’re going to come in here and give us the best chance they have.”
Brown said UNC has to be ready to play mentally and Saturday should be “a very good test to see where we’ve matured”.
— “Probably the best thing about this team is that they’re not remotely happy with the way they’re playing,” Brown said. “They were a team that was very susceptible to criticism.” It’s a group of players who don’t care too much about patting themselves on the back, he said.
Brown said he sees team leaders like Gray, Echols and safety Gio Biggers pulling UNC defenses together and challenging teammates in constructive ways. Brown said Gray may be the most important among the players who helped bring about a culture shift for UNC’s defense. Brown said Gray and Echols put it into practice every day. “They have a passion for football,” he said. “I can sit here and tell you they train really well in the morning and will play really hard on Saturday.”
– Brown said beating Wake Forest on the road was the latest significant step in this season’s journey for UNC. Now the next steps on the way are Georgia Tech, followed by the regular-season finale against rivals NC State.
“They can either become a great team or they can stand around and remain a good team for the next few weeks,” Brown said, referring to his message with the ACC championship game secured. “It’s entirely up to you and your attitude.”
– Brown said Maye “played light” in Wake Forest. He said it was up to the Tar Heels to keep winning to further promote Maye’s Heisman Trophy credentials and his candidacy for the award. “I think he should be invited to New York after what he’s done so far,” Brown said of December’s Heisman ceremony.
Brown recalled sitting there three times not knowing if any of his players would win the Hesiman, referring to former Texas stars Ricky Williams (the 1998 winner), Vince Young (the 2005 runner-up) and Colt McCoy (the third). -placed in 2009).
Brown said that if he had to pick Maye’s Heisman-esque moments so far, he would pick Duke’s touchdown drives to end the first half (TD passes the run to Caleb Hood in the corner of the end zone with 13 seconds remaining) and win the game (TD passes to Antoine Green in the corner of the end zone with 16 seconds to go).
– Brown says he texted Jeff Saturday Sunday night congratulating him on his debut as interim coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Braunwitze should now be 1-0 undefeated on Saturday.