Takeaways and top performers from UNC football’s spring game
CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina football’s spring game Saturday at Kenan Stadium provided fans with a first look at what the Tar Heels might look like in the 2023 season.
After an hour of special teams and drills, UNC scrimmaged for the final hour. Sophomore quarterback Drake Maye led a pair of scoring drives in the first half, throwing two touchdown passes to give his team a 13-0 lead.
Maye, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, didn't play in the second half. Noah Burnette made a 38-yard field goal for the only points after halftime.
Running back George Pettaway, tight end Bryson Nesbit, defensive back Alijah Huzzie, and defensive linemen Travis Shaw and Des Evans were among the Tar Heels not in uniform.
In 140 days, UNC opens the season Sept. 2 against South Carolina in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium. Here are three takeaways from the Tar Heels’ final practice of the spring.
Drake Maye’s connection with Tez Walker, Nate McCollum
Drake Maye and wide receiver Devontez Walker provided some early fireworks on a 35-yard touchdown for the first points. Walker, a Kent State transfer, showed off his speed on a vertical route to create separation. Maye completed eight of his first 10 passes, including three to Walker for 59 yards.
MAYE DAY:NFL scouts get early look at UNC QB Drake Maye, who could be top pick in 2024 NFL Draft
NEWEST TAR HEELS:UNC football recruiting class 2023: Meet the Tar Heels' early signees
Nate McCollum, a Georgia Tech transfer, got in on the action with a 37-yard catch on Maye’s fourth drive. McCollum capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown catch on a pass that was thrown behind him. He went down and snagged the ball before it hit the turf.
“What you saw out of Tez (in the spring game) is what we’ve seen every day," UNC head coach Mack Brown said.
"Nate’s really caught more balls than that. We didn’t have a game plan – we weren’t trying to get it to him – but I was glad he got the one deep ball so everybody could see what’s out there. (Nate is) really quick.”
British Brooks returns at running back
After missing the 2022 season with a lower body injury, fifth-year running back British Brooks is working his way back. Brooks got some work in the spring game and wasn’t among the players in a yellow non-contact jersey, but the Tar Heels played a "thud" defense instead of tackling runners. On the first drive for the backups, Brooks had four carries and an impressive catch-and-run.
"So good to see him back out there, and he got a lot of plays," Brown said. "We couldn't have played him in (a real game), so that's why we felt like he needed to get a lot and give him confidence going into the offseason."
He was expected to be UNC’s lead back in 2022 before a season-ending injury in a preseason practice. Brooks appeared in 11 games in 2021, averaging 9.5 rushing yards per attempt with 295 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns.
Myles Murphy, Kaimon Rucker, Jaybron Harvey shine for defense
Myles Murphy and Kaimon Rucker, a pair of seniors, showed an ability to get pressure on Maye in the first half. The veteran defenders combined for 2½ sacks and two tackles for loss in the first half. Murphy, a defensive lineman, had 1½ sacks to lead the defense.
Jaybron Harvey, a freshman defensive lineman, had three sacks and a tackle for loss in the second half against UNC's backup quarterbacks. Harvey, an early enrollee from Mebane, joined the Tar Heels as the ninth-ranked player in the state, according to 247Sports.
"We're quicker off the ball, we're playing with lower pads, we're using our hands better and we're penetrating," Brown said. "We're being more violent, and that's something you have to do to disrupt an offense and something we haven't done. I'm excited and we have really challenged those guys."
Staff writer Rodd Baxley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @RoddBaxley on Twitter.