(Photo credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports)
No. 17 North Carolina leaves the Tar Heel State for the first time this season when it travels to Pittsburgh on Saturday to face the Panthers in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
UNC (3-0) scored a dominant 31-13 home win over Minnesota last week, a showcase of sorts for ACC Preseason Player of the Year Drake Maye. Maye completed 29 of 40 passes for 414 yards and two touchdowns, and he also rushed 13 times for 34 yards.
In just 17 games as the Tar Heels' starting quarterback -- and two other appearances as a backup in 2021 -- Maye now has 43 career passing touchdowns, pushing him past Mitch Trubisky for sixth place in program history. The Minnesota game marked the second time Maye has thrown for at least 400 yards in a single game in his career. UNC is 7-1 all-time when Maye tops 300 yards through the air.
However, Maye has also thrown four interceptions through three games this season after throwing just seven all of last year. He knows he can be better.
"We got a lot going for us offensively," Maye said. "We still haven't played our best. We are hitting our stride on some drives."
Pitt (1-2) has two hands on the wheel and is looking to make a U-turn after losing a pair of games to regional non-conference rivals Cincinnati and West Virginia.
Against WVU in the Backyard Brawl, Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec connected on just 8 of 20 passes for 81 yards and three interceptions.
Jurkovec came to Pitt this past offseason after three seasons at Boston College. The fit seemed natural because Jurkovec was reuniting with former BC offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, who had been the play-caller for the Eagles when Jurkovec had his best season, throwing for 17 touchdowns and rushing for three more in 2020.
Jurkovec is completing just 46.7 percent of his passes, a career worst. Against WVU, Pitt ran the ball 12 straight times to start the game. This has all led some to question the coaching staff's confidence in the quarterback.
"I'm not a quarterback whisperer. I'm not a quarterback guru," Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said. "But I do believe, from anywhere that I've ever been, that it takes time to jell with your guys."
And if a change is made at quarterback, that's a decision Narduzzi will delegate to Cignetti.
"I'm leaning on Frank and the offensive staff to make the right decision at every position," Narduzzi said. "Those guys know better. I don't sit in there. I spend 85 percent of my time in the defensive side of the room."
The Heels are 11-5 all-time against Pitt and won last year's contest 42-24 in Chapel Hill.
"They always play you tough," UNC coach Mack Brown said of Pitt. "They're one of the toughest teams in this league."
The Tar Heels are just one of four teams in FBS with two non-conference wins against Power 5 opponents; the others are Utah, Colorado and Fresno State.
--Field Level Media