No. 14 UNC drubs Syracuse 40-7 behind Maye's 4 total touchdowns

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Sunday, October 8, 2023
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WTVD) -- All week, the big news out of Chapel Hill was the NCAA's reversal of Tez Walker's case, meaning the transfer wide receiver could make his season debut Saturday against Syracuse.

But even better news for the No. 14 North Carolina may have been the return to elite form for quarterback Drake Maye, who turned in his best performance of the season in a 40-7 drubbing of the Orange.

Maye threw for 442 yards and three touchdowns while avoiding turnovers. He added a rushing touchdown and finished with 55 yards on 14 carries.

The Tar Heels (5-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) overpowered the Orange with a ball-control offense that churned out 644 yards total offense and about twice as much time of possession.

"We're playing to a standard," coach Mack Brown said. "This was important to (our players) to get better and that's what they did."

Walker made an understated if solid debut. Fans itching to see highlight-reel fireworks from the highly touted receiver will have to wait another week.

Walker's first catch came on a 6-yard play on North Carolina's second possession, shortly after he was on the field for his first snap.

"It's a blessing to be out there," Walker said.

The former Kent State player finished with six receptions for 43 yards. The six catches were second on the team among the 11 Tar Heels who caught passes in the game.

"Kind of wanted to get him the groove," Maye said. "Glad to see him out there. What a great story."

His highlight moment could have come in the first half, but Maye overthrew a wide-open Walker in the end zone by nearly 10 yards, a rare bad miss on the day for UNC's star quarterback.

The Tar Heels had plenty of other weapons on this day. The longest pass play was Kobe Paysour's 76-yard touchdown reception after he tipped a slightly off-target pass to himself and then outraced the Orange secondary to the end zone.

North Carolina wide receiver Kobe Paysour outruns everyone for a 76-yard touchdown pass Saturday in Chapel Hill.
Chris Seward

"He saved my butt there," Maye said.

Nate McCollum caught seven passes for 135 yards and Paysour gained 100 yards on three catches.

Syracuse (4-2, 0-2) had 221 yards of total offense. Quarterback Garrett Shrader was 15 for 21 for 124 yards and an interception.

"There was real football out there," Orange coach Dino Babers said. "That's a good team. Those guys were big, strong and fast and they executed very well."

North Carolina's Noah Burnette kicked four field goals.

The Orange was held to 70 total yards in the first half. The Orange opened the second half on a 75-yard drive with LeQuint Allen's 1-yard TD run.

North Carolina's defense allowed 11 first downs - the fewest in a game in 11 years.

"We had a big challenge on our hands. I thought we handled it well," UNC nose tackle Tomari Fox said. "The odds were already against them (coming off a loss and on the road). We couldn't give them any help."

The Tar Heels used 14 plays to go 64 yards for Burnette's 29-yard field goal on the game's opening possession.

North Carolina's second scoring drive ended on Maye's 1-yard sneak, covering 94 yards in 17 plays. It included a Tar Heels punt that was blocked by Syracuse's Denis Jaquez Jr., but punter Ben Kiernan scooped the ball and barely picked up a first down.

Maye connected with tight end Bryson Nesbit in the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown in the second quarter to complete a nine-play, 77-yard march.

The margin grew to 24-0 after Maye's 1-yard flip to tight end John Copenhaver to cap a 95-yard drive.

"I don't think I've seen a first half that dominant in a long, long time," Brown said.

North Carolina has scored 30 or more points in its first five games for the second consecutive year. The Tar Heels eclipsed the 600-yard mark with more than 12 minutes to play.

The Tar Heels will remain home next Saturday for another key showdown vs. No. 17 Miami.

The Associated Press contributed.