Football, Sports, WVU Sports

In the Mayo Bowl, hold the Maye-O

It’s nearly impossible to watch North Carolina’s offense this season and imagine what it would be like without quarterback Drake Maye.

Maye, one of the top signal-callers in the country and a projected top pick in the NFL Draft, did it all for the UNC offense. He threw all but eight of the team’s 433 pass attempts this season for 3,608 yards and 24 touchdowns and was also the team’s second-leading rusher with 449 yards and nine scores.

Maye is so highly considered for the draft that he opted out of the team’s Duke’s Mayo Bowl appearance against West Virginia (5:30 p.m./ESPN).

“Maye is special, he’s going to be the first or second quarterback taken in the draft,” WVU coach Neal Brown said.

While it is difficult to evaluate UNC’s offense knowing Maye won’t be a part of it, there is a silver lining.

“I’m super excited that I don’t have to scout them knowing that he’s playing,” WVU co-defensive coordinator ShaDon Brown said. “Great player, probably will be the first over second pick overall. He had an unbelievable career at North Carolina.”

In Maye’s place, redshirt freshman Conner Harrell will be making his first career start.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity, blessed to be in this position. I have to take advantage of it,” Harrell said. “I have to take advantage of every day, every practice.”

Harrell saw very little playing time backing up Maye this season. He threw six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown and ran five times for 50 yards.

“He didn’t really have too many plays this year so we’ve had to watch some of his high school highlights,” WVU cornerback Beanie Bishop admitted. “The guy can run, so they might try to change up the game plan a little bit to try to get him into a rhythm.”

Wednesday can be thought of as an early audition for Harrell as he tries to get a head start on UNC’s quarterback competition for 2024. His main competition will be Texas A&M transfer Max Johnson.

“When you’re playing these games, there’s going to be some energy around (Harrell) playing,” Neal Brown said. “This is an opportunity for him on a good stage. They brought in a transfer quarterback and I guarantee he’s using this to say ‘hey, you might be bringing a transfer here, but I’m here and this is my job.’

“When you think about him, two things stick out,” Neal Brown said. “First thing is he’s a big kid that’s really fast, second thing is he throws the deep ball really well.”

Harrell shares a lot of attributes with WVU starter Garrett Greene, who is also a dynamic runner and throws a nice deep ball. Does that mean the Tar Heels will ditch what they were doing with Maye and all of a sudden look more like the Mountaineers on Wednesday? Not necessarily.

“Are they going to look the exact same they did when they had Drake Maye at quarterback? I don’t know,” Brown said. “They’re not going to ask their o-line to do a bunch of different things, but I definitely think they’re going to have some quarterback run game and I can see them throwing the ball off some play-action stuff and getting the ball downfield.”

Maye isn’t the only big name missing from UNC’s offensive depth chart as starting center Corey Gaynor and top receiver Tez Walker have also opted out of the game and set their sights on turning pro. Considering that both of the team’s top tight ends will also miss the game, both with injury, and the Tar Heels could look a lot different, personnel-wise, than the team that played 12 games this year.

“You watch who they are,” ShaDon Brown said. “We’re trying to figure out who they are, not personnel driven, but who are they offensively and what do they like to do.”