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Top ACC QBs clash as Syracuse visits No. 14 UNC

Two of the top quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference will be on display Saturday when No. 14 North Carolina hosts Syracuse in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Tar Heels (4-0, 1-0 ACC) have scored at least 31 points in every game behind dynamic sophomore Drake Maye, who has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in every contest.

Maye does have four interceptions after tossing just seven picks (with 38 touchdowns) a season ago. He also was sacked five times in the Tar Heels’ last game — a 41-24 victory at Pittsburgh on Sept. 23.

Regardless, Syracuse coach Dino Babers sees Maye as a formidable foe for his squad, which is coming off its first loss of the season.

The Orange (4-1, 0-1) were thumped by Clemson 31-14 last weekend following a nonconference slate in which they won their four games by an average of 33.5 points.

“This will be the best quarterback we’ve played this year,” Babers said. “Obviously, the guy last Saturday (Clemson’s Cade Klubnik) played extremely well, but this guy is different. He’s going to be an NFL guy. He’s what makes that team go on offense.”

In a similar sense, Garrett Shrader is the engine for the Syracuse offense. He has passed for 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns, not to mention 340 rushing yards — just 23 behind LeQuint Allen for the team lead — and six scores on the ground.

“He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen,” North Carolina coach Mack Brown said. “So he’ll be a real challenge.”

Another common thread between the two quarterbacks is the absence of a key weapon on each sideline.

Syracuse continues to play without tight end Oronde Gadsden II (foot), who had 61 catches for 969 yards and six touchdowns a season ago. North Carolina, meanwhile, has had to lean heavily on J.J. Jones (16 catches for a team-high 296 yards) in the absence of transfer Tez Walker, deemed ineligible to play during the 2023 regular season.

“J.J. has had to step up even more since we don’t have Tez Walker,” Brown said. “Drake’s a good combo with him.”

Jones, who had six catches for 117 yards against Pitt, will likely be a focus of the Syracuse defense, which allowed Clemson’s top target, Tyler Brown, to accumulate nine catches for 153 yards last weekend.

Things don’t get any easier after Saturday for Syracuse, which travels to visit No. 5 Florida State next weekend. The Orange’s schedule in October features three road contests and zero home games.

“We’re 4-1 and we’re almost halfway done with the season,” Babers said. “We’re not perfect, (but) we almost are. Now we’ve got to go on the road and play some really challenging games against some really highly ranked teams with some fantastic athletes. It’s going to be challenging.”

Syracuse and North Carolina have met only six times and just twice since 2003. The Orange won 40-37 in double-overtime in 2018 and the Tar Heels got revenge two years later with a 31-6 victory.

–Field Level Media

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