MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The University of Minnesota football team travels to No. 20-ranked North Carolina on Saturday, which means a date with Tar Heels’ star quarterback Drake Maye.
He’s in contention for the Heisman Trophy. He’ll be among the first quarterbacks taken in next April’s NFL Draft. He’ll be among the best quarterbacks the Gophers will see all season. So what are Gophers’ coach P.J. Fleck’s early impressions of Maye?
"Everything, he’s as advertised. Nothing rattles him, he’s a great runner, he’s a great athlete, he’s very accurate. He can do it all, that’s why probably he’s the No. 1 quarterback being taken in the draft they say coming up," Fleck said. "We’ve got a tall task going against that type of quarterback."
Maye threw for 269 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in North Carolina’s opening 31-17 win over South Carolina. Last week, he threw for 208 yards as the Tar Heels needed double overtime to get past Appalachian State, 40-34. Maye's 13-yard touchdown pass won the game for North Carolina.
He was the ACC Offensive Player of the Year last season after throwing for more than 4,300 yards, 38 touchdowns and averaging 308 yards per game through the air.
North Carolina also can run the ball, so how does Fleck plan to contain Maye? He’s got a list of tasks longer than most of us bring to the grocery store.
"We’re going to do everything we can to shut them down. It’s hard, you slow an offense like that down, I think it’s very difficult to stop. You’ve got to get them out of rhythm, you’ve got to be all over the balls that are in the air and contest a lot of throws," Fleck said. "You’ve got to get to the quarterback, you’ve got to make sure he’s uncomfortable and you have to stop the run. We have to make them put a lot of long drives together if they want to score, eliminate explosive plays and get some takeaways, that’s all."
It's a huge challenge for a secondary that features Tyler Nubin and Justin Walley, but one they will embrace.
GOPHERS HOPING CODY LINDENBERG CAN RETURN
If the Gophers are going to contain the Tar Heels offense, getting starting linebacker Cody Lindenberg back would be a big boost. Lindenberg has missed Minnesota’s first two games with a leg injury suffered late in fall camp. He’s since returned to practice.
We’ll find out two hours before kickoff Saturday if he’ll return, when Fleck releases the player availability report.
"There’s definitely a chance. Possible, questionable, maybe, iffable. That’s not a word, but yeah," Fleck said.
FLECK TALKS RESPECT FOR MACK BOWN
Fleck is not only dealing with facing a highly-touted quarterback Saturday, he’s going against one of the most respected coaches in college football. Mack Brown has 101 wins at North Carolina, and coached at Texas from 1998 to 2013, leading the Longhorns to a national title in 2005.
He has 276 career wins and 14 bowl wins in more than three decades of being a head coach. Fleck said he’s known Brown for eight years, and considers him a mentor.
"I’ve called him on a lot of different things, he’s helped me through a bunch of stuff, we always see him at different coaching events. I remember when Heather met Mack and she’s like ‘How could you not want to play for that guy? If I was a recruit, I’d commit to him on the spot.’ He’s Mack Brown," Fleck said. "He can talk to anybody, he makes everybody feel really important. He’s a wonderful man, a phenomenal coach. He’s won everywhere he’s been. He’s one of the greatest college football coaches of all time."