Drake Maye is the frontrunner for Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, a redshirt freshman with 34 touchdown passes in just 10 games, tied for the most in the Bowl Subdivision.
He's also the leading rusher for the No. 13 Tar Heels, and his running style is more like that of a fullback wanting to punish tacklers than a quarterback trying not to get hurt.
Coach Mack Brown says Maye, the lynchpin to North Carolina's season and second-ever appearance in the ACC championship game, has gotten better at being smart on the run.
“If you’d have seen him early, you would have cringed less now,” Brown said after Maye ran 16 times for 74 yards and a touchdown in a 31-28 victory at Virginia. “He’s a huge part of our offense with his ability to run because it’s hard for people to cover us because we’re so talented and he’s so accurate. And then if they blitz, he hits them because he gets the ball out of his hands fast. ... But if they’re rushing three or four and he sees it, he’s going to get seven (yards) or more. And and that’s a huge part of our offense.”
Maye's health is a priority for the Tar Heels, who will meet Clemson for the ACC championship on Dec. 3, and he isn't the only quarterback declining to treat himself like delicate china. In the game against Virginia, Cavaliers quarterback Brennan Armstrong ran 12 times for 64 yards, twice lowering his head to plow his way into the end zone.
Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, one of the most effective dual-threat quarterbacks in league history, has been injured twice this season. The first time, he wound up in the concussion protocol after taking a hit at Boston College. Now, he's being evaluated daily with a shoulder injury sustained in a 31-16 loss to No. 9 Clemson.
His danger as a running threat is a constant, even when he throws.
“He’s a competitor. He likes to get those extra yards. He’s a tough guy,” coach Scott Satterfield said. “... Some of the shots he takes, a lot of times we don’t even notice because he just threw the ball and we’re all looking at the ball and he’s laying on the ground because he just took another hit.”
Lately, Satterfield said, Cunningham has been smarter, sliding or running out of bounds more frequently to avoid absorbing more contact. His career numbers, though, speak to the damage he has done not only with his arm, but with his feet.
A four-year starter, Cunningham needs three touchdowns to tie 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson for TDs accounted for in a career (119, from 2015-17). He has thrown for 67 of his 116 TDs and 9,468 of his 12,828 total yards. This season he's passed for 1,552 yards and eight touchdown while rushing for 11 more, leading the Cardinals (6-4, 3-4 ACC) to the last three of four consecutive victories before the loss to the Tigers.
In the game Cunningham missed at Virginia, Brock Domann ran for 71 yards and a TD.
In the ACC, quarterback Riley Leonard leads Duke in rushing, and his 100 carries include 10 for touchdowns. Armstrong leads Virginia in rushing and has six TDs and Syracuse quarterback Garrett Shrader is second on the team with six rushing touchdowns.
The running ability of quarterbacks presents a headache for defensive coaches.
“It constantly makes it harder and harder for defenses,” Pittsburgh linebackers coach Ryan Manalac said, adding that sliding to avoid contact seems foreign to many.
"As they evolve, we evolve and a continued chess match going back and forth.”
Often, the quarterback has the final word: Check mate.
AP sports writers Aaron Beard in North Carolina, Gary Graves in Kentucky, Will Graves in Pittsburgh and John Kekis in New York contributed.
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/8 TDs and rushed for 561/11 TDs.
, and for him to get back up and keep playing.e
The redshirt freshman quarterback for North Carolina