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UNC’s Downs Makes History with 100th Catch

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb reflects on Josh Downs' remarkable season.

North Carolina head coach Mack Brown didn’t receive the four and a half gallon mayo bath following the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Thursday.

While to the average person not getting doused in mayo is a good thing, that wasn’t true in this case. The winning coach of the Mayo Bowl received the mayo bath, and that was South Carolina’s Shane Beamer, as the Gamecocks knocked off the Tar Heels, 38-21.

But in the losing effort, Tar Heels sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs made history, becoming just the fourth ACC wideout in history to finish a season with more than 100 catches.

Overall, South Carolina covered Downs well in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, but the Gamecocks defense still couldn’t prevent history from happening. Coming into the postseason, Downs needed two more receptions to join the very exclusive 100-catch ACC club.

Finishing the Mayo Bowl with three catches for 62 yards, Downs ends the season with 101 receptions. That’s the most catches from any wide receiver in the ACC since Syacuse’s Steve Ishmael in 2017.

Downs’ 101 catches is also the most in a single season in Tar Heels history. Ryan Switzer held the previous record with 96 receptions in 2016.

Downs may have only surpassed Switzer by five catches, but Switzer rewrote the North Carolina receptions record as a senior – not a sophomore as Downs is. This season, Downs also averaged nearly two yards more per reception (13.2 versus 11.6) and scored more touchdowns (eight versus six) than Switzer did in 2016.

With two ACC bowl games remaining, Downs is second in the conference with 1,335 receiving yards and tied for fourth with eight touchdowns. Switzer was third in receiving yards and outside the top 10 in receiving touchdowns during his record-setting receptions season.

There wasn’t a whole lot to like about North Carolina’s performance in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. The program lost by double digits to a school that it will be competing against for recruits in the coming years.

The offensive line and defensive backfield were major problems once again. South Carolina recorded four sacks, and the Gamecocks passers completed 12 of 15 passes for 242 yards with two touchdowns.

South Carolina averaged 16.1 yards per pass while posting 5.9 yards per rush, finishing with 301 rushing yards.

With the loss, the Tar Heels end the 2021 season with their first losing record since 2018. Brown now has his first losing season at North Carolina in 32 years.

But Downs is a major bright spot that the program hopes it can do a better job of building around than it did with quarterback Sam Howell this season.

While Howell will likely be off to the NFL, Downs will return for at least one more year at North Carolina. It’s possible he’ll even be back in 2023 too.

Whoever is behind center next season for the Tar Heels, Downs will be his best friend. His security blanket with big-play potential.

No ACC wide receiver has ever posted two 100-reception seasons in a career. Downs has the talent to be the first to accomplish that feat, but for North Carolina’s sake, the Tar Heels better develop more receiving options than just Downs.

In the 2021 regular season, Downs accounted for more than 40 percent of North Carolina’s receiving yards and 43.5 percent of the team’s receptions. Second-leading receiver Antoine Green is probably not returning, which means heading into the offseason, North Carolina’s wide receiver core is even more top heavy.

Downs and Green were the only Tar Heels pass catchers with more than 250 receiving yards this season.

Developing a receiver opposite Downs and creating better pass protection for the pocket must be the focal points for North Carolina’s offense heading into 2022.