It is like deja vu all over again.
A short-handed UNC squad plays admirably against a top-25 caliber team, and is driving late in the 4th quarter with a chance to win the ball game. But Carolina comes up short and loses 30-24 for the second-straight week.
Only this time the feel-good vibe after the LSU game isn't there. Even short-handed, UNC could have, maybe even should have, won this game. Carolina's shortcomings this week cannot be wholly attributed to the suspended players or distractions caused by the NCAA unpleasantness. No, this loss falls squarely on the players and the coaching staff, and one can only hope the Heels are not looking back in November wondering how they let this one get away.
With that as a backdrop, here is this week's GBU report:
Johnny White: Where did this guy come from? White tallied 115 bruising yards on only 17 rushes. Too bad he didn't touch the ball nearly enough in the second half.
T.J. Yates: Still making good throws and, for the most part, good decisions. Yates was 18-24 for 209 yards and a nice TD pass, and another rushing TD. Again, too bad too much was unnecessarily asked of him down the stretch.
Offensive Line: Now this is what this group is supposed to look like. The line opened big holes for White and Draughn and gave Yates plenty of time to throw for the most part (the one sack given up was a coverage sack). Also a penalty-free day for the guys up front. Good work.
Defensive Front Seven: I don't think I have ever been as frustrated as I was watching Tech get positive yardage every single play. Carolina had no true tackles for loss as the only negative plays for the Jackets all day were the Nesbitt fumbles. Probably most maddening was watching the senior NFL-prospect linebackers, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter, mis-read, over-play, or get taken out by blocks on nearly every offensive play. It has been suggested that those two were trying to do too much. Maybe so, but in doing too much they didn't do nearly enough.
Jhey Boyd: Not so much because of what Boyd did, but what he didn't do. After a record-setting night against LSU, Boyd wasn't even thrown to against GT. Give props to Al Groh for getting the ball out of his hands, but you can't find a hitch somewhere to let him touch the ball and get in the groove?
Offensive Play-calling: It's apparently every college football fan's birthright to question his or her team's offensive coordinator. But sheesh, John Shoop, really? Here are some amazing stats: of 31 running plays, Carolina ran to the right only twice - 21 times up the middle and 8 plays to the left. Johnny White is averaging over 6 yards per carry but only touches the ball 3 times (for 18 yards, by the way) after UNC takes a 24-17 lead behind his running. Shoop called only one run on 3rd down, regardless of the distance, all day. On UNC's final two offensive plays, needing 10 yards, no receiver runs to the sticks as the wideouts run deep and one back releases - we don't know what Shoop called, but that's what happened. And there was none of the misdirection Shoop normally sprinkles in at least once per game - just a slow-developing end-around that was the only time Jheranie Boyd saw the ball on offense all day.
Defensive Preparation: So what exactly did UNC's defensive coaches do with the extra week, because it sure didn't appear they drilled assignment football into the Tar Heels. Carolina often looked confused and a step slow and there were far too many times when the front seven were trying to read rather than play their assignments. The Heels stopped Tech exactly twice all afternoon. The rest of the time the defense was pretty much on roller skates. I know the defense and the defensive staff had a tumultuous fortnight, but that was just putrid. And certainly the suspended defensive players were probably missed even more in this game than against LSU, but again if they were not properly prepared, it would not have mattered it Quinn and the D-backs were in there or not.
Tackling: Arm tackles, shoulder tackles, missed tackles - you name it, Carolina did it. Far too many jukes and yards after contact made it too easy for the Jackets. And why did the Heels look so bad? See above.
Chin Straps: I can't remember a game where I saw so many helmets flying. Equipment managers earned their keep on Saturday.
So where to go from here? It's certainly not time to abandon all hope yet. It is still important to remember UNC again took the field without a dozen players and played a top-25-worthy team to a touchdown. UNC could have done everything right and still been 0-2 against that schedule. There is still lots of hope for what remains for the last 10 games. UNC can still win the Coastal Division and play for a BCS berth by what happens in the seven remaining ACC games. You would figure a team needs to go at least 2-1 against the big four in the Coastal to have a shot at the division (although UNC did that last year but couldn't beat UVa or State) so Carolina is still right there in that mix.
The most important game from here on out is the next one. Rutgers on the road will not be a pushover by any stretch but should not be as stout as LSU or Georgia Tech. Then the defensive coaches will have to get off their butts and prepare for the ECU aerial circus rolling into town the week after. If Carolina can even the record at 2-2 heading to Clemson, by then one can hope the NCAA mess will be straightened out and the season can begin in earnest.