It's become clear that Carolina fans are going to be watching a lot games this season and wondering what could have been. If the defense had only been able to keep its collective nose clean and the starters on the field, this team would be excelling, because the offense is finally pulling its weight. They can score on quick strikes, like Erik Highsmith's 52-yard touchdown catch and Johnny White's three straight rushes for 47 yards and a score in a short-field situation. And they can grind out long drives, like the three of thirteen plays or more that resulted in two scores. Sure, there was the critical fumble on the first play after a key defensive stop, and by the final drive the offensive line was collapsing on practically every play, but 24 points on 352 yards would have been enough to win games last season.
This year, not so much. The UNC defense gave up 372 yards on the ground and only had three stops, two of which were more a result of miscommunication between Josh Nesbitt and his running game than anything the Heels did. Nesbitt only attempted four passes, and got completions of 23, 12, and 41 yards. The linebackers and secondary would overpursue and get sidestepped – the entire game they looked a step behind and out of sync. Tech could spend the rest of the game running at will, as the window for UNC to contain the lead kept shrinking while the offense was stranded on the sideline.
That third quarter fumble by Yates on a first down is going to haunt him, however. With the defense having gotten a critical fourth-down stop on the UNC 44 late in the third and a touchdown-lead, a god five minute scoring drive would have all but put the game away. Instead, the defense is called back without a breather, and on the ensuing 3rd and 11 a contained Nesbitt still had the time to find Roddy Jones for that 41-yard exercise in tackling futility, and the change in momentum clearly broke Carolina. The Heels' next two drives took a combined five plays, while the defense good only limit Tech to field goals. By the time UNC had their one last drive, they were too far gone to close anything out, and leave the field with a second straight disappointment. There's a good team here, just not one that's been able to put together a full forty minutes yet. That should change, with Rutgers and ECU ahead, but it's going to be a long road unless some other players get cleared.