I sat down to write this Saturday night after the game, but the words just wouldn't come. Nearly 24 hours later, I am still struggling to make sense of the State game.
A week of unbelievable hype was followed by a stinker of a game that is still causing UNC fans to scratch their heads. Carolina was simply dreadful on the offensive side of the football and after the game it was revealed that the Heels were inexplicably not mentally prepared to play the Wolfpack. Or should I say inexcusably.
Let's be clear - all credit should go to NC State's players and coaches. They were, yet again, better prepared and did everything they needed to do to win the game. But, you have to wonder exactly what happened to a team that, in the last three weeks, put up 21, 38, and 49 points but on Saturday was not only skunked but didn't even find the red zone.
Of course the last 24 hours has found State fans in nirvana and UNC fans on the ledge. We have reached the point in the series with the Wolfpack that defies logic and belief. Much of this football season has been spent in bizarro world and it stands to figure that this game wouldn't be any different. And the worst part is that UNC heads into the bye week, followed by a Thursday night trip to Blacksburg, so the team and its fans have an extra five days to choke on the bile induced by this game.
Please forgive me as I hold my nose and offer you the GBU report:
Gio Bernard: Although the redshirt freshman had only 47 yards on the day, he still became the first Tar Heel to crack the 1,000 yard mark in almost 15 years. He is in the "good" category" not because of his play on Saturday but because of his candor after it, pulling back the curtain and giving insight on how woefully unprepared this team was for this game. Good for you, young man.
Team Defense: While it is small consolation, this stinker of a game is not on the defense. The Heels held State to under 300 yards of total offense; QB Mike Glennon was under 50% on the day and only threw for a pedestrian 164 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. Yes, the defense gave up 111 yards to RB James Washington, but they also held the Pack to 1 TD and 2 field goals when State was inside the UNC 10 and forced seven punts. Yes, State is not a good team offensively but the defense did more than enough to win the game.
Bryn Renner: What a time for bad Bryn to show up, but then again, Renner has been pretty awful on the road this season. Renner was 9-17 for 76 yards and 3 interceptions before leaving the game with concussion-like symptoms. But even before that, Renner seemed off-stride and completely confused by what State was doing. I realize it's a process with Renner, but this falls in the "1 step forward, 2 steps back" category.
Receivers: Yes, Dwight Jones had 9 catches, but have 9 catches ever meant less in a football game? After that, no one had more than two grabs. Balls were dropped and receivers couldn't get open all afternoon.
Offensive Line: I have been down on these guys all year, but for the second straight week, they were crushed by a smaller defensive line. Surrendering four sacks and four other tackles for loss is simply inexcusable at this point in the season. I mentioned on Twitter last night that Bernard has gained 1,000 yards in spite of his offensive line, not because of it.
Coaching preparation: Five straight years, guys. As fans, we are used to seeing the UNC staff have circles coached around them. We are used to seeing inexplicable play and formation calls, and little-to-no in-game adjustments. But having NC State (and Georgia Tech, and Virginia under Al Groh) do it over and over is just tiresome.
Everett Withers: I have been a solid supporter of Withers, who was thrown into an impossible situation and, until this week, had handled himself admirably. But this week, he stepped in it big time. I was willing to cut him a break for the crack about State's academic environment, but to put himself and his program through that crap and then lay an egg like they did on Saturday, and then have Bernard reveal the lack of focus for the game, is inexcusable. Not that Withers was ever a real candidate for the permanent coaching job, but this season is his audition for a gig somewhere else and he failed this test, and his team, miserably.
So now UNC heads into the long-overdue bye week set up for an anti-climactic end to the season. The Heels are bowl-eligible and the last time they visited Blacksburg on a Thursday night, they left with an upset of the Hokies. But with a coaching change imminent and nothing but bowl destinations to be played for, it is more likely Carolina will just play out the string.
Bubba, you're on the clock.