UNC lost to Duke!!!! How can UNC lose to Duke???
To be fair, this isn't the same Duke team from the previous two decades which UNC had beaten 21 out of 22 times. In fact, the 2003 loss was far less excusable given Duke really did suck then. This Blue Devil team doesn't so a loss to them is hardly anything to be ashamed of. Was it game UNC could have won and didn't in some measure due to the Heels' own failure to execute? Sure but I wouldn't sell Duke short. As Roy Williams likes to say, the other team gets some credit too. Duke did their part to make life difficult for UNC so in some respects you tip the hat and move on.
UNC' defense is horrible.
The defense was bad. Yes, Duke made UNC pay with solid execution and clearly the Blue Devil offensive line was dominant enough to give the Blue Devils running room. That being said, there were still plenty of instances where either the scheme or the execution on UNC's part was found lacking. Blue Devil receivers were often wide open with space to run and the too many runs from scrimmage ended up hitting the second level of the defense.
The odd thing is, UNC's defense doesn't look horrid on paper or didn't until this weekend when it dropped from 22nd in total offense to 36th. However, if you have watched UNC play there were plenty of warning signs that the defense was simply inconsistent. One saving grace for UNC has been 11 total interceptions and 17th nationally in turnovers forced. In other words the defense gives up yards but also cuts opponents' drives via the turnover.
So is it the 4-2-5 scheme, the personnel, the eexecution or all of the above?
It has been mentioned ad nauseum that the tackling is nothing short of piss poor. Until that gets remedied I am not sure you can delve too much into the scheme or the personnel. If UNC players were doing a better job making basic tackles how many plays get stopped? How many third downs does an opponent not convert? Not to be Captain Obvious here but tackling is the foundation of playing defense. In fact you could argue players are executing properly from a scheme standpoint but the missed tackles negate that.
That being said, Duke and other teams have found plenty of open receivers almost at will. Wake Forest did it much the same as Duke which was hit receivers on the underneath routes where there was no Tar Heel defender. There are too many instances of opposing receivers getting loose and the Heels are not putting any pressure on the QB to force a bad decision. At some point in Duke final drive you would have like to have seen UNC gamble on a blitz to try and land a huge sack. That never happened and Sean Renfree had all day to throw.
It also should be noted that UNC is operating with two coaches running the defense. Vic Koenning has the history of being a defensive genius but Dan Disch is the defensive coordinator. It is still not clear who is calling the plays so one has to wonder if perhaps UNC has too many chefs in the kitchen where the defense is concerned.
What about the offense in the red zone?
No real answers here except UNC has to adjust something in the offensive repertoire to get into the end zone which these golden opportunities present themselves. Settling for FGs on one of three trips inside the 20 is fine. Doing it three straight times is begging for a loss(which UNC got) The problem could be related to the spread offense which is designed to take advantage of spacing in the field of play. When a team moves inside the 20, that space shrinks. I would assume Larry Fedora and OC Blake Anderson account for this. I do know some of this is on Bryn Renner whose decision making has been inconsistent. There are also play calls like the fade to the sideline/corner of the end zone which is a throw Renner has issues with from an accuracy standpoint.
At this stage, putting the ball in the hands of Gio Bernard by any means necessary might be the best bet. Renner has not been particularly mobile and the one time he did make a dash for the end zone(vs Wake Forest) he was knocked into the next week. That leads me to think using Marquise Williams some near the goal line might bear some fruit. Williams is very mobile and it would certainly give the defense something new to think about.
So UNC has lost to Wake and Duke, beating NCSU is a must to salvage the season right?
Yes and no. On one hand if UNC loses to NCSU but finds a way to win out, going 8-4 is nothing to sneeze at for Larry Fedora in his first year. From an intellectual standpoint the season is fairly successful. However when you factor in the emotional aspects, especially from the fan base, the season would lack any meaningful wins beyond having beaten both schools from Virginia should UNC win out.
There are also the team's stated goals which were to win the mythical state championship and finish first in the Coastal Division. While the first of those is no longer possibe, the second is still viable should UNC run the table and get some help in the form two more Duke losses. Since Duke plays both FSU and Clemson the Devils could end up 5-3 in ACC play. UNC can still finish 6-2 putting them one game ahead of Duke and owning tiebreakers against everyone else. Yes, it is a tall order but still doable.
That has to start on Saturday with NC State where UNC can end five years of futility and notch a huge rivalry win heading into the bye week. It would give UNC a signature win this season, something fans and players alike can hang their hats on while giving a nice emotional boost heading into the home stretch. In short, much of how this season will be viewed rides on Saturday.
One more thing, Gio Bernard is totally going to the NFL after this season right?
Yes he is but that is what happens when you have a player who goes for 132 yards per game and 795 yards in six game. Bernard is freaking awesome so enjoy him while he lasts.