So how to open this story... do I go 19th century Dickensian, with "it was the best of halves, it was the worst of halves"? Or do I go with the Johnny Mathis/Deniece Williams 70s break-up song, "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late"?
How about I just go with the sports meme of 2012, "good job, good effort".
For the second straight week, UNC spotted a team a lead on the road, buckled down in the second half to only allow one score, and yet came up short on the scoreboard. This week Carolina looked like they had never seen a football in the first half and let a top-20 team in Louisville jump out to a 36-7 halftime lead that was reminiscent of the 2005 debacle at Cardinals Stadium. Then the Cards put it on cruise control, the Heels got it figured out, and had the game-winning pass hit UNC's top receiver in the hands in the end zone.
As Brian mentioned in the game recap, the first half was so bizarre as to defy explanation. Louisville was firing on all cylinders and as for Carolina, all that was missing was a "yakety sax" soundtrack: crushing penalties, boneheaded mistakes, poor play on both sides of the ball, and two center snaps in the shotgun that sailed over the quarterback's head. Really? But late in the second quarter, the Tar Heels started to settle down and dominated the second half. And yet, for the second week in a row, all UNC has to show for it is another close loss.
So with that in mind, here is the "good job, good effort" version of the GBU:
Romar Morris: The freshman tailback, playing in the stead of the still apparently injured Gio Bernard, chalked up 202 total yards: 149 receiving, 23 rushing, and 30 punt returning. He also blocked a punt and helped build a Habitat house during the game.
Bryn Renner: Yes, he made a bad decision in throwing the screen pass that was intercepted and led to a Cardinal touchdown, but he also threw for 363 yards and five TDs, tying a school record. His play was a prime reason the Heels never gave up and fought their way back into the game.
Tommy Heffernan: The junior linebacker made the most of his first start, tallying 12 tackles and a sack, and providing a spark when the defense was dead in the water.
Second-half adjustments: Once again, the Tar Heels made key adjustments on both sides of the ball and dominated the second half. Now UNC needs to learn how to play for all 60 minutes.
Special Teams: A blocked punt, two touchbacks on kickoffs, a punt inside the 20, a forced fumble, and Casey Barth is closing in on the all-time made extra points record. Refreshing to see UNC play well on special teams.
Tackling: Even after UNC got the ball rolling on offense and got back in the game, the tacking by the defense remained poor. Moreover, the Louisville backs and receivers often drug Carolina tacklers down the field with them. ABC had a graphic early in the 4th quarter that showed Louisville receivers had nearly 200 yards after catch. That's insane.
Louisville Coaching Decisions: The GBU report usually focuses on Carolina's efforts, but I would be remiss if I did not mention the questionable decisions made all game long by Cardinals coach Charlie Strong and his staff. Louisville inexplicably went for two points after their first touchdown and even more inexplicably took their foot off the gas in the second half. The Cards stopped blitzing and allowed a shaky offensive line to regroup and give Renner time to pick them apart. They also went for it on 4th down at the Carolina 20 rather than kicking a field goal. Even on the last series, with UNC out of time outs, Louisville was running the ball inside their own 10 rather than taking a knee. This could have been ugly had it cost them the game.
The First Half: 'Nuff said.
Defensive Secondary: Even after UNC got back into the game, this group found itself out of position frequently. Hard to say how much of the scoring the Heels made up was from improved play in the secondary and how much was from Louisville stopping doing what they were doing when they were cutting through the Carolina defense like a hot knife through butter. And, to boot, 13 of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's completions were for more than 10 yards, and 6 were for more than 20.
Again, there are plenty of positives to take from the game. UNC dominated the second half 27-3 and did so without key offensive weapons in Bernard and Jheranie Boyd, who didn't even make the trip. And it goes without saying you can't spot a top-20 team that kind of lead on the road and expect to win. And yet, the game winning pass hit Erik Highsmith in the hands even though he may have been interfered with and likely had his face mask grabbed and his helmet ripped off. UNC never quit, which is a big step forward for a team who frequently had its intestinal fortitude questioned last season. But still a loss is a loss, and while many Carolina fans had figured Louisville would be a tough out on the road, the Heels now face the legislatively-mandated Kobayashi Maru game against East Carolina next week in desperate need of a win. Not that a bowl bid or anything is on the line, but UNC needs to put together a solid effort and get back on the winning track.