A.J. Blue (15) runs the ball during the second quarter against Wake Forest at BB&T field.
The defense, it is safe to say, is a work in progress.
Wake Forest hadn't really displayed much offensive proficiency in their first game of the season. Quarterback Tanner Price and company managed only 293 yards against FCS school Liberty in a 20-17 win. Their running game was poor, and their passing sporadic in that game; one would expect UNC to be able to handle that.
On the Demon Deacons' third series, they drove 72 yards for a touchdown. The next time they had the ball they went 83 for the score. One fumble recovery later they had a third touchdown, one that would prove very costly come the end of the game. Overall, Wake Forest would rack up 274 yards of total offense in the first half. Say what you will about the Tar Heel defense, but they're no Liberty.
To be fair, the defensive line did pretty well. After some initial early success, they tightened down on the running game, limiting Wake to 64 yards on the ground. On the soul-killing final scoring drive — more on that in a minute — they only attempted two rushes before reaching the 1-yard line and quarterback sneak territory. But the line never got much pressure on the quarterback, and the secondary suffered for it, The defense did make second-half adjustments, something unheard of in the Butch Davis years. Wake could get nothing started for most of the second half, and it wasn't until they got the ball on their own seven with a little more than six minutes to play that they really had their way with the Carolina secondary.
Ah, the secondary. Black and gold helmets were wide open for much of the afternoon. Star receiver Michael Campanaro had 13 catches for 164 yards. Two more Wake players averaged for than 20 yards catch for their 2 and 4 receptions, respectively. Tim Scott did get his second interception of the season, in one of the few bright points for the corners, but otherwise it was a long afternoon. Price would finish the day with a career-high 327 passing yards, while UNC would mostly be remembered for stupid penalties and lax coverage.
Still, 28 points is in no way insurmountable, and Fedora's high-octane offense is expected to counter that. But Carolina was playing without Giovani Bernard, still suffering lingering effects from last week's injury. He suited up, and was prepared to play, but something didn't feel right on the rain-soaked turf, and he never left the sidelines. A.J. Blue and Romar Morris were good replacements however, managing 176 yards and two touchdowns between them. Punt returns withough the sophomore running back were pretty much nonexistent.
The real problem was Bryn Renner. He suffered what the entire veiwing audience was ready to diagnose as a concussion (he briefly lost consciousness) on UNC's second touchdown drive of the second quarter. The medical staff cleared him to play and he didn't miss a series. He fumbled away the ball the next time he took the field however, and was a step off the rest of the night. This would haunt the Heels on two third quarter drives, both of which ended in field goals. The first, where Scott's interception gave Carolina the ball on the Wake Forest eight was particularly galling. A score their would have locked up the game; instead it kept Wake within a touchdown, which was all they needed for one last drive.
And that last drive was brutal. Wake took less than four and a half minutes to drive 93 yards. The only contribution the UNC defense provided was the occasional key face mask penalty to keep the drive alive. And once they lost the lead, the Heels couldn't recover. Renner would nd the next series with a fourth-down interception; the following one with a failed Hail Mary. Folks will question whether Renner should have even been in the game, as hard as he was hit. I have to say, with what we're learning about concussions, Fedora doesn't look particularly well for playing him, either.
And that's the way it goes. UNC loses the 11th of their last 12 ACC openers; 0-1 is familiar territory. Eric Ebron is turning into a monster at tight end, pulling down a touchdown pass that looked well out of reach. And Casey Barth's two field goals gives him the the UNC record that previously belonged to his brother. So there are bright points. And the team, as Fedora will surely remind you, is a work in progress. It's still a disappointing loss, though. And with a road trip to Louisville on the horizon, they don't have too much time to right the ship.