One of the reasons I was so adamant about UNC winning this game was partly because Rutgers is a good football team. My contention during the preseason has been that if John Bunting intends to move this program up in the ACC then UNC must start by winning games against good teams. As a fan I am not interested in 5-6 seasons where the best win is against NC State(no offense intended at the Wolfpack fan but you would probably feel the same way if the reverse were true.) Taking UNC's schedule from today until the end of November it can be easily understood that there was no room for error. Most games are pretty well assured of going one way or the other with, in my opinion, the exception of three games: NC State, South Florida, and Rutgers. Virginia could still be a tossup and based on what I am seeing out of Georgia Tech, I have resigned to the fact that my preseason prediction for a win against the Jackets is wrong. A win over Rutgers would have been huge in terms of notching one win on the way to six but it also set up a more favorable table for getting to seven wins. It would have also been a win over a good team, a bowl team, a team who would most likely finish the season with seven wins themselves. You can also bank on the fact that his essentially puts the Heels at 0-2 to begin the season. VT will come to Chapel Hill and will walk away with a win.
As for the loss itself, there was a point when I was ready to post absolute rage for UNC losing such a game and once again failing to show up for a big game, especially at home. By the end of the game I calmed down and realized it was a game UNC almost won. Except for about 12 inches on the goal line in the 4th quarter then UNC may have won the game. It was not a horrible performance excluding the run defense. UNC played well enough to win but showed an inability to control the time of possession and stop the Rutgers running game with any discernible consistency. So I have mixed feelings. On one hand I am frustrated with UNC football for coming up short again and failing to show signs they are willing or even able to move to the next level. On the other side of that I see a team that has the personnel to move to that level, today just had enough missteps to cost UNC the win. At any rate it is still a loss. UNC falls 21-16 to Rutgers at home to open the season at 0-1. Rutgers goes to 1-0. Here is THF's post-morteum.
I am pleased with what I saw from Joe Dailey, despite the two interceptions. And now we know that all that talk from Bunting about Cam Sexton having "earned time" is all that talk. Dailey was composed and his mobility was impressive. The offensive line performed adequately allowing only one sack. Dailey left the pocket eight times for 38 yards and 1 TD. His passing was good in spite of the two picks. Dailey connected on 24 of 36 passes, one for a TD. If there is an solace Tar Heel fans can take from this game it is the play of Dailey who seemingly has brought confidence and talent back to the QB position.
It should be noted that the offense in general played well. Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards had good games. McGill averaged 6.7 yards per carry but only touched the ball 14 times. This is the downside to McGill in that he is not a heavy load back and as shone a tendancy to be injury prone. Overall it was a good performance offensively which 403 yards of total offense, 25 first downs, and a balanced attack with 169 yards rushing and 234 yards through the air. Connor Barth also nailed his only FG attempt from 47 yards, a good start for the junior kicker.
Failing to score from the one foot line. I am not one to harp on one play in a game because we all know there are ten other times in this game UNC could have positioned themselves better for the win. In this case I am looking for an explanation on how you can have the ball within one foot of a touchdown only to get jammed in the middle on a running play up the middle instead of using a QB sneak or some kind of play around the end. Then again the maddening part of that sequence was not so much the one play that failed but the fact that UNC ran four plays from the five yard on in and could not produce a score. The play in question which resulted in a fumble and return to the 15 was without a doubt a questionable call. UNC had seen absolutely nothing up the middle all day and instead of having Dailey dive over the top with the ball extended(and almost sure touchdown 9 out of 10 tries) or at least swinging wide with the Rutgers defense bunch up in the middle. The drive was costly in that it consumed six minutes of clock and produced nothing! And granted we have no idea what would have transpired had UNC scored but being down 21-17 with most of the fourth quarter left is a much better position than where they ended up. Then again the worst case scenario if you do not make it in that situation occurred when Rutgers stripped the ball and got out to the 15. One thing you are counting on by going for it on 4th and goal from the 1 is that it you get stuffed you have the opposing team in their own end zone ripe for a safety. That did not turn out to be the case and Rutgers promptly went out and snuffed out five more minutes of game clock before putting UNC back on their own 11 to start their next drive. The questions most UNC fans are asking(at least the ones over at the IC message board) is why Cignetti or Bunting made such a bad call on that particular play? Also, why did UNC showed such a complete inability to punch it in with four chances starting at the five yard line? Red zone scoring was a huge problem last year for UNC and this incident was pretty much a game breaker.
Defense, paritcularly the run defense. Now, I understand that Ray Rice is a great running back and Brian Leonard makes them a formidable backfield. I also get that 1800+ yards do not come from the runners alone but usually is produced behind a good offensive line. That being said how in the world do you give up 201 yards to one back? Rice carried the ball over 30 times and racked up close to seven yards every time he touched the ball. UNC had no answer for the Rutgers running game. Almost every time Rice or Leonard got the ball they had wide lanes to run through. Not small gaps, they had lanes and plenty of missed tackles followed. This was a UNC defense that was touted with a deep defensive front but seemed completely inept in handling the Rutgers offensive line and coming up stops against the run on a consistent basis. And it was not as though the pass defense did much better. Rutgers QB Mike Teel was able to complete 14 of 20 passes for 145 yards. The defense did register two sacks but Teel was generally pressure free in the pocket and the secondary failed to produce an interception. Of course 21 points is nothing to be ashamed of and despite having the ball rammed down their throats the defense did make some big plays to keep the Scarlet Knights from scoring. Had the offense scored one more time than the defense would have seen as having struggled. In a loss it looks like they were totally manhandled by the Rutgers offense.
It would have been better had they swapped the Furman and VT game just to give UNC a breather to work out some of the more pressing issues discovered today. The offense could stand to improve on the running attack and Dailey, whose two interceptions were clearly a result of bad decisionmaking needs to get more comfortable reading the defenses and receivers. The defense is in major need of retooling or at least finding some level of confidence. VT is probably one of the worst opponents you could get to try and work these issues out. VT smacked Florida Atlantic 38-0 and show all the same signs that they are running on all cylinders. To use the old cliche, their work is cut out for them and today's loss probably stole whatever room for error this team had left on it's schedule.