I wouldn't have thought before the season started that I'd have been proud of a nineteen point loss, but eight losses into the season, I am. In part because, socre aside, this game is up there with last week's Wake Forest matchup and the ever-more-impressive Rutgers game as one of Carolina's best performances of the year.
Your seven word game summary? The Irish controlled both lines of scrimmage. Simple as that. Their defense got into the UNC backfield at will, and their offensive line gave Brady Quinn the time to wait out the pass defense. The Heels would need perfect play to overcome that disadvantage, and that wasn't going to happen. The effort was there, though. UNC's run defense held the Darius Walker to 86 yards on 20 carries, and the Irish on a whole to 148, a lot of that in 4th quarter garbage time. Joe Dailey was impressive, especially under a punishing pass rush, netting 213 yards and 3 touchdowns - two of those and 171 yards to Hakeem Nicks, who had a banner day as well. More importantly, all of the passes went to folks in blue jerseys or fell incomplete - not one pass was intercepted, and the only in danger of being so was tipped wildly by a UNC player and fell into range of a Notre Dame defensive back in the first quarter.
Unfortunately, Dailey wan't the only quarterback in light blue. After Dailey's first to series behind center, the second of which went for 80 yards and a touchdown, the game was tied at 7. Notre Dame put together its longest drive of the game to go up 14-7, Sexton came in for his two series, probably the biggest coaching mistake of the game. By the time Dailey retook the field, the score was 24-7, and the offense had moved -26 yards in his absence. The blame can't be laid entirely at Sexton's feet, but having witnessed the Notre Dame defensive line's ability to get past the Heels, as well as the scrambling Dailey had to do to overcome that and move the ball down the field, replacing him with a slower pocket passer was a tragic misstep. Sexton was sacked twice and managed only one pass attempt in his six plays behind center.
That being said, UNC did adapt, and came into the second half down 31-13, with the help of a 90-yard Brandon tate kickoff return for a touchdown, that unfortunately was answered with an Irish 52 yard scoring punt-return. Here's where Dailey and Nicks really shown, netting two touchdowns, the last cuttin the lead to 38-26 in the third quarter. After that, the more familiar UNC team showed up, giving away a crucial 3rd down stop with a late hit to Brady Quinn and a further unsportsmanlike conduct call after the whistle. I'm constantly amazed a team that prides itself on discipline can have such a lack of it in between the goalposts.
One thing that's coming out of this game is more Brady Quinn Heisman talk, and it really needs to stop. Quinn's not even the best candidate on his team - that would go to TE Jeff Samardzija, whose speed and good hands got him 177 yards recieving on the day. Quinn, on the other hand, behind the most impressive offensive line UNC's faced all season, was still sacked three times, often unaware of the defender about to barrel into him. The Tar Heels had only managed 11 sacks on the year prior to this game, and never more than two per Saturday. Quinn needed every second his OL bought him (and they provided what seemed like minutes per snap), unable to make a pass to a reciever that wasn't wide open, and sometimes not seeing the open man to begin with. The NFL team calls his name this spring will regret it.
UNC's season now comes down to three games - home matchups against ACC championship bound Georgia Tech and flop-sweat desperate N.C. State, and a final visit for Bunting to Wallace Wade. If the team keeps up the level of performance initiated at their coaches firing, they could win all three, though just sweeping the North Carolina contingent seems more likely. Notre Dame resumes its service academy tour for the next two weeks before finishin up with Southern Cal. Who do you root for in that final game?