For the UNC fan, this season has been abysmal. From the 52-7 loss at Clemson to the two end zone interceptions last week against Georgia Tech it seemed as though UNC was destined for lost season, one devoid of any real meaning for the fans. The only win so far had been a three point victory over a I-AA school who posted 42 points. The frustrations of the season cost John Bunting his job and with the hiring of Butch Davis many UNC fans were deferring to next season. However, in a season gone so awry where it appears only 2 or 3 wins would be the final tally, the only hope you can have is to at least knock off your most hated rivals. Today, UNC found a small measure of something to feel good about and John Bunting amid all of his troubles was carried off the field by his players a winner in his last game at Kenan Stadium. Between the win today and the potential for a win at Duke next week, it is looking like a fitting end for a coach who has seen very few fitting ends through most of his games at UNC.
As for the game, UNC put forth one of the finest efforts. In fact over the last three weeks UNC has played a much better brand of football than was seen in the first part of the season. What everyone wanted to know was what would happen if UNC played great defense on the same day they had an efficient mistake free offensive day. The answer to that question came today with UNC moving the football, managing the clock, and scoring points. However, the game was won on the defensive side with UNC holding NC State to only three field goals and forcing four turnovers. One of those turnovers, a recovered fumble, resulted in the last touchdown which essentially put the game out of reach. And let me also say that as much as I have been critical of Joe Dailey and his play at quarterback, today he played the game that we all hoped he would play all season. Dailey completed 8 of 15 passes for 137 yards and no interceptions. The latter stat may be the most important because UNC did not commit fatal turnovers with the excpetion of one fumble deep in Wolfpack territory on their first possession. By and far it was UNC's best game of the season and coming behind the 7-0 loss against Coastal Division leader Georgia Tech, Tar Heel Fan is wondering where this version of UNC football has been all season.
Now the attention turns towards Raleigh and following a third straight loss to UNC as the favored team, Chuck Amato has to be evauating his own employment status. In some ways what NC State is going through is worse than what UNC fans have endured. Wolfpack nation bought into Chuck Amato and the Philip Rivers years established a precendent for winning which caused many to believe that NC State was indeed heading exactly where Amato promised they would go. The last three seasons have not been kind to the Pack and despite having NFL level talent on defense, the offense has never really produced since Rivers was the QB. And while Amato enjoyed the good will of the early winning seasons and the house that he built over at Carter Finley Stadium, the last three season have washed the luster of most of that. Whereas in UNC's case Bunting never really got it going, Amato had it going and was supposed to rise from that point. Instead the program has fallen and what happened today has been viewed by the most reasonable Wolfpack fans as being an embarassment and totally unacceptable. And having just gone through this process, how can anyone really blame them? Amato is in his seventh season and in on the best he can hope to do at this point is 4-8 if NC State can beat ECU and that is in no way a given. In fact today's game was a total microcosm of the Amato program
Lose to a team you are favored to beat and should beat(Check)
Engage in questionable strategies, make poor decisions in managing the end of the game, and get generally outcoached(Check)
Commit an egregious number of costly penalties which kill drive after drive(Check)
Turn the ball over again and again and again(Check)
Fail to get up for a big rivalry game that is not against FSU(Check)
The bottom line for NC State is that they went into a game against a team which had been the laughstock of college football since sometime in late September. And if that was not bad enough it was UNC and to lose to them three straight seasons, even when UNC is as bad as the Heels have been this season drives a good portion of Wolfpack naton crazy. In college football there are certain things a coach must accomplish but can get by with if he does other things well. In other words, winning consistently makes losing to UNC easier to swallow and the converse of that is that if you are having a bad season at least do the fans the service of beating the rivals. Amato has done neither in this season or the previous two. NC State is not winning in a consistent manner nor do they seem able to beat UNC who is being coached by a man fired for not winning. So the heat has been turned up pretty high in Raleigh. Whether Lee Fowler opts to deal with it or not remains to be seen.
For UNC it is one down and one more to go for the rivals sweep. Not that it is worth much but it is all we have at this point.