That would have been epic.
To be quite honest with you I am really mixed up over this game. On one hand the Heels played some incredible defense in the second half shutting down South Carolina and on offense despite facing the #1 passing defense in the country and losing Brandon Tate for the second half UNC scratched and clawed their way back into the game with two shots at the end zone to tie and presumably win the game on the extra point. It was both a testimony to how good UNC can be and how young they are at the present moment. As was the case with ECU and UVa it came down to multiple miss opportunities which either robbed UNC of momentum at a critical moment or outright robbed the Heels of a chance to put points on the board.
Much like the previous close calls this season it is easy to trumpet the positives and look at the fact that UNC was one play away from knocking off the #7 team in the nation in Kenan. However the missed chances really hurt when you break this one down.
- On the second SCAR drive in the first half UNC freshman Deunta Williams appeared to pick off Chris Smelley but the referee ruled it an incomplete pass. Replay showed it was indeed an INT but the replay officials refused to overturn the call on the field despite what appeared to be strong enough evidence. SCAR went on to score a TD on that drive and I now hate instant replay more than I do Duke...well maybe not that much but pretty close.
- Connor Barth had his FGs made streak broken at 19 when he missed a 49 yarder wide left. After the first UNC TD(which was an amazing play by Greg Little) the snap was muffed(again) and UNC missed the extra point. Both of these were important for the simple reason that it forced UNC to go for two after the second TD. Had Barth made the 49 yarder and UNC hit extra points on both the TDs the score would have been 21-20 and UNC could have kicked a game winner at the end. Now I know the scenarios all change based on the way points get scored but the mistakes in the kicking game continue to plague this team and put unneeded pressure in tough situations.
- The first half pass from Yates to a wide open Brandon Tate which was about two inches further than it needed to be for Tate to haul it in. I also wonder if Tate had been able to play in the second half if it would have tilted the balance. Tate suffered a concussion and with him out the punt returns were weak to say the least. Who knows if he might have returned one for a TD or setup better field position with his returns. His presence on offense is extremely valuable as well though Greg Little made some huge plays in his stead.
- Joe Dailey was allowed to throw a pass and naturally it was intercepted. I don't have the words to describe how angry I was about that one.
- The onside kick that just got away and would have given UNC more time and better field position.
- There were too many penalties and as always they come up at all the wrong times.
All these factors just nag at you but when you realize that these are missed opportunities based primarily on the youth of the team you quickly realize that there will come a point where the Heels begin capitalizing on these opportunities. It is simultaneously maddening and exciting to lose three close games because of so many mistakes of youth but at the same to know this team is a lot closer to being a winning football team than any of us thought they could be when the season started. Once again we saw the mental fortitude of these players on full display by hanging in there despite all the errors. The Tar Heel rally was another signal how well this team handles the mental part of the game.
As for the positives in this game how about 398 yards of total offense against an extremely capable defense. Yates was beaten up pretty badly, threw two terrible INTs but still managed 285 yards passing. Greg Little was incredible in the way Butch Davis opted to use him and Hakeem Nick, who was said to be out with an ankle injury, was the big playmaker during the UNC rally. Anthony Elzy was ineffective running the ball but Butch Davis managed to find the hot hand with a mix of Ryan Houston, Greg Little and Johnny White. And the way the defense bottled up SCAR in the second half cannot be highlighted enough. After a first half where UNC had a great deal of trouble slowing the Gamecocks down while giving up 21 points, the second half was a different story. UNC held to SCAR to 57 yards of offense in the second half and as Spurrier said in the postgame interview with ABC "kicked their butts..."
It is becoming more difficult to restrain optimism where this team is concerned. The Heels could just as easily be 5-2, 4-3 or 3-4 as they are 2-5. Now with five games left, becoming bowl eligible is a possibility if the level of plays stays this high. UNC takes this loss into the bye week which comes at a good time since some of the Heels are banged up a bit. On the other side UNC will begin a stretch of five ACC games with a good chances to win each one.