That did not go well. This was probably the most maddening loss of the season for all the things that went wrong plus the general failure to execute on special teams and in some parts of the offense. Full analysis after the jump.
The defense continues to play well with the only negative being the lack of turnovers forced. UNC sacked Riley Skinner four times and held Wake to 269 yards of total offense. Hilee Taylor was particularly effective on the defensive line putting pressure on the pocket and UNC was fairly stingy all game. The problem was turnovers and poor special teams play which gave Wake Forest various short field situations from which they scored 20 points. Add to that the kickoff return touchdown the defense did pretty well to limit Wake to only two extended game scoring drives, a 73 yard push that led to a TD and a 39 yard drive which resulted in a FG. In fact UNC did an excellent job limiting Wake to only FGs following to two turnovers deep in UNC territory. Of course giving up 30 of 37 points on defense is never pretty but in fairness the defensive unit played with bad cards all day.
Well sort of bad. On one level the UNC offense looked good with T.J. Yates completing a high percentage of his passes for 236 yards and a touchdown which is none too shabby. I did however see plenty to complain about.
- The running game was largely MIA. Johnny White led what is becoming a Congressional committee in the backfield. Six different Heels ran the ball in this game and discounting Yates, UNC only attempted 21 rushes all game. Butch Davis is probably just as anxious as the rest of us to have one guy emerge and handle most of the carries with a handful of plays using Greg Little and Brandon Tate. It has yet to happen and the lack of balance may be detrimental.
- It has become a regular occurrence in UNC games for the offense to be mediocre at best for most of three quarters and then decide, one the Heels are down more than two TDs, that they might want to think about scoring some points. Now, some of that may be the opposing defense relaxing a bit. Then again, it has happened enough now it feels like someone should get them in gear faster.
- I am upfront with the fact that I do not understand all the details of football play calling and how plays are designed to work. That being said, I am wondering why on 3rd and 4th down plays when you have to get beyond the first down marker to keep the drive alive why so many UNC receivers turn to catch the ball 2-3 yards short of the stick? It happened several times today, especially on the underneath routes in the flat. It is as though the players have not been told to be aware of the first down marker and get themselves in position to get a first down with the catch. I think leaving the 1st down to hoping you can get the yards after the catch is risky. And if the plays are being drawn up that way, then I would put that on John Shoop and the coaching staff to make sure the plays being used in those situations put the receivers in better position to get 1st downs.
- If I have one concern about Yates it is he tends to throw INTs to opposing linebackers way to often. In fact I asked Mike White at Tar Heel Mania how many times Yates had thrown INTs an opposing linebacker and he stated that six of his 12 INTs had indeed been picked off by linebackers. White also thinks it has more to do with Yates experience and that he is simply not seeing the LBs as part of the pass defense. I would agree with that. It seems to me like Yates just does not pick the LBs up in his field vision and probably needs to work on taking them into account as he scans the field. Obviously I have no idea what goes into improving this particular aspect of his play or even how correctable it is.
Special teams. I really should just stop there. It is not like the special teams started playing badly today, it really has been going on all season. Three different special teams plays either resulted in points or set Wake Forest to easily score points with red zone field position. The first gaffe was giving up a huge kickoff return for a TD following a FG drive which seemingly shifted momentum a bit and gave UNC some confidence by closing the Deacons lead to 10-3. Then, just like that, it is a two TD game. No matter who you are, that hurts. The second huge mistake was having the ball hit a UNC player on a Wake punt which was recovered by the Deacons and set them up on the doorstep leading to a FG. In some ways this is more Murphy's Law than poor play but it simply adds to the special teams nightmare. The last play was once again surrendering a big kickoff run, this one for 86 yards which led to a Wake TD. 17 points off poor execution on the special teams.
The question I really have here is wondering to what extent the players are simply not buying into how important special teams is to the team's success? Or has there simply not been enough emphasis on special teams in practice? Given how dangerous Brandon Tate is and how much he can give you I doubt that but in this case we are talking about return coverage and it was dreadful today versus a Wake Forest team than registered their 8th and 9th non-offensive TDs of the season, which leads the ACC.
The most disappointing aspect of this game is the fact it came after a bye. I fully expected the Heels to acquit themselves better than this with two weeks of prep. Playing Wake Forest is not easy for all the documented reasons. The youth of this team leads to all sorts of hiccups and preparedness to handle the opposition was a little lacking today. Thus far this season UNC has been competitive only to be done in by a rash of mistakes during the course of the game. Today the rash of mistakes became a full blown epidemic which suck the any hope the Heels had at being competitive right out of the stadium. In the end it was frustrating loss because much of the way UNC has played this season pointed to the possibility that the Heels could be in the game when it counted. Whatever happened, I really hope they figure it out before Maryland hits town next week.