I am getting mighty sick of this.
I don't think there is any way to articulate how frustrating this season has been in regards to the number of games snatched from the jaws of victory. Six times this season UNC was looking at either winning the game, taking the lead or tying the game at the end of regulation. One would think UNC could at least convert half those opportunities and produce wins. If they had, UNC would be playing for seven wins next week versus Duke. Instead UNC is 3-8 and needs to win next week against the Blue Devils to improve, by one, on the win total for a year ago. Of course I began this season by saying the wins were not nearly as important as being competitive and making strides with the personnel in hopes they gain the necessary experience to create a foundation for the program. So while winning would be very nice, the fact I am frustrated over losing close games is a marked improvement over being embarrassed by a string of bad losses.
The problem with the loss today is UNC did so many things right, and Georgia Tech make a huge cache of mistakes and still the Heels end up on the short end. You have to wonder what does it take for UNC to actually win a game. T.J. Yates had a sensational game with 287 yards passing, Hakeem Nicks showed up in a huge way and the defense snagged four turnovers compared to only one for the Heels who did a great job of taking care of the ball. UNC acquitted themselves well enough to win the game but mysteriously enough it was still insufficient to carry the day.
So where did it go wrong? Being unable to see most of the game myself I will defer to the assessment made by Mike White on his live blog at Tar Heel Mania.
Georgia Tech wins, 27-25. UNC is young team;however, I think this loss is on the coaches. It was their decision to go for it at on fourth down. It was their decision to run three straight up the middle runs that got nowhere, instead of trying to get the first down. It was their decision to run play-action pass plays in obvious passing downs. I really don’t put this loss on the players (except maybe Richard Quinn or Terence Brown). The on-field execution is on the players, but the play call decisions are on the coaches. I don’t feel that Carolina’s coaches did their best job of playcalling today.
I tend to steer clear of criticizing playcalling in football because I am not as knowledgeable in this regard as I am in basketball. This is why I defer to the opinions of others and Mike is someone I think has a great grasp on the football at UNC. I also saw similar complaints on IC message board but that is not anything new. Seeing that it took us 11 games for us to find a game where we were wholly dissatisfied with the coaching is about a 110% approval over last season. However not taking the points on fourth down against a stingy defense at 4th and goal from the one is a tad inexcusable. To look at it simplistically it ended up being the difference in the game though we have no way of knowing how the game dynamics would have changed had the FG been on the board.
I do think there is an issue with how the series following the late missed GT FG was handled. UNC had the ball at their own 20 with 2:31 left in the game and chose to run the ball three straight times instead of making more of an effort to get first down. Now I understand the basic goal here is to milk as much clock as possible but since Georgia Tech had two timeouts, the first two plays would only knock a few seconds off before the Heels really could burn seconds following third down. This means you really need to get a first down to kill the game or run the risk, given your spot in the field, that any punt will give Georgia Tech great field position to move into FG range. The latter turns out to have been the case which begs to question as to why UNC did not at least attempt one pass play in the series, perhaps on second down while the Jackets were still expecting the run. The benefits are obvious from getting a first down which gets you really close to finishing the game off to being close to a first down which would still force the final GT timeout and set up a 3rd and short. The downside is an incomplete pass which would stop the clock and allow GT to stop the clock after third down which means very little time would have been burned. UNC would then give the ball back with about 30-40 seconds more on the game clock than they would have from running the ball three times. Given how well Yates had played up to that point I think the risk of handing GT 30-40 more seconds it worth it to see if you can grab that first down and try to get out of Atlanta with the win. Barring a monster punt from Terence Brown, GT is going to get the ball at midfield or so 30-40 more seconds probably means very little and actually may have benefited UNC once they got the ball back following the go ahead FG.
Two more items.
- Records: Connor Barth sets a record for most career FGs at UNC and Yates became the most prolific passer in UNC history. Not bad for either guy though had Barth managed to hit the 63 yarder to win, there is no limit to his legend Yates setting a passing record at UNC is not saying much in terms of other programs but quite impressive given the situation
- The Running Game: I am not going to second guess and say, "Why did the coaches not think of putting Greg Little at tailback earlier" but why have the coaches not use Little at tailback earlier? They did use him for some direct snaps versus SCAR but given the issues found in the running game I would think volleying the kitchen sink at the problem would be warranted. Little had 89 yards today which included one play for a 20 yard loss and fumble. Strike that one play and Little would have been over 100 yards for the balance of his work. Not bad for the freshman and one must wonder if there is a future for Little in the backfield
As I said tough losses like this mean you are in the game only to fall short. At some point, hopefully next year, UNC can turn a corner and convert more of these close games into wins. Just as long as UNC can take care of Duke next week and continue to improve the foundation as they look to next season, this season will be, as Tom Hanks said in Apollo 13, the "successful failure."