One item right here at the start.
Per THF policy I will not blame the referees for the loss today. Yes, there were plenty of bad calls that hurt UNC but none of them hurt UNC as badly as giving up 290 yards in the first half. And while I am convinced there was one pass interference call for sure on 3rd and goal and possibly another one on the 4th down play as well it was within UNC's control to avoid being in that situation. More on that later. It has been the case all season that UNC has missed opportunities which become the difference between winning and losing. Today was no different and while I would LOVE for the ACC to fix the freaking officiating so everyone in the conference would have one less thing to worry about out there, it is clear there is ZERO vested interest in that happening. Now without further ado, here is my analysis.
Another football game, another motherload of missed chances for the Heels.
The interesting thing is UNC actually played the turnover game even and got two TDs from a defense which could do nothing to stop the run. Offensively speaking it was a MIA running game which meant UNC depended solely on the pass for everything. Given the playmakers UNC has this is not necessarily a bad position to be in but NC State defends well enough that the lack of a balanced attack makes their job easier.
If I had to point to one thing that bothered me the most it was the number of throws from T.J. Yates that fell just off the fingertips of UNC receivers. When you talk about missed opportunities the ones which do not necessarily translate to a stat or play-by-play sheet are those multiple instances today where open receivers could not haul in TD passes. It happened at least three times that I could count, the last one being the Hakeem Nicks catch that was rule incomplete because he lost the ball when he came in contact with the ground. In fact there have been general rumblings on the message boards concerning the play calling of Heels OC John Shoop. I am not one to get into the play calling, but I can say I was generally bothered by the fact UNC was in position to score so many times and seemed unable to do so. Some of that is execution in terms of the aforementioned QB-receiver relationship and some of it might be coaching. Since my Xs and Os in football is fairly weak I will defer to others.
And what can you really say about the fluke INT on 3rd down late in the fourth? NCSU's Willie Young managed to get a hand on Yates arm as he threw and the ball ended up in the hands of DeMario Pressley giving the Pack the ball deep in UNC territory. Up to that point UNC had kept the Pack scoreless in the second half and limited their offensive production to basically one decent drive which ended with a UNC INT return for a TD. No one really can say what would have happened had Yates gotten the pass away cleanly. It could have been completed for a first down, intercepted down the field or incomplete leading to a punt. Whatever might have happened could have made the NC State drive for the game winner far more difficult than it was
In the end the running games really determined how this one unfolded. In UNC's case they had nothing happening on the ground and this versus the 100th ranked rushing defense in the nation. This might say more about the ineptitude of the Heels on the ground than it does anything else. UNC on the other hand has the 46th ranked rushing defense in the nation which meant very little to Jamelle Eugene as he torched the Heels for 159 yards and three TDs. It was, in many ways, the exact opposite of what you expected on paper once again affirming our need to actually play the games.
In terms of rivalry, I would put forth the notion that this game should serve as the template for future games in this series. The game today was exactly what you want and expect when UNC plays NC State. This rivalry is at it's best when both teams are playing at a high level and evenly matched with each other. In fact, it would be nice for both teams to be so much on the same level that being home versus being away is the only real advantage you enjoy.
One final notes for UNC, the first being this loss ended any hope UNC had of going to a bowl. The Heels needed to win out and since one of those games was in Atlanta versus Georgia Tech it would have still been a tall order but it would have been nice to see this team try. UNC has yet to put together a full game effort and followed the standard blueprint of first half suckitude followed by second half supremacy which speaks to the character of the team and a nice job by the coaching staff to make the adjustments as well as keeping the players' heads in the game. At some point, probably next season, UNC will turn the corner and find themselves on the upside of many of these missed opportunities. And as anguished as losing this way can be, especially to a rival, I am convinced it will make this young team better in the future. I also maintain that this season was never about wins but about playing competitive football with a legitimate chance to win games and afford the players valuable experience. Nothing that happened today has changed that perspective.