There is a double edged sword when it comes to playing I-AA teams. If you blow them off the face of the earth then it is a grain of salt moment because it was a I-AA team. If you struggle ending up in a nip and tuck affair, then you suck because it was a I-AA team. Over the next few days, UNC will find themselves victim of the latter and honestly that is not without merit, despite how good McNeese State might be.
First of all, the Heels were in control 14-0 when the weather turned nasty kicking off a long delay that finaly ended at 8:45 PM. Following the long break, the Heels' play was lackluster allowing McNeese State to score 20 unanswered points before snapping out of it. UNC eventually regained control and ended up winning 35-27 after being down 20-14 in the 3rd quarter. It was very much a strange evening. UNC was not playing all that well before the weather moved in and seemingly got worse after the storm past.
The defense was porous at best surrendering 391 yards of total offense and a whopping 22 first downs. The offense was out of sync across the board. The running game did not look much better than last season due in part to the offensive line not playing well. The other part was Greg Little show very little of the kind of play at the end of last season that garnered him the starting job. And with Shaun Draughn coming in to run for almost as many yards as Little on half the carries, the possibility of a RB controversy exists.
TJ Yates appeared to be out of rythymn and unable to exploit the weapons in the receiving corps. Yes, Hakeem Nicks ended up with 110 yards but 71 of those came on one play illustrating that on the other five receptions he was rather pedestrian. And if all the other issues were not enough, apparently we are looking at a suspect kicking game since Casey Barth shanked a 37 yard field goal in his only FG attempt making me a little nervous about what may lie ahead in terms getting consistent kicking inside of 40 yards.
When you break this game down to the bare parts, the only reason UNC does not lose this one is because Brandon Tate went nuts for almost 400 all purpose yards and two touchdowns. Tate had 106 yards rushing, 93 yards receiving, 56 yards(on a punt return for a TD) and 142 return yards on kickoffs. The play of Tate ended up being the firewall UNC needed to keep the whole building from going up in flames. Granted, there will be someone in every game that delivers but it felt like Tate was the only one who had his game rolling while everyone else was a little jittery.
Now, I am not trying to come off as panicked here. The "it was a I-AA team so it should have been 38-10 not 35-27" angle it a source of concerned. UNC did not play a good game and allowed a less opponent to hang around far too long. Maybe the fact it was a season opener played a part as did the weather delay. The question being raised here is whether the coaching staff did an adequate enough job of getting the team mentally ready to play. When the storm struck and UNC came out utterly flat you again have to wonder if the coaches handled to team's focus. This is still a young team that might be more susceptible mentally first games and long weather delays. Then again that is why you have coaches to work the team through that.
Of course it is only the first game making my treatise here a bit State fan like in nature. Still there will be questions and the way this game unfolded will produced an insane number of issues to consider such as:
Does Yates feel any ill effects from his shoulder surgery?
What about the running game?
Is Greg Little still the answer or has Draughn proved his worth?
What about the defense?
Can the issues with the offensive line be remedied?
Are all these things just general first game struggles?
Did the weather delay affect team focus?
So on and so forth.
The upside is UNC now has real game tape to work out some those things that went wrong. The Heels also have 12 days to get ready for Rutgers. That game is fraught with it's own pressures such as playing on the road in a nationally televised game on ESPN. This speaks a great deal to at least having the players' heads in the right place and hoping the execution will follow in a more impressive manner than what we saw tonight.