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Heels Drop From AP Poll; Need To Tweak Some Things

Well, that didn't take long. If it is any consolation Virginia Tech and Wake Forest joined us in the "Also Receiving Votes" section of the poll. Boston College and Florid State moved into the poll.

Speaking of BC, they rubbed dirt in the freshly opened wound from the loss to Virginia by beating VT which painfully illustrated that not only did UNC choke away breaking that ridiculous losing streak at Charlottesville but the Heels wasted a chance to draw even in the Coastal Division.  Now I have to believe that Tampa ain't happening for UNC but given the ACC bears a striking resemblance to the Dow Jones in the topsy turvy department who knows what will happen.

As for the rest of this season, I refuse to cave to pessimism.  The Heels are 5-2 and while losing Brandon Tate and TJ Yates during the same stretch has crippled the offense, this team should find it's way to 7-5 or even 8-4.  Granted BC, GT and MD look plenty good enough that the Heels might be underdogs in those games.  NCSU and Duke will be tough games with the rival theme playing in the background.   Still three of the final five games are at home which should give the Heels an edge.  To get there I think there are basically two major issues which should be addressed.

The first is correcting the offense and adjusting to the loss of Brandon Tate.  Much has been made of the play calling against Virginia.  UNC only scored 10 points and the passing game was fairly anemic despite Cam Sexton being 24-38.  Those 24 completions only resulted in 166 yards which points to a lot of short passes and screens.  Some of that could have been an excellent defensive game plan from UVa.  I think some of it had to do with with missing Tate.  If you have both Hakeem Nicks and Tate on the field, given their collective speed, it stretches the defense.  The defensive backs have to be cognizant of not getting burned by Nicks or Yates for a long pass so plenty of cushion is given.  The result is a lot of space in the 10-15 yard range which UNC has been exploiting to move the football.  On Saturday it seems like that space was not there as much.  Again, UVa gets some credit for that but I also think being able to focus on Nicks alone and not worrying so much about the big pass play clogged up areas of the field UNC has been able to use up to this point.

What is the solution?  One would be getting some serious contributions from Brooks Foster, Cooter Arnold and Greg Little to take the pressure of Nicks and open the field up again.  I also think TJ Yates returning will help as well.  Sexton has been very good as backup but his success up to this point may have been attached to the receiving corps being so good.  Without Tate, Sexton had more problems.  It is possible Yates will see similar issues but Yates strikes me as better able to handle a situation which requires creativity in the pocket.  The emergence of the running game should also help the offense compensate for the loss of Tate and maximize both aspects of the offense.

The second aspect that needs reworking is the defense, especially when it comes to stopping teams in an end of game situation or passing the ball in general.  Whatever UNC is using on defense is not working in terms of shutting the pass down which is a glaring issue in the two minute offense.  I think much of this is owed to the lack of pressure on the opposing QB.  It appears that Everett Withers is content to sit back in coverage without signifcantly bothering the guy trying to pass the footballl. There are probably good reasons this decision was made but in practice there some disturbing trends.  In three games this season UNC has given the opposing team the ball back and over the course of about a minute those teams have driven the ball right down UNC's throat.  In the first two games, Miami and Notre Dame, UNC got a key turnover that prevented the winning score.  Trimane Goddard was involved in both of them.  Against Virginia, no such play occurred though someone did almost block the PAT which would have won the game barring a successful onside kick.  The point is UNC has not excelled when facing a team driving to retake the lead late in the game.  We have watched three different QBs carve up the Tar Heel defense and were it not for individual stellar defensive plays UNC loses those games.  In light of these developments it would seem some adjustments to the defense are in order.

If you pinned Butch Davis down and asked him if the program was on the schedule he had in mind when he took the job there is a chance he would say it was ahead or at the very least right on track.  Last season UNC lost six games they were in position to win but could not.  So far this season they are 2-2.  UNC has a crop of young players and losing Yates and Tate is not easy to overcome primarily because the Heels still operate with a growing but presently thin margin of error.  We, as fans, look at things game to game while assuming the last game is indicative of progress.  I doubt that is how Davis sees it nor can he afford to be overly absorbed with one game.  At 5-2 UNC has taken multiple steps forward and only a few back.  By the time we get to December, even if the record is 7-5 you have to see that as a prepatory step up to the next level hopefully in the next season.  In 2007 we saw glimmers of hope which this season have turned into larger more consistent flashes.  The fact this team relies more heavily on underclassmen means next season could be extremely bright when players begin reaching the fullness of their potential and having been in this system for two years both offense and defense begin to mesh into more cohesive units.

For the fan it is easy to misjudge the speed of progress.  5-1 made us think it was moving faster than 5-2 indicates.  Overall there is plenty to be excited about with the basic foundations of winning and competitng at a high level being established.  The football program is probably a year away and a year away from what we see right now should be very, very good.