Maryland on 3rd down: 9-18, on 4th down 1-3, four of those on the final drive.
Add to that:
UNC on 3rd down: 1-11
Cam Sexton: 10-24, 166 yards, two turnovers. 59 of those yards came on one play which in itself was a badly thrown ball that was tipped into Cooter Arnold's hands.
A missed 28 yard field goal that would have at least forced Maryland go for a TD.
A non-existent running game as well as a non-existent Hakeem Nicks which is a credit to the Terps' defense.
All of these were factors in the loss which looked eerily similar to the other losses this season with the lack of points, failure to control the turnover margin and a whole cache of missed opportunities. In general the Heels' play on the field was very much like the weather, a few rays of sunshine but mostly rain and clouds.
The maddening aspect of this game was the defense essentially playing well save the failures to stop the Terps on 3rd down. Maryland had the ball for 2/3 of the game yet only scored 17 points. The defense did a great job despite the time they were forced to spend on the field. On the last drive UNC was presented with four chances to stop the Maryland drive, three times on 3rd down and once on fourth down. Each time they allowed Maryland to eat up a huge number of yards to get to the marker. When the Heels finally stopped the Terps on 3rd down, it was on the nine and Maryland got the eventual game winning FG out of it. In the end you can probably chalk up the failures on the last drive to fatigue. As was the case with Virginia Tech and Virginia, the number the defense permitted on the scoreboard should have been enough for the offense to win the game. In all three instances that simply was not the case.
Unfortunately, this one will really rest more on Cam Sexton and also some on the coaching staff for at least not trying to change the game by putting TJ Yates back in the game. Butch Davis, in his own words, has indicated he will play the QB that will give UNC a chance to win. I think it was clear by 2nd half that Sexton was not that QB and Yates should have been given some snaps just to see if he could get the offense moving. This is not intended to trash Sexton nor am I interested in throwing him under the bus like the message board crowd has probably been doing for four hours now. However, in a game where the running game was effectively bottled up, the QB needed to be the one to step up and make plays.
On one hand Maryland did a great job keeping the Heels in check and the absence of Brandon Tate was felt today more than it has at any point since he was injured. On the other hand, I think today illustrated that Sexton, while having done an adequate job, still lacks a certains something. Before this game I had been unable to put a finger on it, but watching Sexton pass in this one it is clear he simply does not throw the ball as well as Yates does. Sexton's downfield passes are slower and tend to float/wobble too much. On other throws the ball does not hit the target quick enough. Yates is a better passer in terms of the accuracy, speed and strength of his throws. Given the offensive struggles, the coaching staff bears some culpability for not recognizing the need for a switch. With Yates available, Davis had the luxury of turning to a good QB who could have given the offense a boost. Sexton has been great and deserves a ton of credit for keeping the ship right. However the time has come to let Yates take back over as a starter knowing you have a capable backup in Sexton.
So after a tough loss, it helps to look at the upside and while the Coastal Division is likely out of reach it does not change the fact this has been an incredible season of progress. While the larger goal of going to Tampa is essentially lost, there is still pertinent business left to be done. Taking care of the two local rivals in NCSU and Duke to get to 9-3 is incredibily important. If the Heels can do that, then they will likely go to the Chick-Fil-A Bowl with a shot at a ten win season for the first time since 1997. I will take it because progess is progress and while UNC has lost some very close games it does not change the fact this season is plenty to write home about.