Well that sucked.
When UNC failed to score on four tries from the goal line and turned the ball over on down only to collect the safety I had the following thought while waiting for the stoplight at Capital Blvd and Old Wake Forest Rd:
Well, the touchdown would have been nice there but at least they got two points. I really hope we do not end up needing that one point we would have gotten from a field goal.
Then again, someone needs to explain to me at some point why you don't go for two points to try and establish a seven point leas However, all of that did not really screw the Heels as much as Greg Little dropping a pass that was so perfectly thrown TJ Yates probably should have it framed or Shaun Draughan fumbling on the WVU 30. The Heels were in perfect position to put more points on the board since it was clear West Virginia's run defense was starting to falter. As was the case versus Maryland, Virginia Tech and Virginia, the Heels lost this game by not cashing in on those huge chances.
Despite the progress made this season, UNC still plays with a fairly thin margin of error. That margin was even thinner today because the defense was completely inept when it came to stopping the Mountaineers, especially on 3rd down. Basically the "bend but not break" defense was broken all day long. WVU did pretty much what they wanted and it was UNC forcing two turnovers that keep the Mountaineers off the board more so that actually playing solid defense. The defense along with the general kicking game was simply not very good which put the offense in the position of having to deliver on every single series.
To the credit of the offense they did keep pace and put what probably should have been enough points on the board. Hakeem Nicks broke more UNC records than I have time to list in this space with his three touchdown, 217 yard day that is assumed to be his last as a Tar Heel. Nicks was flat out awesome and really answered the bell playing in his home city. And if you did not see the catch he made where he basically pinned the ball against his back then palmed it and tucked it under all while running upfield, it was one of the best catches I have ever seen. If Nicks decides to go to the NFL it will be a huge loss as we say goodbye to one of the greatest receivers in UNC history.
Ultimately this game and really the season as a whole ends with a feeling this team could have done more. Does that mean there was not a step forward? Of course not. Going from 4-8 to 8-5 is measurable progress. The wins over Rutgers, UConn, Notre Dame, Boston College and Georgia Tech were great wins signaling that the program is move in the direction of playing at a higher level. On the flip side the losses to Virgnia and Maryland were inexplicable. The loss to NC State was a complete mystery as well as completely embarassing. In reality this loss and the one to Virginia Tech actually are more "acceptable" given the caliber of the opponent.
Here at the end of the season I think this team closed the season leaving more questions than you would like to see. The defense needs to be addressed in an comprehensive manner. There is just too much give in terms of yardage by this defense and I hope that receives serious attention in the offseason. The offense will have plenty of uncertainty to it if the Heels end up losing it's top three receivers. Greg Little played about as well as he has played at UNC but I am not convinced he is the answer as the #1 WR. There will be a need for someone else to emerge whether it is Dwight Jones or someone yet unknown. TJ Yates has been a good QB. Is he capable of taking this program up another level? I am not sure that is the case based on the evidence at hand but he still might be they guy. I think we can assume Shaun Draughan and Ryan Houston will give the Heels a solid running game next season if those two improve in the offseason.
And, at some point, we probably ought to delve into whether the last season swoon is something that should be cause for worry in the future. The Heels were 7-2 and won a huge game over Georgia Tech that, coupled with a Virginia Tech loss five days later, handed the Heels control of the Coastal Division. From there UNC was 1-3 and had the debacle at home versus NCSU. I am not entirely sure why led to the November fade. Hopefully it is an isolated issue and not something we see on a regular basis. At any rate it is something to keep an eye on going forward.
Overall, I will take 8-5 over 4-8 or the other unmentionable seasons over the previous 10 years. Yes it ended bitterly and we all felt like there could have been more. Sometimes you have to take what you can get and given the alternative I will take it.