(Author's Note: The Good, Bad, and Ugly Report is a regular feature I used to write for another source and am glad to bring to the THF Blog)
If there were such a thing as moral victories, this would certainly count as one for the Tar Heels. Dead in the water and down 30-10 at halftime, the depleted Carolina squad pitched a second-half shutout and came six agonizing yards short of a storybook finish. Here is a look at the good, bad, and ugly from the LSU game:
T.J. Yates: Yates looked every bit the senior QB with 30+ career starts under his belt. Yates was calm, cool, collected, made good decisions, and showed no signs of the yips that plagued him last year. He torched one of the SEC's better defenses for 412 yards through the air.
Receivers: Zack Pianalto certainly has the potential to be one of the ACC's best at tight end, and Jhey Boyd had a coming-out party to remember. Erik Highsmith and Josh Adams also made big catches. Carolina's receivers are big, strong, and fast, and when Yates has the time to make accurate throws, these receivers showed they can make plays.
John Shoop for 3/4 of the game: Shoop showed flashes of why he was considered a boy genius as he made calls that kept an offense - who at times was playing their 4th- and 5th-string running backs - in the game. Granted, it helps that Yates was throwing the ball well but Shoop and Yates recognized the matchups and kept LSU on roller skates for a good part of the night, particularly in the 4th quarter.
The Defense: Yes, the defense was burned for two big plays that swung the game. But give oft-maligned defensive coordinator Everett Withers credit: he made adjustments off those mistakes and prevented them from happening again. Carolina's patchwork defense -which included 4th-string defensive backs at times - held LSU's offense to 21 points (the defense was not responsible for the other 9) despite working from a short field most of the night.
[THF: Just a note on how prolific the performances by Yates and Boyd were. Boyd's 221 yards of receiving is now 2nd most in school history by a receiver in a single game. Who did Boyd bump from 2nd to 3rd on that list? Hakeem Nicks vs West Virginia in the 2008 Car Care Bowl. Yates threw for 412 yards which was the 3rd best performance by a QB in UNC history. Only Darian Durant and Chris Keldorf had better days. The 97-yard pass play from Yates to Boyd was the longest play from scrimmage in Tar Heel history. ]
Offensive Line: Disappointing effort by a unit that was expected to be among the most improved on the team. Yates was sacked four times. Missed assignments and silly penalties haunted the O-line all night, and yet they did manage to give Yates enough time to throw most of the night, which mitigates their grade to a degree.
John Shoop for 1/4 of the game: As per usual, Shoop showed the side of his play-calling that makes Carolina fans want to pull their hair out. Just as soon as UNC made a brilliant drive to take the lead early in the second quarter, LSU quickly scores to go back on top and Shoop goes into his turtle shell for the next 15 minutes, trying to power run the ball down LSU's throat after mixing it up for most of the first quarter and a half. It's like Shoop was as stunned as the defense. Late in the 3rd, Shoop finally went back to what was working early in the game and Carolina started moving the ball again.
Jonathan Cooper: I hate to call out individual linemen, and I have a soft spot for centers because I was one, but it is hard to imagine a center having a worse individual night than he did. Three huge botched snaps that led directly to 9 LSU points and getting beaten so badly up front that he was replaced by backup Cam Holland at one point.
Kick Coverage Teams: One of the biggest points overlooked in the suspensions of the defensive players is the impact it would have on special teams. Unlike a lot of football teams who have players on special teams who are not regulars, Butch Davis has always had his best defenders on coverage teams. Tonight, the Heels faced one of the country's best returners in Patrick Peterson and he made them pay to the tune of nearly 250 return yards, scoring once and otherwise frequently giving LSU short fields.
Suspended Players in the Stands: Look, I understand you guys are college kids and you do what college kids do. I also get that you feel you need to support your teammates. But the best thing Austin, Quinn, Little, and the others could have done for their teammates and the program was to have stayed home and watched the game on TV.
[Added note (Doc): This tweet says it all. Seriously, when you're under scrutiny for possible illegal trips and you make a road trip to ATL, do you not understand how that looks? No, I guess not, given how we got to all this in the first place. But now you open yourself up to even more noise, whether or not it is jest. On the other hand, before the ABCers start raising sand about who paid for those guys to get down there and where were they staying, etc., really how hard is it to get up a car load of guys and drive 6 hours to Atlanta? And I'll bet tickets were easy to come by, given UNCFan's apprehension towards the game. Plus, I'm sure it's not hard to find some peeps to crash with. That's what college kids do. But still, someone at UNC should have told those guys to stay the h-e-double-hockey-sticks away from Atlanta.]
Again, while the only number that counts is 30-24, there are so many positives to take away from the game. UNC out-gained LSU offensively and actually won the turnover margin. They scored 24 (and should have been 28) points on an SEC defense with 3rd and 4th-team guys in the backfield. They got solid play from second- and third-team guys on both sides of the ball that will only help build depth. And most important, they never gave up in the face of adversity.
So now the Heels have a week to regroup and prepare for Georgia Tech on September 18th. By then the swirl of uncertainty surrounding the team should be resolved and the status of the suspended players and those held out will hopefully be determined. But Carolina fans can't help but be buoyed by the effort shown by the Tar Heels and it showed that UNC might be a force once back at full strength.