A tale of two halves.
In the first half, UNC was sloppy, out of sync, and thankful for a pick-six that allowed them to be tied with a team picked to be in the middle of the pack in Conference USA. After the first two series of the second half, Carolina began to impose its will on ECU, moved the ball with ease, forced two more turnovers and a host of quarterback hurries, and won the game in a walk.
I had the good fortune to watch the game from Kenan Stadium and to see the interactions between the players. T.J. Yates is a real leader, interacting with players on offense and defense between possessions. And although he wasn't firing on all pistons, he still made good decisions, throwing for 181 yards and 2 TDs and his being out of sync in the passing game did not hurt the team as it would have in the past. And I know Bruce Carter is the weightroom freak, but Da'Norris Searcy just looks thick, especially for a defensive back.
So, from Kenan on a beautiful October Saturday, here is this week's GBU report:
Da'Norris Searcy: Searcy announced his presence with authority with a interception return for a touchdown, three tackles, and nearly 70 return yards. Huge boost to a green secondary that will get another shot in the arm next week with the return of Deunta Williams.
Defense: UNC has returned to the "bend, don't break" defensive scheme that drove fans crazy in 2008, but on Saturday it worked against the Pirates. Pirate QB Dominique Davis threw for 283 yards but on 52 attempts with the longest pass play only 20 yards. ECU scored a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter and did not see the end zone again, notching only a field goal against a defensive unit that regained Searcy but played without Quan Sturdivant. The Heels held the Pirates to nearly 100 yards and 25 points under their season averages.
Johnny White and Shaun Draughn: These guys each deserve their own entry, but they combined for 277 yards on the ground and were again just hard to bring down. In 43 combined rushing attempts, neither back was stopped for negative yardage.
Turnovers: As in, UNC had none, not even putting the ball on the ground or coming close to an interception. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels turned all three ECU interceptions into points.
First-half Offensive Line Play: Simply atrocious. This group slogged through the first half with missed assignments, silly penalties, surrendered sacks, and were otherwise manhandled by a smaller, less athletic ECU defensive unit. I'm not sure what adjustments were made at halftime or whether they were told to man up and play football, but moving forward this group must get it together.
End of the First Half Possession: This kind of thing is what drives UNC fans crazy about John Shoop. Carolina had the ball at their own 5 yard line with 1:15 left in the first half and all three time outs. Johnny White rips off a 13-yard gain, so now UNC is at the 18 with 1:09 to play. At this point, either you either go no-huddle and try to move down the field or you hand off into the line to play for the end of the half, knowing you get the ball first in the second half. Instead, UNC huddles up, calls a designed roll-out flat pass to the fullback who, if he catches it, will only gain less than five yards and has a good chance of going out of bounds. The pass is incomplete, then UNC hands the ball off into the line twice and is forced to punt, taking less than a minute on the possession and giving a pass-happy team 22 seconds to try something. Either take your shots down the field, or manage the clock until halftime.
Kicking Game: UNC made the switch to C.J. Feagles at punter because the coaching staff was apparently unhappy with Grant Shallock's work. But Feagles punted 6 times for only a 36-yard average. And while holder Trase Jones saved a bad snap on UNC's first extra point, it did not appear he got the ball down cleanly after a low snap on Casey Barth's missed field goal in the thrid quarter (my companion at the game wryly commented, "Laces out, Marino!"). Barth has not made a field goal outside of 30 yards this season, and he needs to be counted on in the ACC portion of the schedule.
Tackling: Carolina still continues to miss tackles, either on bad angles or because of arm tackling or failing to wrap people up. UNC also seems to like to tackle people forward, resulting in an extra yard or two on runs. Again, this is something that needs to be tightened up for the remainder of the season.
ESPN3: This is what Time Warner Cable customers have been waiting years for? The announcers frequently mis-named players, the camera work was sub-par, and the graphics were often wrong. Plus, what were those awful transitions between possessions? I'm glad I was at the game and not counting on this to be how I saw it.
At the end of the day, it was better late than never and UNC ended up with a convincing win. But it only gets harder from here, and as Deems May pointed out in the post-game show, there are still a lot of things that need to be cleaned up so far as UNC's execution on both sides of the ball. The next two games are crucial if the Heels are to make a play in the Coastal Division.