First half dominance and second half sleepwalking.
Tale of two halves. UNC owned the first half. They forced four ECU turnovers, put up points off two of them and went to the locker room with a 28-3 lead. Gio Bernard ran all over the ECU defense while Bryn Renner hit Dwight Jones, Jhay Boyd and Erik Highsmith for touchdowns. On the day, UNC got a very balanced offensive attack. Bernard put up 146 yards becoming the first Tar Heel since Natrone Means in 1992 to have three straight 100-yard rushing games. Jones did not cross the 100 yard mark in this game but his 93 yards and two TDs along with Highsmith's 94 yards and one TD gave the Heels a solid night attacking ECU on the ground and in the air. Speaking of Jones, he continues to be a complete freak with hands the size of tennis rackets that catch everything in reach, single handley if needed. In the center of it all was Renner who took the lessons of last week to heart and threw the ball away on multiple occasions when the protection broke down. The result was zero sacks given up and Renner throwing for 230 yards and four touchdowns. The only complaint about the offense is it did seem to get away from what was working. Bernard sat for an extended period after his 2nd quarter TD and when he return in the 3rd quarter was not nearly as effective. Some of that was adjustments by ECU but when the offensive line cannot get enough push to get Ryan Houston into the endzone from the one, the performance of the O-line still gets some unwanted attention.
On the defensive side, UNC gave up 490 yards of total offense, 417 of it in the air in a way that seemed like a death by a thousand cuts. ECU did not feed on big pass plays but quick out routes to the sideline which kept ECU QB Dominique Davis protected by virtue of the fact he was only in the pocket a short time. Nothing UNC did to stop this passing attack worked. ECU marched down the field at will and were it not for four turnovers, I am not sure UNC would have gotten many stops. Even if UNC brought pressure on Davis, it simply opened up the passing game more and Davis found receivers. Essentially ECU did more to stop themselves with turning the ball over four times than UNC did in getting actual stops.
That is probably the biggest concern taken away from this game. Actually one of two. The first is the degree to which this team takes it foot off an opponent's throat. There is a discernible passiveness in how UNC handles business in the third quarter to the point a better team will do untold damage at that stage of the game. However is it really an issue of focus or does it stem from the other concern I have about this team, the inability to adjust to the opponent? ECU passed the ball using short tosses on screens or outs all game long. At some point you would hope to see some sign the UNC coaching staff had an idea on how to slow down ECU's offense but it never happened. Only UNC's four first half touchdowns and ECU's inability to score, both resulting from the Pirate turnovers gave the Heels the breathing room they needed to screw around in the second half. After last week we all wondered why UNC could not stop the triple option of Georgia Tech after seeing it so much. This week we are wondering why Art Kaufman or Everett Withers had no answer for the Pirate offense. Then again, it could be the defense is simply not good and there may not be much in the way of answers putting a ton of pressure on the offense to put up points. Whatever the case, it would be nice if UNC could bring a little Cobra Kai to the 3rd quarter at some game in the near future.
And that the offense did in the kind of balanced and mistake free manner that helps coaches sleep better at night. The special teams in this one were also very good, especially Thomas Hibbard who put two balls inside the five. Good special teams play, zero turnovers, hardly any penalties and an efficient offense is solid football. A porous defense and lack of killer instinct continues to raise questions. Still, it is a win. UNC is 4-1 and little brother has been sent home crying to Mama with a bloody nose for another year.
Let us enjoy that shall we?