Sorry for the delay in posting this week's GBU Report, but I've been driving all over the state the past two days trying to find anyone who's actually seen a "roughing the snapper" penalty called before.
It's dangerous when you start wandering into "moral victory" territory, but Saturday's 50-43 loss at Notre Dame has all the marks of just such a thing. The Tar Heels went on the road against a top-5 team and competed like hell for all 60 minutes. The quarterback carousel came to a screeching halt, the defense forced some plays and the offense woke back up. In fact, Carolina actually out-gained the Irish, had more first downs, and time of possession was relatively even. All in all, it was the kind of effort and result you can build on.
On the minus side of the ledger, the Carolina defense surrendered 50 points - again - and still had trouble tackling and couldn't get off the field at key points during the time when the Irish flipped the score from down 14 to up 14. But this 50 felt a little different than the ECU and even Clemson games. UNC was getting to ND quarterback Everett Golson some, forcing a pick-six by Jeff Schoettmer, and the mind-numbing blown assignments were not as prominent. It just felt like most of what Notre Dame was able to get was more a product of them simply being better than Carolina and not because of putrid play by the Heels.
In all, it was pretty amazing that a game that had 165 snaps was seemingly decided on just two - the aforementioned roughing the snapper penalty, and the late Marquise Williams interception that snuffed out Carolina's chance to tie the game in the 4th quarter. But when you are struggling and playing a top-5 team on the road, those are the kinds of breaks that cost you the game.
So with that in mind, here is the roughing the snapper edition of the GBU Report:
Marquise Williams: What do you say about a guy who passed for two touchdowns, ran for another, and caught a fourth? In doing all that, he became the first UNC player to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 yards. He also sold popcorn, helped four old ladies across the street, built a Habitat for Humanity house, and flew the team plane back to Chapel Hill from South Bend. For those exploits he was rightly named ACC Offensive Back of the Week.
Of course the only negative on Williams' day is the 4th quarter interception that ended a Carolina drive, but even then it was a hustle play that was was Houdini-like in just escaping long enough to get the ill-advised pass off. But when a guy accounts for 458 yards of offense (303 passing, 132 rushing, 23 receiving) and four touchdowns, you've gotta cut him a break.
Quinshad Davis: The junior wideout is now tied for second on UNC's all-time touchdown receiving list, only two from tying Hakeem Nicks for the career lead. He also threw the touchdown pass to Williams and is now 3-for-3 on touchdown passes in his career.
Mack Hollins: Mr. Touchdown caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season and led Carolina in receiving with six catches for 84 yards.
Jeff Schoettmer: The junior's second interception of the season was also his second pick-six of the season. The former walk-on has developed into a defensive leader and remains one of the season's feel-good stories.
Pass protection: The offensive line welcomed back both Landon Turner and Jon Heck and did not give up a sack to the Notre Dame defense on 42 pass plays. That's a step in the right direction.
Nick Weiler: The sophomore kicker did not prove to be the answer as he missed a key 32-yard field goal and had an extra point blocked. It remains an unfortunate factoid that UNC has not made a field goal of longer than 40 yards in the last two years and only one longer than 40 in the last three. Carolina's kicking game remains a major liability.
Offensive line penalties: Three false starts and a holding. Yuck.
Running game: In light of Williams' great offensive day, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that the UNC running backs only gained 56 yards on 22 carries. The good news is that UNC did attempt to establish a running game with 22 carries.
Roughing the snapper penalty: Yes, it is a thing. Allow me to quote the NCAA rulebook, Rule 9 Article14: When a team is in scrimmage kick formation, a defensive player may not initiate contact with the snapper until one second has elapsed after the snap. Now take a look at this and count "One Mississippi" for yourself:
The intent of the rule is to protect a vulnerable player, in this case a center who has just made a 15-yard pass backwards between his legs, from getting creamed. In this case, it would seem like Irish long snapper Scott Daly has snapped and raised his head before Norkeithus Otis gives him a tap and play continues. Otis doesn't lay him out or hit him with his head down. Umpire Jim Eckl of the ACC officiating crew wastes no time in tossing a flag, in a situation where it would appear he was enforcing the letter of the law and not the spirit. Then again, as Brian noted at the time:
I've said it before. The timing of UNC's penalties are the worst.— Brian Barbour (@tarheelblog) October 11, 2014
So UNC has re-taken the lead. They have held and forced the Irish into a 4th-and-18 and are about to put the offense back on the field to begin the 4th quarter. Instead, after a quick flag on a judgment call on an obscure penalty, Notre Dame is given a first down at midfield and goes on to score what would be the game-deciding touchdown. And to make matters worse, it would seem Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and his staff begged the call:
Q. In the roughing the kicker call, did you see him get refused earlier in the game?
COACH KELLY: Yes. We had alerted the officials on what we thought were a couple of occasions of "overt" and made them aware of it. Actually communicated to us that they had seen it as well, and if it happened again, they were prepared to make the call.
Yep, they were prepared to make the call and it swung the game.
Ryan Switzer: The shine is officially off the sophomore superstar, who did not appear ready for prime time in front of a packed stadium and a national TV audience. The Irish defensed him well on the offensive end as he had only one catch and two rushes and was a non-factor there, but he was worse on punt returns, with three for negative 13 yards, and those were the ones that counted. Lost in the roughing the snapper penalty was the 13-yard loss on the punt return that would have pinned the Heels at their own 8 if the penalty hadn't given the Irish new life.
Defensive backfield penalties: Interesting that these didn't start until the roughing the snapper penalty. The defense was whistled for four pass interference calls (including two in a row, plus one that was declined) and a face mask in the fourth quarter alone.
Where you go from here depends on whether you are of the half-full or half-empty persuasion. UNC made good things happen on defense, the offense blew up the nation's 4th-ranked scoring defense for 43 points, and the Tar Heels went toe-to-toe with a top-5 team on the road. On the other hand, it's a shame to know your offense scored 43 points (plus 35 and 41 in the other 50-plus scoring games) and can't win because your defense is giving up 50, plus the little errors you hoped would clear up really haven't and the kicking game is a mess and the running backs still can't get going. In other words, the manic UNC season is likely to continue. Given UNC's play well/play badly rotation of the past few weeks, then this would be a down week which makes sense given that Carolina Kryptonite, also known as Georgia Tech, comes to Chapel Hill this week. Oh joy.