Well, that was interesting.
The stat sheet from Saturday's game against Virginia is not very kind. The Tar Heels were out-rushed and out-passed by the Cavaliers. UNC gave up three sacks, was dreadful in the kicking game and even worse in tackling. They could never establish the run and were an anemic 5-for-15 in 3rd and 4th down conversions. But for once, Carolina made the most of their opportunities and won the game on the scoreboard and not the stat sheet.
When the Hoos opened up a 14-0 lead while Carolina was running a derp fest on both sides of the ball, it was looking like it was going to be a long afternoon for the Heels. But then both teams regressed to the mean, as UNC got the offense going and Virginia cooled off. After a barn-burning first half, the second half surprisingly produced only a single Cavalier field goal and the game-winning touchdown by the Tar Heels.
Then of course there was the frenetic ending to the game, with Carolina notching the game-winning touchdown, followed by the YOLO decision by Larry Fedora to onside kick. Then following a bizarre sequence in which Virginia's Mike London declined a penalty to force a UNC field goal attempt, the Hoos came out with 12 men on the field which gave Carolina a first down and clinched the game. It's weird, but we'll take it.
With that in mind, here is this week's GBU Report:
Mack Hollins: Mr. Touchdown strikes again. The sophomore receiver caught two touchdown passes of 57 and 63 yards, and had a career-high 120 yards for the game. He also recovered the onside kick that led to the possession that ultimately sealed the game for UNC.
Marquise Williams: The junior quarterback was beaten up as he was hit early and often but slogged it out for 259 yards and two touchdowns passing, and led the team with 49 rushing yards and another touchdown. He continues his assault on the UNC record book, as he set the school record for rushing touchdowns and moved past Charlie Justice into 6th place on the career yardage list.
Interceptions: Carolina intercepted Virginia twice in the second half, and both were simply huge. The first was by Des Lawrence at the UNC 2-yard line in the 3rd quarter, and the second was by Nazair Jones in the 4th quarter that set up the game-winning touchdown. The two forced turnovers were part of a much-improved second half defensive effort. After giving up over 300 yards and 24 points in the first half, the Heels only surrendered 145 yards and 3 points after halftime.
Mitch Trubisky: The oft-maligned Trubisky was the man of the moment in the 4th quarter. After Williams had to go to sideline after losing his helmet, Trubisky came in and threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe on a 3rd and 15. Is it possible those meaningful snaps earlier in the season prepared Trubisky for just such a moment? Larry Fedora's daughter Sydney seemed to think so:
Everyone was so mad a second QB saw the field earlier this season. pic.twitter.com/IrCK17XHqv— sydney fedora (@sydneyfedora) October 25, 2014
Well played, Miss Fedora.
Offensive line: After a couple of weeks of noted improvement, this group took a big step backwards this week against a physical Virginia defensive front. The O-line surrendered three sacks and nine tackles for loss and allowed Williams to get hammered repeatedly when he wasn't sacked.
Running game: Again a week after showing some signs of life in the rushing attack, Carolina wasn't able to anything on the ground. UNC's running backs only chalked up 39 yards on 14 attempts. There wasn't a lot of help from the offensive line as noted above.
Tackling: The defense's old nemesis reared its head again. A number of times, especially in the first half, did UNC have plays sniffed out for losses or minimal gains only to have them turn into big gains, or in the case of Virginia's final touchdown, a score. The only reason this is not in the "ugly" category is that it did improve - somewhat - in the second half.
Third down conversions: Carolina was 5 for 14 on third down. The Heels were very lucky they were able to move the ball at other times. Most weeks, a third down conversion percentage like that will not get it done.
Field goal kicking: After the first third of the season yielded ineffective field goal kicking, senior Thomas Moore was was benched in favor of sophomore Nick Weiler. Apparently Weiler is not the answer either. Weiler missed two field goals, from 39 and 43 yards, and we have reached a point where UNC's lack of field goal kicking is impacting game strategy. UNC has not made a field goal of longer than 30 yards this season and has only made one longer than 40 yards in the past three seasons, so anything outside the 15 is pretty much four-down territory. This is somewhat puzzling because Weiler has been outstanding in kickoffs, putting practically all of them into the end zone and perfectly executing the onside kick against the Hoos.
With the win, Carolina evens the season slate at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC. The drive towards a bowl means UNC has to find two wins among Miami, Pitt, Duke, and NC State. With the Panthers and Pack at home, all the Heels have to do is hold serve in Kenan and stealing a win in South Florida or Durham is gravy. Then again, the Forrest Gump box of chocolates rule is in effect and you never know what you're gonna get. But under Larry Fedora the Tar Heels have played relatively well in November. Let's just hope the trend continues.