On November 20th, UNC went to Durham and shocked Duke with a dominant 45-20 win over the Blue Devils. Since that night, opponents have outscored the Tar Heels 75-28 with 21 of UNC's points coming in garbage time. The last half of this particular train wreck came in the Quick Lane Bowl versus Rutgers where the Heels fell behind 23-0 by halftime, staged a rally of sorts with the game well in hand and ultimately fell 40-21 to finish the season 6-7.
The recurring theme all season is UNC's defense was never going to hold down the fort well enough to permit the Tar Heels to win a game sans significant scoring from the offense. UNC's ability to win a game this season depended heavily on the offense showing up. This game unfolded along those lines with Rutgers gashing the Tar Heels on the first drive to take a 7-0 lead with a little over two minutes gone. Instead of responding in kind, the offense that stumbled through the loss to NC State scoring just seven points made an appearance in this game as well.
The first drive ended with Quinshad Davis fumbling after a catch that put UNC in Rutgers territory. The next drive following a Rutgers punt stalled at the Scarlet Knight 40. After get a third straight stop by the Tar Heel defense, a partially blocked punt put the Heels at the Rutgers 30. However a bad snap on what may or may not have been a fake FG on 4th and 4 resulted in a third straight empty possession. So while the defense has plenty of issues, the offense coming up empty on three straight possessions in a 7-0 game is not a winning formula for this team.
With those opportunities squandered, Rutgers put together another solid drive to take a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. UNC's second turnover of the game in the form of a Romar Morris fumble near midfield set the Scarlet Knights up to take a 20-0 lead. That lead pair with UNC's offensive futility gave the air that the game was essentially over as Rutgers tacked on a field goal for a 23-0 lead at the break.
UNC showed some signs of life with an efficient drive to open the half to make it 23-7 on a Marquise Williams 1-yard touchdown run. At this stage the defense needed a stop but could not get one with the Scarlet Knights converting a 4th and 1 on a fake punt. Gary Nova hit Andrew Turzilli for a 34-yard touchdown reception to push the lead back to 23. Rutgers made it 37-7 early in the fourth on a 28 yard Robert Martin run and hit a field goal with 12:17 left for a 40-7 advantage.
As the Tar Heels are wont to do, they fought back when it was a too late. Williams hit Jack Tabb from seven yards out to close it to 40-14. After recovering an onside kick, Mitch Trubisky led the Heels on a six play, 54 yard drive close the deficit to 19. The Heels then recovered an onside kick and seemingly scored to make it 40-28 except Tabb was flagged for offensive pass interference. This was the second time in the game UNC had a touchdown negated with offensive pass interference.
UNC's too little, too late rally came with a fairly steep price. On 4th and 4 at the Rutgers 8, Trubisky overthrew Davis in the end zone and when the junior wide receiver came down apparently injured his right leg. Davis was eventually carted off with an air cast on his leg. If Davis' leg is indeed broken it would marked the third time in UNC's last four bowl games a player has broken a leg. CB Deunta Williams suffered a broken leg in the Heels win over Tennessee in the 2010 Music City Bowl. OT James Hurst suffered a similar injury last season in the Belk Bowl. In those games UNC ultimately won the game, in this one it was an unfortunate injury coming in garbage time when the game was well in hand.
UNC finished the game with 482 yards of total offense and T.J. Logan rushed for 110 yards. Elijah Hood posted 62 yards and Marquise Williams ran for 51. The passing game was less effective as Williams was harassed all game long despite the Scarlet Knights rushing just three and four at times. There were times Williams scrambled away from Rutgers defensive linemen who were practically untouched into the pocket. As performances go this was a failure across the board right down to punter Tommy Hibbard missing the game for "conduct detrimental to the team."
The really tough aspect of this game to swallow for UNC partisans is the fact it comes after the Heels laid an egg in the regular season finale versus NC State. This game felt very much like a continuation of that game from the offensive ineptitude to the Tar Heels to allowing an opposing player to have the game of his life. In this case, Rutgers RB Josh Hicks rushed for 204 yards which was just 34 yards short of this total rushing yards for the entire season.
As was the case versus NC State, this was a total team failure. Every member of the team from the coaches to the players own the awfulness of this performance. On November 20th, UNC looked like a team that may have finally figured some things out. A week later that notion was gone and nearly a month later the Heels will enter the offseason with a fog of uncertainty surrounding the program.