My son's Pop Warner team has struggled mightily this season. His team is very young and undersized compared to their opponents thus far, who I have had a hard time believing are 8 and 9 years old. On Saturday, they played a team with a quarterback who was almost a head taller than everyone on the field, was throwing frozen ropes, and has mechanics that a high school quarterback would be proud of. His team was putting guys in motion and throwing downfield (most passes at that level are swings and screens) while my son's team is still struggling to get the right personnel on the field and when they do get out there, are still literally having to place them in the right spots, 9 weeks after the start of practice.
So you can see why I thought of UNC when watching my son's team play.
A week after being destroyed on the scoreboard and between the ears at East Carolina, Carolina comported themselves relatively well on the road at Clemson, especially given the thought that this game had the potential for unmitigated disaster. While the Tar Heels gave up 50 points and over 500 yards of total offense, there were definite signs of improvement. Tackling was much improved, as was the play of the defensive front. On offense, Carolina put up 35 points and gained almost 500 yards on their own (by comparison Florida State - without Jameis Winston, mind you - only put up 23 and 350) and showed some flashes in the running game. And perhaps most important, UNC kept competing and did not seem to check out mentally as they did in Greenville last week.
At the risk of going all in on "good job, good effort", there is reason to come in off the ledge. With that in mind, here is this week's GBU Report:
Defensive front: OK, let's give credit. Carolina's defensive front made some real strides. The Clemson run game was practically nonexistent and this group generated three sacks and seven tackles for loss. You can only solve one problem at a time on defense and if the defensive front can continue to perform on this level, that's a step in the right direction.
Marquise Williams: The junior quarterback shook off a very slow start and a horrible decision that cost a safety to put in a pretty good day at the office. Williams was 24-38 for 345 yards and four touchdowns, a performance that was unfortunately lost in the slobbering ESPN hype over the admittedly impressive play of Deshaun Watson.
Receivers: Nice to see some signs of life from this group. Ryan Switzer chalked up 87 yards and a TD, Bug Howard hauled in five balls, Quinshad Davis reminded us he was on the team, and Mack Hollins continued to be Mr. Touchdown. In all, 13 different Tar Heels caught passes.
Elijah Hood: The freshman rushed 13 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. My issue is he only touched the ball 13 times. It sure would be nice to see him run the ball even more.
John Ferranto: You hate to call out anyone on UNC's banged-up, inexperienced offensive line, but the poor sophomore will have bad dreams about Clemson's Vic Beasley for weeks. Beasley abused Ferranto for two sacks and as Brian tweeted, otherwise took his lunch money. Then again, the entire O-line had issues, including four false starts and two more blocking penalties.
Defensive secondary: Beyond words. You name it, they did it: blown coverages, bad form, worse penalties. I suggested that the defensive front should sue them for non-support. Three of Watson's touchdown passes happened without a defender within five yards of an open receiver, and when there was someone in the area they were face guarding or committing one of four pass interference penalties. The only real bright spot here was the play of Brian Walker, who Clemson chose not to test, but they were more than happy to pick on the other side and down the middle. Often.
Penalties: Brian suggested that I would not include this because I have run out of things to say about it, but Carolina just missed a school record for penalties with 15 for 130 yards. In addition to the four pass interference penalties, the offensive line had six penalties on their own, plus four penalties on special teams, including a late hit out of bounds on UNC's punter, Tommy Hibbard. UNC's 15 penalties gave Clemson five first downs.
How you look at this game depends on whether or not you are a "glass is half-empty" or "glass is half-full" kind of person. The half-empty crowd can point to the 50 points given up, the 400+ yards surrendered to yet another quarterback, and the fact that once again the defensive backs could star as chestnuts in a Christmas song given how much they were roasted. UNC has never given up 50 points in consecutive games. Ever. On the other hand, if the goal is to be better this week than last week, then that definitely happened. UNC's defensive woes are not going to be cured in one week, or even two, or even necessarily this season. The fact that the front line played much better and the team didn't give up for 60 minutes is encouraging.
For what it's worth, I would offer that spread offenses have changed the game so much that many of the previous metrics regarding yards and points no longer apply. There were 23 teams that scored 40 points or more on Saturday, and four of those scored 40 or more in a losing effort. Nine teams scored 50 or more, and one scored over 50 in a loss. Arizona State, ranked #15, gave up 62 points and over 600 yards to #11 UCLA, who gave up almost 600 yards back to the Sun Devils. The point is, giving up 40 or 50 doesn't mean what it once did. The main number is on the scoreboard, where the margin for UNC was 15. Ultimately the defense has to get the crucial stops, whether it is part of a 50-point game or a 20-point game.
Still at the end of the day, UNC did take a step forward, and now they can get ready for a more offensively challenged team in Virginia Tech. It was a good bet that the Tar Heels would be 3-3 after the first six games and nothing has changed that line of thinking, but Carolina has to hold serve against the Hokies and keep playing better each week. Now about my son's Pop Warner team...