The Heels lost handily to Clemson in Death Valley this past weekend, but the game was a vast improvement on their performance against ECU. The players, particularly the defense, played better but coaching appeared to still be slightly questionable. This is not to say that the defense played particularly well, but they were not a massive conflagration of utter depravity like they were against ECU. Considering the performance in the ECU game, a performance where the defense looked merely bad to below average was an improvement.
Against ECU the defense gave up an average of 8.13 yards per play, but against Clemson they gave up 6.36 yards per play. The run defense was really good during this game and the defensive line play was by far the most impressive of the season. UNC limited Clemson to 2.1 yards per carry on the ground, the best mark all season, 1.7 yards per carry less than they allowed against Liberty, the previous best. The pass coverage, um... well... actually found a way to get even worse. Against Clemson the Heels allowed 11.7 yards per pass attempt, a season high by 2.5 yards per attempt. That doesn't even take into account the three pass interference penalties. All that being said, tackling was much better, and the defense just appeared to lack the athletes necessary to stop Clemson's receivers. This is an improvement on the performance of previous weeks, when UNC defenders bounced off of players that they should have been able to cover. The pass coverage in this game was bad, the Tiger receivers were open in the middle of the field too frequently and Deshaun Watson made the Heels pay for it.
On offense the Heels submitted a mediocre performance early buy improved as the game progressed. Elijah Hood had a nice breakout game (13 carries, 71 yards, TD, 5.5 yards per carry), Marquise Williams threw 4 touchdowns and the Heels accumulated 478 yards of total offense. The offensive line played erratically but as a unit the offense looked decent for most of the game. They scored 35 points, which would be enough for most teams to walk out with a win, just not when the Heel's offense has to cope with being on the same team as the Heel's defense.
On to the grades:
Control the Game Clock: C+
The Heels got behind in this game too quickly to do much as it relates to controlling the pace of the game. The Heels did not sustain many drives in the first half so there were not many opportunities to take time off the clock to prevent Clemson's offense from taking the field. In the second half when the Heels needed to score and score quickly they ran the hurry-up well and efficiently. For the most part, the Heel's drives gave the defense time to rest and took some time off the clock. Clemson only ran 4 more plays than the Heels did in this game but Clemson held the ball for 8 minutes and 16 seconds more than the Heels. Larry Fedora may be philosophically opposed to playing football games at a normal speed and it is true that in the second half it made sense to run more plays in less time to try to catch up, but if the defense continues to be this bad then the coaching staff should try to slow the game down to keep opposing offenses off the field. Other parts of the game plan still leave much to be desired, mainly, stop playing Mitch Trubisky. At this point Trubisky has played in all four games and he just hasn't been very good. Marquise Williams is a better quarterback, Larry Fedora needs to accept this fact and commit to him full time.
Defensive Line Rushing the Passer: B-
The defensive line rushed Watson well for most of the night. The pass rush led to the interception and UNC hit and sacked Watson a decent amount (3 sacks, 1 hit on 40 drop-backs). Getting to the quarterback on 10% of his drop-backs is not terrible but there's definite room for improvement. The line collapsed the pocket well on most of Watson's drop-backs. The main problem was that Watson often did not have to make more than one read to find an open receiver. This led to quick throws which in turn made it harder for the pass rush to get there. On the whole the d-line played well in this game, they were stout in run defense and above all else, the tackling was good.
Use Ryan Switzer: B-
The use of Switzer in this game was not very inspiring. The 75 yard screen for a touchdown shows just how effective Switzer can be when used correctly. But he only got three other touches on offense (not including targets that were incomplete). There are no real reasons why not to call a screen pass for Switzer on at least half of the Heel's drives. In future weeks the Heels should just feed him the ball in open space. Give him more than 4 touches per game, he has clearly shown what he can do.