Ever have a great meal but the dessert wasn't great and that is all you can remember about the experience?
UNC's 49-38 loss to Baylor will no doubt leave a sour taste in the mouths of Tar Heel fans given the brutal manner in which the Bears bullied Carolina up and down the Russell Athletic Bowl field on Tuesday night. UNC was admittedly unprepared for Baylor's wildcat attack and its depleted defensive line just could not keep up with the bigger and stronger Bear offensive line. And in a game with a razor-thin margin of error, every Carolina mistake just seemed to be destructive.
The UNC offense did what it could for the most part. The offense generated nearly 500 yards and the 38 points the Heels put on Baylor were the second-highest total they surrendered all season; only Oklahoma scored more on the Bears. But when the defense can't get off the field, it forces the offense to score on nearly every possession, and two red zone turnovers alone took care of that.
But as they have done all year, UNC kept fighting and were a batted onside kick away from really making Baylor sweat. So with that in mind, here is the gif-enhanced final GBU report of the record-setting 2015 season:
Marquise Williams: The senior signal-caller shook off a couple of sub-par performances to throw for 243 yards and three scores, and he ran for 81 yards and two more scores. His one interception wasn't a well-thrown ball but Ryan Switzer gave up on the route to make for an easy pick. He also did a good job of staying alive under duress since he should probably sue his offensive line for non-support. Williams leaves UNC with his name all over the record books and has earned this title at Carolina
Elijah Hood: The sophomore continued his phenomenal season with another 100-yard effort on only 13 carries. He also held the Russell Athletic Bowl record for longest run from scrimmage at 67 yards for all of a minute and a half, until Baylor's Johnny Jefferson broke off an 80-yard run on Baylor's next possession. Hood recorded the second-highest rushing total in UNC history this season. Watching Hood run was often like this:
Donnie Miles: The sophomore safety was credited with 22 tackles, a Russell Athletic Bowl record. The secondary took a big step forward this season and should be a team strength in 2016. Logging 22 tackles will have a guy all like:
Nick Weiler: Perhaps the biggest improvement story, maybe as large as the defensive improvement, is how far Carolina's kicking game improved. From not making a field goal over 40 yards last season to Weiler going 20-23 on field goals and was a perfect on extra points for the season, setting a school record and displacing some guys named Barth on that list. With 8 points in the bowl game, Weiler also set the school record for points scored in a season. Needless to say, the guy was money:
Blocking: The play of the offensive line had been regressing for a number of games, and they did not acquit themselves particularly well once again. The tackles in particular were dreadful as Baylor consistently got pressure rushing only four up front. Williams was only sacked twice but much of that was because he was able to escape pressure. But it wasn't just the O-line that stunk in this area. The backs and receivers acted like they had not had to pick up blitzes and chip rushers all season. You would see a play for no gain or a tackle for loss and then look at the replay like:
The Breaks: When your margin for error is razor thin, you need every break you can get. Unfortunately UNC didn't seem to get many when they counted. Let's be fair - Baylor made plenty of mistakes, especially in penalties, that kept things going for UNC. But for instance, the sidelines. Carolina had not one but two touchdown passes called back because receivers stepped ever so slightly on the sideline. Meanwhile Baylor steps on the sideline just before fumbling the ball out of the end zone that would have been a turnover to the Heels. Sideline hurts UNC, helps Baylor. Likewise, Baylor is called for targeting and the call is overturned but UNC's targeting call on Mack Hollins stands and takes Carolina's best big-play receiver out of the game. The Baylor play met the spirit of targeting but not the letter of the law, while Hollins met the letter but not the spirit. And of course the T.J. Logan fumble just short of the goal line that led to a 14-point swing when the Bears scored on the next play. Things went right for Baylor but not so much for the Heels.
Getting off the field: After harping on this for weeks, UNC's inability to get off the field finally caught up to them. Baylor was 10 for 17 on third down, which is bad enough, but was also 4 for 7 on fourth down. In other words, out of 17 chances to get the defense off the field, the Tar Heels only got off three times. Simply brutal. It would get to be 3rd or 4th down, and you just knew Carolina couldn't hold.
A gazillion rushing yards: In Baylor's last regular season game, a loss against Texas in which the Bears only scored 17 points, injuries to their quarterback and backup quarterback led Art Briles and his staff to go to a diet of direct snaps to running backs just to survive. With three weeks to prepare and get at least their backup QB healthy, conventional wisdom was that the Bears would go back to their traditional pass-happy ways. Instead, Baylor refined their wildcat attack that A) played right into UNC's biggest weakness, an already injury-depleted defensive front and B) the Heels were completely unprepared for. As a result, Carolina gave up a national bowl-record 645 yards rushing. Baylor's offensive line opened huge holes and multiple Bears ran over, through, and around Tar Heel defenders. It was much like this most of the night:
It's hard to maintain perspective sometimes when things don't end well, and 11-3 with two losses to football powers on the national stage. It also shows how far UNC has to go to play with the perennial big boys. And yet there was so much special about this season, from the 11-game winning streak to the sweep of in-state rivals to 8-0 in the ACC, only the second* team to do it since divisional play (*Clemson did it this year as well so technically three teams have done it so we'll call it a tie for second). All you have to do is go back to last year to grasp what a bad ending really was. The two losses to end 2015 don't hold a candle to 2014's final pair. UNC has 8 starters returning on offense plus an experienced backup in Mitch Trubisky ready to step up into Williams' shoes. And we saw the miracles Gene Chizik worked with the defense in short order; it stands to reason the defense will only continue to improve with a full off-season. The staff should be locked in and recruiting is solid. The program is in the best shape it has been in for years. The historical challenge for Carolina will be maintaining success.