Carolina lost to Clemson by eight in the ACC title game in Charlotte on Saturday to finish the pre-bowl season at 11-2. Even with the disappointing title game loss the Heel are in the midst of UNC's most impressive season in decades with the bowl game left to play.
The game for the Heels was epitomized by Marquise Williams' worst performance of his career. Williams did not move around the pocket well and had happy feet on nearly every play. Williams missed deep throws, short throws and throws in-between while also struggling as a runner. Carolina had receivers open on most plays and Williams actually had room in the pocket to maneuver. There were very few plays where the entire pocket collapsed around Williams. Shaq Lawson did get excellent pressure off the edge on most plays, but he was frequently blocked decetly up feild and Williams failed to step up correctly in the pocket. Williams showed poor sense of the pocket and he did not know how it would evolve around him. Williams often ran into his linemen and would then try to scramble. But when he scrambled, Clemson exposed Williams as a runner. Williams has never been a running quarterback in the mold of Michael Vick or Robert Griffin III, he is not a speedster, but rather someone who breaks defensive backs' arm tackles. Clemson exposed Williams as a true college quarterback who lacks a professional sense of the pocket as well as professional speed. When presented with a set of players who are professional prospects, Williams was exposed and the Heels lost as a result.
Going forward, fans should hope that Coach Fedora can develop Mitch Trubisky to the point where he has a professional sense of the pocket, or that he can find it in Caleb Henderson or one of the recruits he brings in. With improved quarterback play (and a correct call on an onside kick), Carolina probably beats the number one team in the country and maybe has a shot at the playoff. The rest of the pieces appear to be there and if the Heels can get a top tier quarterback, then being a division/conference title contender could become the norm going forward.
Keep Deshaun Watson in the Pocket: A-
Carolina did not allow Watson to scramble for first downs like they allowed Jacoby Brisset to do several weeks ago. The Heels' defensive line played very well in this game, even though they gave up yards and point in bunches. The poor quarterback play from Williams made it so that the defense was on the field for nearly 40 minutes. The defense faced so much time on the field that they were clearly tired by the second half--when Clemson started to run with more success. Even though they were tired, they still kept Watson from scrambling for bunches of yards on designed pass plays. The defense deserves praise for its play this season, and they should be even better next year with nearly all of the impact players returning.
Start Strong: A-
The Heels were up 9-7 at the end of the first quarter and it would have been 10-7 if they had simply kicked an extra point instead of trying the weird two point try they're prone to breaking out. The defense played very well on the first few series, and Carolina had a very strong first 15 minutes. The main blemish on their start was the fact that Williams obviously did not have it when the game started. From the first few snaps of the game, it was apparent that Williams was going to be over-matched. Carolina could have considered going to Trubisky early in this game, he performed well on his one play but most importantly on that play Trubisky navigated an evolving pocket in a way that Williams had already shown he was not able to do. As Williams never improved, the coaching staff could have put in Trubisky and potentially been in a position to win the game.
Unleash Elijah Hood: C
Carolina only gave Hood 14 carries in this game. Some of that is the fact that the Heels needed to try to come back for most of the game, but this is again where Williams hurt the Heels. Williams was so bad on offense that the Heels barely ran any plays until the fourth quarter. Carolina could not feed Hood since they were not on the field on offense with opportunities to run the ball. However, Carolina still insisted on running Williams. Williams ended up with 17 carries, more than Hood's 14, while not being particularly effective. In fact, Williams was barely producing any positive yardage on the ground at all until he ran in the fourth quarter against prevent defenses. Hood would have gotten the ball more had the play of Williams been better or the play calling changed. The offense most likely could not have fared much better with Hood getting predictable carries since Clemson would have loaded the box to stop the run. This would have kept Hood under wraps but might have opened up passing lanes, although how much that would have helped is questionable since Williams missed open receivers everywhere anyhow.