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UNC Football Positional Grades: Win vs. FSU

Grading all aspects of the team in their win over Florida State.

North Carolina v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

Larry Fedora recorded his best win as the coach at Carolina with a last second Nick Weiler field goal powering Carolina to a two point victory over #12 Florida State in Tallahassee. The Heels seemed dedicated to beating themselves against the Seminoles, but they battled back to secure the win in the final seconds. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and wide receiver Ryan Switzer each turned in excellent performances for the second straight week and the offense was able to overcome the loss of Elijah Hood at halftime.

Offense: 8

Offensive Line: 8

Carolina’s offensive line put in an admirable shift against the Seminoles’ defense on Saturday. In the run game, the line generated a quality push up front throughout the afternoon. The line’s high level of play in the run game was particularly evident in the first half when Carolina had both Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan available as running backs. The line created gaps between the hashmarks for Hood and set the edge for Logan throughout the first half.

The dominance of the offensive line in the run game in the first half was a critical part of the offense and a major reason that the Heels raced out to a 21-0 lead against FSU. Once Hood left the game, the run game stalled, but not due to the offensive line. When the Heels ran the ball in the second half, the offensive line played just as well as they had in the first half, but T.J. Logan was not able to take advantage of the holes the same way that Hood is. This is not the fault of the offensive line nor of Logan as his running style is very different than Hood’s. When Carolina’s personnel changed, the type of plays they could excel at also changed, and their second half regression in the run game put that on full display.

The offensive line had a bit more difficulty in pass protection. Mitch Trubisky was sacked three times and hit another three times. This was not ideal, but the line still played well when asked to create time for Trubisky. The Seminoles struggled to get any pressure on the Heels’ quarterback throughout the first half, but they picked up their pressure in the second half by sending extra rushers at Trubisky.

The line held up quite well when FSU rushed five but naturally had issues when the Seminoles blitzed with six or more players. When there was at least one offensive lineman for each pass rusher, the line kept a clean pocket for Trubisky. This required the Seminoles to send additional blitzers to generate pressure—ultimately a testament to the high level of play by the line in this game.

The offensive line committed two penalties in this game, one false start and one hold. Compared to their level of play earlier this season, this game was a marked improvement from the offensive line in the penalty department. If the line only costs the Heels 15 yards in penalties while simultaneously catalyzing the entire offense, the Heels will be in good shape for the rest of the season.

Backs and Receivers: 8

T.J. Logan continued his dynamite senior season with a touchdown through both the air and the ground in this game. Logan’s speed created matchup problems for the Seminoles’ defense all afternoon. He displayed top class acceleration in attacking gaps in the defense on the ground, accelerating around the edge into the second level to break off multiple long runs. He caught his only target of the day, a dump off from Trubisky he took to the house on Carolina’s first drive. Logan ended the game with 10 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well as one catch for 22 yards and a score through the air.

Elijah Hood did not have a stellar game on the stat sheet, but his value to the Heels was made apparent as soon as he left the game with an injury. Hood also fumbled the ball in the red zone. At times this season he has struggled with ball control and it has really hurt the Heels in some situations. Going forward he needs to rededicate himself to keeping control of the football when running or the Heels may need to adjust his role in the offense.

Hood finished with 47 yards on 13 carries but those numbers understate his importance. Hood’s runs on first and second downs kept the Heels on schedule throughout the first half. He was also an option on package plays that helped the Heels maintain their tempo on offense while also forcing the Seminoles to devote extra attention to the Heels’ running game.

With Hood in the game, FSU kept their linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage which resulted in extra room outside for the Heels’ passing attack. Once Hood left the game, the threat of a true between the tackles runner was gone and the Seminoles changed their defensive alignment. The FSU defense was able to give its linebackers a bit more freedom in the second half. They were given more license to back off the line of scrimmage and the ability to position themselves outside of the tackles which allowed them to increase the amount of ground they could cover laterally—this constrained what the Heels could do in the passing game and significantly hampered Carolina’s offense in the second half.

The wide receivers shone for the second straight week Saturday with no one shining brighter than Ryan Switzer. Switzer caught 14 passes against FSU, bringing his total to 30 over the past two games. His 14 catches went for 158 yards and he was simply everywhere for the Carolina offense.

Switzer was part of the offense in every which way Saturday with touches on jet sweeps, go routes, crossing routes, screens and out routes. In all facets of the game he showcased his exceptional hands and field awareness to fight for extra yards and secure first downs for the Heels.

The rest of receiving corps also had a strong day for the Heels. Austin Proehl, Bug Howard, Mack Hollins, and Thomas Jackson featured prominently in the offense for Carolina. Proehl highlighted his hands on four catches for 63 yards. Howard chipped in with four catches for 51 yards while also submitting an afternoon of quality blocking on the outside. Hollins was the clear number two wideout after Switzer. Hollins caught five passes for 69 yards and touchdown.

Throughout the afternoon, Hollins displayed impeccable instincts, he reached out for the pylon on his touchdown catch and constantly fought for extra yards the entire afternoon. Perhaps most crucially, Hollins caught the first pass from Trubisky on Carolina’s short final drive to help put them in position to make the game winning field goal. Thomas Jackson is the least well-known of the Tar Heels’ wide receivers to play in this game but he came up in the clutch when it mattered with a 34 yard touchdown catch and run late in the fourth quarter. As a unit, the wide receivers came to play on Saturday and showed that they can play with anyone in the country, to excel against any level of competition.

Quarterback: 9

Mitch Trubisky was once again outstanding on Saturday with another signature performance, going 31-38 for 405 yards, three touchdowns, and his customary zero interceptions. There is not a whole lot more to say about Trubisky at this point, the Heels have one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Trubisky goes through his reads quickly, makes the correct decision with the football every time, takes sacks rather than force throws, moves well in the pocket, displays high quality arm strength and fits the football into whatever window he needs to.

Carolina is riding its quarterback right now and there is no indication that the Heels need to adopt any other strategy. Trubisky had plenty of protection against the Seminoles and he was able to pick their defense apart for the entire afternoon. Trubisky has a clear level of comfort and chemistry with all his receivers and there is no reason why the Heels can’t have one of the best offenses in the nation for the rest of the year.

Defense: 6

Defensive Line: 6

The defensive line played a very different style on Saturday and it showed in how they faced FSU in the run game. The Heels changed their gap assignments against the Seminoles, opting to play a much more compressed line to take away space between the tackles. The changes in positioning resulted in a notable improvement against the run.

Against the best running back the Heels have faced thus far, they penetrated into the backfield and contained FSU’s Dalvin Cook in ways they had not been able to contain say, Nick Chubb, earlier this season. The Heels ensured that the middle of the field was eliminated for FSU in the run game by changing how their defensive line approached the game.

Without these types of runs, FSU was forced to rely on slower developing counters and runs to the outside. These runs let the linebackers and defensive backs get more involved on run plays which hampered the running-reliant FSU attack. While this doesn’t show up as much in the stat sheet, the Heels still surrendered 5.2 yards per carry, it lent itself to transforming FSU into a boom or bust offense.

The Seminoles failed to convert their first seven third downs. This was in no small part to the Heels being able to get FSU off schedule in the run game. When they would have a negative play or one for no gain on a first or second down, it severely hampered their ability to pick up first downs and extend drives which allowed the Heels to build their early lead.

The defensive line had a much more inconsistent day rushing the passer. Deondre Francois was sacked twice and hit three times. Carolina has struggled to rush the passer with only four down linemen so far this season and that held true Saturday. Francois had a clean pocket on most of his throws and was able to wind up more multiple deep balls.

Furthermore, the defensive line tended to over-pursue in the pass game. FSU ran many play action roll-outs against the run of play to give Francois time and space to survey the field. These plays saw the Seminoles’ quarterback go untouched for extended periods of time and were by far the most damaging pass plays to the Heels. The defensive line needs to keep their heads up in future weeks and ensure that they track down the player with the ball (as elementary as it sounds). If they fail to track quarterbacks on these roll-outs going forward, more and more teams will use them to hurt the Heels.

Linebackers: 5

The adjustments by the defensive line allowed the linebackers to increase their role and effectiveness in the run game. The Heels continued to run out of the nickel but the linebackers played better against Florida State because they had to make fewer decisions, they were always responsible for the outside gaps or the pulling lineman on each run play. They hit their assignments with much more force Saturday and it showed in the run game. The linebackers do need to improve their tackling—another season-long bugaboo to this point, but against FSU they were at least in the positions necessary to have poor tackling be an issue.

The linebackers’ major weakness against FSU was in pass coverage. Their determination to get up the field against the run meant that they were often over exposed against play action passes. The linebackers also failed rather miserably to cover tight ends and running back Dalvin Cook in pass coverage. Tight ends routinely beat Carolina’s linebackers over the middle and Cook was frequently completely unmarked when Francois dumped the ball off to him.

Cook had 106 yards receiving on six catches, not because he was breaking tackled on screen passes, but frequently because he was completely unmarked as the Seminoles’ safety valve. The linebackers’ play was significantly improved against FSU compared with how they started the season but they still have work to do in the passing game if they are to help the defense get to the next level.

Defensive Backs: 6

Carolina’s defensive backs put in an interesting shift Saturday afternoon. With the exception of Jesus Wilson, the Heels almost completely shut out the FSU wide receivers, but, on the other hand, the coverage in the secondary was not particularly tight Saturday and Carolina got a major lift from Francois’ lack of pinpoint accuracy. The coverage on Saturday was often relatively soft, when Francois was able to complete passes, he often did so to wide open receivers, the secondary rarely put Francois in a position where he would have to make next level throws. In future weeks the coverage in the secondary will need to improve or the Heels will continue to struggle with quality opponents.

Against the run the defensive backs played well. The Heels did not give up any huge plays in the run game Saturday, with the Seminoles’ longest run going for only 21 yards. Even though Florida State was able to break into the secondary on many of their runs, the players in the secondary were up to the challenge and tackled well—ensuring that the Seminoles’ runs ended when they met the defensive backs.

Special Teams: 4

Nick Weiler bailed out the special teams unit with his game winning 54 yard field goal. Otherwise, the postgame reflection would be on how failures with that aspect of the game lost a winnable game for Carolina. Corey Bell roughed the Seminoles’ punter on a critical fourth down in the third quarter. Rather than giving the ball back to the Heels, FSU’s drive was extended and they ultimately scored to bring the game to a one score contest.

Before his late-game heroics, Weiler himself might have been a scapegoat for fans. Weiler had his last point after attempt blocked by Florida State when he kicked the ball too low, allowing a player to get a hand on it and block the kick. However, Weiler came up in the biggest moment of his Carolina career, nailing a 54 yard game ending field goal to give the Heels a signature win.

Coaching: 8

By beating Florida State, the Heels gave Larry Fedora his best win as Carolina’s football coach. On Saturday, the performance he and his staff put in thoroughly deserved it. The Heels made major adjustments Saturday and they paid off. In addition to the defensive line’s positioning, the coaches significantly changed the offensive play calls to further help the Heels.

On offense, Carolina changed their playbook to go after plays that gained between 5 and 15 yards rather than try a bunch of long bombs over the top. This not only kept Carolina on schedule but it also kept their offense on the field. Carolina possessed the ball for 25:02 of game time Saturday, almost a season high. The extra time of possession not only allowed Carolina an opportunity to tire the Seminole defense out but also gave Carolina’s defense time to rest. This was critical to the Heels’ early lead. They were able to rest their defense throughout the first two quarters while the offense sustained long drives. The rested defense delivered for Carolina throughout the first half allowing Carolina to build a 21-0 lead early and take a 21-7 lead into halftime.

This game saw a lot of different aspects of Carolina football come together in a seminal win for the program. The offense was rolling, with Florida State clearly rattled by the high tempo pace. The defense was able to give just enough, embodying the bend but don’t break spirit that Gene Chizik has been preaching since he arrived in Chapel Hill. The coaches kept their cool even as Florida State staged a huge comeback and called a calm game in the fourth quarter to set up a game winning field goal. Most of all, this was a quality win with entirely players that Coach Fedora recruited himself.

Trubisky was the quarterback he chose to run his scheme and he’s been outstanding so far this season. The skill position players execute every part of the scheme exactly as it’s drawn up and the Heels are breaking offensive records that they set just last year. When Coach Fedora came to Chapel Hill, he came for days like Saturday where, despite needing a last second field goal, Carolina went into Tallahassee against the #12 team in the nation and won. He won with his players, running his schemes and there’s no sign that the Heels are about to start slowing down.