There have been ups and there have been downs during Larry Fedora’s tenure in Chapel Hill. Saturday was assuredly the highest high that the coach has felt while wearing Carolina blue. Here are a few positive and negative plays that led to Fedora earning his first marquee win as the Tar Heel head coach:
(0:33) Following FSU kicker Ricky Aguayo’s 45-yard miss the Tar Heels drove right down the field with ease. Mitch Trubisky has been in complete control of this up-tempo scheme since the Georgia game. One of the key cogs in his success has been T.J. Logan, who continues to have a remarkable senior campaign. On this play, Trubisky is flushed out of the pocket, instead of running for the first down he keeps his head up and finds Logan who jets down the sideline for his customary dive for the pylon.
(0:58) In college football no blocked kick is safe. Heads up play by Andre Smith for chasing down the ball and not settling for just the block. Credit also goes to the rest of the Carolina defense for setting up a wall on the right sideline for Smith to run down.
(1:19) Mikey Bart may be one of the most underrated players on the Carolina team. The senior led the team in sacks last season and has continued to set the pace in that front with 2.5 sacks so far in 2016.
(2:45) Commitment to the running game. Nothing I love more than an offensive staff realizing where they’re being successful and sticking to that plan. Carolina rushed for over 100 yards in the first half while Elijah Hood and Logan were in the game together, making it nearly impossible for FSU’s defense to stop the Carolina offense.
(3:16) Back-to-back plays. When is he not open for a big play?
(3:43) Trubisky continues to show tremendous poise. Pocket breaks down he steps up and effectively uses the pump-fake to freeze and defender before making a dive for the pylon. This play is a prime example of the athleticism that Trubisky possess that can be often overlooked.
(4:58) I’ve never seen this many pylon dives in my life by one team in a single game. Also, this.
(6:50) After Florida State evened up the score you knew that it would once again come down to the North Carolina offense. The hope was for Carolina to run down the clock and take the lead, leaving little time for a Seminole response. Well, Thomas Jackson and Florida State tackling had a different plan. Jackson was sprung free by a Mack Hollins block on outside, along with some help from poor tackling by the ‘Noles secondary. From there Hollins escorted Jackson in for the go ahead score. Big moment for the former walk-on from Charlotte. Also, I want to point out how great of a blocking receiving unit the Tar Heels have. In order for these screens to work, 1) the quarterback has to be accurate, and 2) the outside receiver has to pick up the block. Rarely do you see a Tar Heel receiver miss a block. Definitely an underrated attribute that the Carolina offense has.
(7:57) The football gods were looking down on the Heels on Saturday. Whether justified or not, rarely do you see a pass interference call late in the ball game. Even more rare is the event of the call going in favor of the visiting team. Now, the play before I felt like Carolina should have used a timeout to set up a play to get in field goal range. They, of course, did not and Trubisky just barely missed Switzer over the middle in field goal range. That all became immaterial in a sense, but still could have used an extra two to four seconds where Fedora said they would have run another play.
(8:21) Nick Weiler missed from 51 yards earlier in the game and had his extra point blocked the series prior. No better way to right his wrongs than with a career long 54-yard game-winning kick. Whether the kick was bigger than Connor Barth’s in 2004 is still up for debate—-and I will later this week—but one thing is for sure...Nick Weiler will never buy another drink on Franklin Street.
This is typically the portion of the review where I tell you about how poorly the Tar Heel defense played against their opponent. Well, not his week. Carolina didn’t have the greatest performance or get the stop at the end of the game we were all hoping for. The major issue for the Tar Heels was on special teams, Tom Sheldon excluded.
Take away Weiler’s 54-yard game-winner and it was a disastrous day for UNC in the most overlooked phase of football. After narrowly missing out on a safety, the Tar Heels were able to force Florida State to punt up 14. Given the momentum that the Tar Heel defense had created with the help of FSU’s bone-headed penalties, it looked like the UNC offense would be able to possibly put FSU away for good. Instead, Fedora called for a punt block, rather than allowing Switzer the opportunity to return the punt. To the dismay of Fedora and the entire Carolina fan base, the coach’s aggressive call led to Corey Bell Jr. roughing the Seminole punter.
Subsequently, the drive continued all the way into the Tar Heel end zone. Trubisky and the offense trotted out only to be stopped on a three and out, totaling an ill-timed 1:16 of possession. Given the fact that the defense was just on the field for a Seminole drive that was just shy of nine minutes, they were gassed. This led to Francois’ touchdown run and my inner cynic coming out.
The heart-stopping ending could have been avoided had Fedora opted to just play the return, or had Bell Jr. shown more discretion when going after the punter. The special teams error put the UNC defense behind the eight ball for the first time all day, when it had successfully gotten off the field consistently up until that point.
Weiler’s PAT being blocked was unfortunate, but hard to blame anyone given the percentage of times PAT’s are blocked compared to when they are made.
The win at Florida State was a great win for Fedora and his program. A game that they certainly deserved to win but tried their damnedest to not. FSU committed several back-breaking penalties and missed three field goals and was still ahead with four seconds left on the clock. Thankfully, Weiler stepped up and made maybe the biggest kick in Carolina history, if not the modern era.
The Tar Heels will look to build off of a 2-0 ACC start when 25th ranked Virginia Tech travels to Chapel Hill on Saturday.