The Tar Heels had a chance, a small chance, but a chance to play for an ACC title next weekend in Orlando. That all went away after a slow start found the Tar Heels in a 21 point deficit. Unlike last season’s come back win in Atlanta, the Tar Heels were unable to overcome the hole they dug themselves in and fell short of the preseason expectations many had of them.
Here are the highs and lows from Friday’s loss to the Wolfpack:
For four years Ryan Switzer has given everything he had to Carolina and Friday afternoon was no different. The senior, playing in his last game at Kenan Stadium, hauled in 13 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown. Switzer battled a foot injury late in the game, but was able make big play and big play to keep Carolina within striking distance of an NC State offense that did, for the most part, whatever they wanted for most of the afternoon. Switzer surpassed former Tar Heel receiver Dwight Jones’ single-season reception record, adding to the records the Charleston, WV native has set since stepping foot on campus in 2013.
Like his roommate in Ryan Switzer, not enough can be said about the season that Trubisky has had. Friday was just another day at the office with Trubisky throwing for 280 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Trubisky was able to put up those numbers despite endless rush from the Wolfpack four man front and costly drops by his receivers. I believe that Friday was Trubisky’s final game at Kenan. Seeing where he lies on draft boards and the potential to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, along with him being on-track to graduate in the spring I don’t see any reason for him to return to Chapel Hill.
Due to the slow start, the Tar Heels never got into the groove running the football that the coaching staff probably would have liked. When they did go to the ground they found success, with Elijah Hood, T.J. Logan and Trubisky combining for 133 yards rushing. UNC hasn’t had the potent run game that many expected coming into the season —a lot can be blamed on injuries on the offensive line and to Hood—-but when healthy and committed they have done serious damage to opposing defenses.
From an outsiders perspective, it would be hard for anyone viewing the Carolina game on Friday afternoon to believe that Fedora’s name was being linked to LSU, Texas and Baylor. There is no doubt that Fedora has done a marvelous job in Chapel Hill given the circumstances that he found the program in when he started in 2012. There is also no doubting that Fedora needs to take a look at his program and how it can take that next step towards sustained success in the ACC.
At times, Fedora and his staff have found ways to botch games with their play calling. Look back to the 2014 season opening loss to South Carolina to this year’s Georgia game to the aerial game plan executed through Hurricane Matthew to Friday’s decision to run the wildcat and a gimmick play on 3rd and 4th and 1 inside the NC State 10. I’m no football guru, but the game is relatively straightforward when you have Elijah Hood and that down and distance ahead of you.
I don’t know how seriously Fedora was considering those jobs and how seriously other schools were pursuing him, but at this point in his Carolina tenure I wouldn’t been keen to pluck him away to be the head of a top tier program. The numbers never lie, Fedora in his five years ACC records have been: 5-3, 4-4, 4-4, 8-0, 5-3. Pair that with a 5-5 record against Duke and NC State and there lies a pretty big argument against Fedora’s ability to take over a top tier program and have continued and sustained success. I’m not doubting his future abilities to do that, but being .500 against Duke and NC State and being 1-2 against East Carolina isn’t going to impress anybody.
The defense has been under scrutiny for the majority of Fedora’s tenure and it has only stuck out even more with the Tar Heels playing toward ACC Coastal titles. The one part of the defense that has struggled mightily of late has been the defensive line. NC State’s offensive line consistently moved the Carolina front four off the ball on way to 259 yards rushing on the afternoon. NC State has a strong running game, no doubt, but getting consistently gashed week-to-week just isn’t going to lead to winning football, let alone championship football.
The blame can’t be solely placed on the student-athletes. Defensive coordinator has to share in some of the blame, after coming to Chapel Hill with sterling defensive credentials, yet failing to turnaround that part of the defense. The larger issue lies with the lack of talent within that position group. Naz Jones will have a chance to play on Sundays and Mikey Bart has played a strong role during his Carolina career. Outside of Jalen Dalton, who has been largely disappointing after his then pivotal recruitment, and the others mentioned above, Carolina doesn’t have the ‘Joes’ to compete at a high-level. In this age of college football, a program cannot compete for championships if they cannot win in the trenches, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Ultimately, Fedora will need to refocus his recruiting efforts to find the talent necessary to elevate that side of the ball. I’m not wholly concerned about star-ratings, but whoever is recruited to that position group needs the type of guy who hates people. Carolina needs dudes who are just going to be nasty individuals on the football field, whether they are five-stars or three-stars.
I have never been a fan of the black uniforms being worn by Carolina in any sport. That being said, I do see the appeal in the black uniforms. From a recruiting standpoint, when the coaching staff whips those out it would be hard for a teenage living in the society we do today not to swoon over the look. The issue with the black uniforms is how Carolina football has played when having black in their color scheme. I believe that it is no coincidence that a year after going 6-7 and switching to a strictly Carolina blue and white color scheme that the Tar Heels went 11-3. Well, we made it up to this point with a solid season, until we decided to derail any chance of an ACC title with the black death of uniform combinations.
The Tar Heels will now await their bowl fate—Hello Belk Bowl—and move forward to that and the 2017 season.