Carolina football opened its season against 18th-ranked Georgia on Saturday in front of a full house in Atlanta. Intrigued by a record-breaking season in 2015, the college football world was eagerly waiting to see how the Heels would play against a quality program. In a game characterized by offensive miscues, penalties, and inconsistency, Carolina fell to the Bulldogs in their prime-time opener. The experts thought Carolina would win. The team thought they would win. I thought they would win. However, Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs came out on top. Let’s look at some themes from Saturday night’s postgame interviews, as well as reaction from the Carolina camp.
Penalties and the Safety
At the end of the third quarter, up by 10 points just minutes before, things started to unravel for the Heels. A questionable ineligible receiver downfield penalty took away a 13-yard catch by Austin Proehl, and a first down. This loss in yardage was compounded by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Larry Fedora, and then a complete pass to Elijah Hood for a safety. Here’s what the coach had to say about it:
“Well we had the penalty on the lineman downfield and I was questioning the call. The guy didn’t like what I said so he threw the flag on me which is nobody’s fault but mine. It’s my fault. It’s the first time it’s ever happened in my life so I’m pretty disappointed. Then we’re backed up on the two or three yard line and they get the safety. That’s all on me, nobody but me.”
As far as the other eleven penalties committed by the Heels on Saturday, Coach Fedora had no explanation for them. He mentioned that he and the coaching staff talked about how penalties (along with special teams and turnovers) would be a determining factor in an early game like this. As far as both special teams AND turnovers, it seemed like Carolina had the edge. Unfortunately, giving up a football field’s worth of penalty yardage does not set one up for success. Fedora said that he would like to see his team be able to overcome giving up penalties like that in the future.
A few times during his press conference, Coach Fedora was asked, both generally and specifically, about his staff’s play calling. Speaking generally, Fedora attributed their pass-heavy play calling to a lack of consistency.
“We were so inconsistent in everything we were doing. There were a couple of series we felt like we were doing things the right way, but you can’t be second and long on every series and think you’re going to run the ball effectively. So I thought first down was tough on us. We weren’t effective on first down enough. And that caused us to get behind the chains and then it makes it tough to run.”
During this particular answer, the Carolina coach corrected himself. Fedora began his second sentence by saying “There was never a time...I shouldn’t say that. There were a couple of series...” and he continued. Was he about to say Carolina never had a good offensive series? Only he knows what the ending to that sentence was going to be. The point is, Larry Fedora was not feeling great about his team’s offensive rhythm.
Coach Fedora was also asked about the Carolina drive at the end of the first half, when the Heels were first and goal at the five-yard line. They finished off the drive with only a field goal, and many questioned why UNC threw the ball three straight times instead of handing it off to Elijah Hood. Fedora explained that the Bulldogs were in a “cover zero” defense, where the receivers were left to single coverage. The Carolina coaching staff liked their chances in the air.
When asked about the lack of consistency on offense, both Coach Fedora and QB Mitch Trubisky spoke of Georgia’s defense. When asked if he was surprised with his team’s inconsistent play, Coach Fedora said “you have to give those guys credit, we weren’t out there going against air.”
Trubisky, having gone 24 for 40 with 156 yards passing on Saturday, was asked about offensive inconsistency and lack of the deep threat in his postgame interview. He credited the Georgia defense, mentioning that he had no trouble connecting with his receivers down field in practice. Trubisky also basically denied the idea that he had trouble getting in rhythm.
“Not really. I just have to take what the defense gives me, keep moving the chains, and play within the offense. A couple times I got greedy...”
So Coach Fedora said the Heels lacked consistency. Trubisky said he did in fact have some rhythm. Maybe they're talking about different things? Regardless, the Heels had trouble on offense at times against the Bulldog defense. The Carolina receiving corps got loose a few times down the field, but some strong blitzes probably affected Trubisky’s throws.
Saturday was undoubtedly a tough loss for the boys in blue. They were probably liking their chances being up 24-14 in the middle of the third quarter. However, the momentum shifted, and the Heels fell short. Here’s what some important people had to say after the loss:
From DB Des Lawrence
Tough one tonight. But we will be back, I PROMISE! #TarheelNation— DLaww2 (@DLaww2) September 4, 2016
and WR Mack Hollins
Mack Hollins walked off the field with a smile: "We'll win 14 in row," he told his teammates.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) September 4, 2016
and former Carolina WR and GoHeelsTV’s Taylor Vippolis
Let's see how this team handles adversity and who steps up. I still believe this is a great group, just have to get over the hump.— Taylor Vippolis (@tvippolis) September 4, 2016
Certainly, all hope is not lost for the Heels. They missed a tremendous opportunity to snag a marquee win against an SEC on opening weekend. As Coach Fedora said in his postgame press conference, there is still work to be done on the offensive side of the ball. Penalties need to get under control as well. However, those in and around the program are already looking ahead. With 11 regular season games remaining, and ACC play ahead, Carolina can certainly bounce back and play for a conference title. This game can be a learning opportunity for the Heels if handled the right way. It looks like they have a great start.