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UNC Football: Week 1 film review

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A closer look at all four California passing touchdowns from Week 1

NCAA Football: California at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This year we’re trying something new. Every week, using video, GIFs, or photos, we’re hoping to provide a basic film review of the previous week’s game. For our first installment, I take a look at all four passing touchdowns allowed by UNC.

All four touchdowns were from different distances, routes, and situations. The variety of ways that California found success was maddening. Let’s look.

Touchdown 1

1st and Goal
Ross Bowers completes 10-yard corner fade to Jordan Vessey.

With K.J. Sails in single man coverage, four other Tar Heels, including both safeties, collapsed on the two wide receivers cutting across the middle. Sails bites hard on the initial move to the inside, knowing he doesn’t have any help. Vessey gets a step to the back corner of the end zone.

A great throw by Ross Bowers lets Vessey get above a recovering Sails, and uh, kind of come down with it. Some may disagree with the call, and at a minimum it should have been reviewed. It wasn't, and at the time, this felt like more of a fluke play than anything else.

Touchdown 2

First and 10
Ross Bowers completes a 67- yard pass to Vic Wharton III.

The defensive line took it’s fair share of blame after the game for it’s inability to create more pressure on the quarterback. The Heels were certainly and consistently half a step late in reaching Ross Bowers, but Bowers deserves some credit for standing in the pocket and taking his share of hits. This is an example.

A four-man pass rush collapses the pocket, and Bowers gets leveled just as he’s releasing the ball. He finds a streaking Vic Wharton III, who somehow gained roughly 69 steps on Corey Bell Jr.

Wharton takes two steps off the line, cuts to the outside, and then turns up field along the sideline. Bell responds by acting surprised at the initial cut, overcompensates by running PAST Wharton, and then somehow runs in a big, arching loop that takes him out of bounds before he re-enters the field of play. Of course, by that time Wharton is doing his best Ryan Switzer impersonation.

Touchdown 3

3rd and 6
Ross Bowers completes a 57-yard pass to Patrick Laird.

Fans have been clamoring for a “more aggressive” defense. This is an example of when aggressive goes wrong. This time the Heels rush six with linebacker Cole Holcomb coming through the middle and cornerback Patrice Rene coming off the edge.

The good news? Holcomb’s rush allowed DE Tomon Fox to get pressure on the QB. Unfortunately, Fox overplays and Bowers rolls to his right. Rene finds himself trying to regain his momentum off the corner after being delayed by Laird’s route out of the backfield. With Fox in pursuit, and Rene not within seven yards of anybody, Bowers finds a wide open Laird. Laird then makes the rest of the Heels’ secondary look like a combination of the Keystone Cops and Three Stooges.

The initial pressure was successful, and Fox was still in pursuit to the short side of the field. Either a CB or safety should have helped cover Laird after Rene’s initial bump, or Rene needed to stop his blitz and maintain man coverage on Laird. Neither happened.

Touchdown 4

1st and 10
Ross Bowers completes a 20-yard pass to Jordan Duncan.

I apologize for the lack of video on the actual touchdown route. But here’s the main takeaway. Once again, the Heels get pressure on Bowers and hit him as he throws the ball. Once again, they are half a step late and he finds a WR (Duncan) in the end zone who has somehow gotten behind his defender.

What is also not shown on this clip is Corey Bell Jr. letting Duncan get behind him with a half-hearted stutter step. Bell allows him get a two-step advantage, and without any safety help to the outside, Bowers threw a perfect back shoulder pass and Duncan made the easy catch. In fact, all four touchdowns were results of the wide receiver getting behind coverage in some form or fashion.

It was certainly a disappointing day, but I am more encouraged by the defensive pressure now than I was during the game. The defensive line is still late getting to the QB, but Bowers also made some tough throws as he was getting hit. More concerning was the lack of toughness and blown assignments from the secondary. Hopefully some of that was just first game jitters by some new starters and a new defensive coordinator.

Bring on Louisville.