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UNC Football: Winners, Losers, Honorable Mentions vs. Virginia Tech

Despite the final result, some did have a good day Saturday. Others, not so much.

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

Can a loss be painful when all hope has been lost?

Carolina was the better team on Saturday Night, there’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it. If a Hokie fan tries to argue any differently, then they are just straight up trolling you because they know the truth. Carolina played well enough to where they should have won, but instead they found a new way to lose this season: with a four-minute fourth quarter drive into the end zone. Being the better team doesn’t mean you win the game, and Virginia Tech took what Carolina gave them in the end.

Let’s look at who had a good and a not so good night.

Winners

Michael Carter We’ll get to his negatives, but it cannot be denied that Carolina has a zero chance to win without Carter. The sophomore had an outstanding night, carrying it 18 times for 165 yards for 9.2 yards per carry. Even if you take away two runs where he got half his yards, the other 16 rushes still averaged about four yards per carry. With a true freshman getting his first start under center, the offense leaned on the run game. Again, this team has no chance unless Carter has the game he had.

Defensive Front Four sacks on the night between Malik Carney and Jason Strowbridge, and a total of nine tackles for loss. Add to that only 66 yards on the ground for players not named Ryan Willis. The front four of the the Tar Heels consistently were able to win at the line of scrimmage, and this is a team that is known to be able to be run on. That Virginia Tech consistently had trouble getting any sort of traction on the regular ground game is a credit to the job the line did.

Coaching Staff Carolina entered Saturday’s game with a freshman QB under center with his first start against a team that had won the last two meetings by a combined 93-10. The staff had not only an extra week but two extra days to prep for the Hokies, and it is clear that on both offense and defense that Carolina had a plan that could lead them to success. The team even recovered from the loss of Cade Fortin to rally under Nathan Elliott and got their first touchdown of the game early in the second half. Eventually, players have to make plays. The staff did its job, giving Carolina a great chance to win. The question will be can they do that going forward.

Losers

Antonio Williams & Michael Carter Virginia Tech scored 22 points, and 15 of those points were off fumbles by the running backs. A sudden change puts a lot of pressure on a defense, as the fumble by Williams forced the defense on the field after only one play and the Hokies were able to take advantage off a pretty easy fake. The other fumble by Carter forced the defense to try to protect a five point lead instead of an eight or twelve point lead with four minutes to go. Did those fumbles cost Carolina the game? Neither fumble was initially returned for a touchdown so it’s on the defense to make a stop, but at minimum those fumbles cost the Heels a chance to salt away the game.

Linebackers/Secondary As good as the front played, this group on defense...did not. Ryan Willis was the leading rusher for Virginia Tech, and when that happens you point to the linebacking core not being able to contain the passer. In fact, the key fourth down conversion happened when Willis was swallowed up by the line and managed to escape. That will happen, and it’s on the linebackers to make sure that quarterback doesn’t turn around and scramble for nine yards. It’s also on them to not bite so hard on a fake that lets him run free for a touchdown. Meanwhile, when Willis was able to get a pass off the secondary felt the loss of K.J. Sails. Patrice Rene and J.K. Britt were bright spots, but part of the reason the Hokies succeeded on that final drive was that their receivers consistently knew how to get open.

Larry Fedora Again, the coaching staff and the game plan is not the reason for the loss, and as the head coach he isn’t here because of what he and staff did. He’s here because Saturday night could have been a game that silenced critics calling for his head, and the team couldn’t come through. The Tar Heels now sit at 1-4, needing five more wins in their, at minimum, six remaining games in order to go to a bowl. Their remaining slate are all winnable games, but nothing about the team’s performance so far has instilled any confidence they will do so. There’s also something to be said about good teams finding a way to win, and bad teams finding a way to lose. The staff did their job but there is no winning mentality in the Carolina program right now, and that’s square on the head coach.

Honorable Mentions

Cade Fortin was by far the best any quarterback has looked in a Carolina uniform this year, only to see his season likely end before it even really got started...Nathan Elliott deserves a ton of credit for taking his demotion well and stepping back up in the second half, including an 80-yard pass play to Carl Tucker who also had a 43-yard catch play to be the leading receiver on the day...Patrice Rene really did stand out considering how much the secondary suffered, to the point where Virginia Tech threw away from him by the end...Malik Carney responded to his last-second eligibility for the game by keying the effort on the line.