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Tar Heel Hangover: So close

But so far away.

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our Monday morning opportunity to review last week’s game, second guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

An outstanding defensive effort was spoiled by costly turnovers and missed opportunities. The Heels looked pretty good at home but once again failed to finish the night with a victory. The outcome was ultimately painful but at least it was not hard to watch.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

I would continue to run the ball. Over the last several weeks, this article has openly endorsed the evaluation that the team does not have the talent at quarterback to support a typical spread offense. Last week, I advocated going to the old school single-wing offense to make sure that the ball stayed on the ground. Enter Michael Carter and his 165 rushing yards.

Add to that a 40 yard run from new starting quarterback Cade Fortin, and the Tar Heel offense put up 235 yards on the ground. Speaking of Fortin, I applaud Coach Fedora’s willingness to make changes at the quarterback spot and the promising freshman certainly demonstrated a high level of athletic prowess. His near 50% completion rate and less than 10 yard average per completion in his short pre-injury effort still support a healthy level of caution.

Here’s the kicker: if you would have told me that the Heels would have over 500 yards of total offense including nearly 300 through the air with no interceptions, I would have said this could well be a Carolina win. And it well could have.

There are a lot of peculiar stats from the game. Virginia Tech registered less than 400 yards of offense for the game, nearly 150 fewer yards than the Heels. Yet with all of those yards, Carolina only managed one more first down than the Hokies and less than one minute of time of possession advantage. This means that a Carolina offense that has been check-down focused managed to tally quite a few chunk plays.

With 38 rushing attempts, Carolina ball carriers averaged over 6 yards per rush. They also only tallied 35 penalty yards, which must be some kind of recent record.

Virginia Tech had over 25% of their total offensive yards on their final drive of the game. It was certainly a timely production.

Lying In Bed, I Wish I Could Change . . .

The missed opportunities. Granted, every loss carries with it key misses that would have changed the game. This one seemed to have more than its fair share.

Overthrown passes that could have been scores. Dropped catches. The fumble. Missed field goals. These are errors that a one-win team can not afford to make. These are errors that lose close games against good opponents. The penalties were finally curtailed but the execution needs to take a step up.

My Grumpy Dad (“MGD”) was visiting this weekend so I asked him for some thoughts on the game. “They have improved to the point that they outplay teams, now they have to learn to win.” This is an excellent observation. Miami was a debacle but Pitt and Virginia Tech were both solid efforts. Strong defense and an outstanding running game are certainly building blocks for the future.

Ironically, those are two elements that have not historically been associated with Larry Fedora teams. Gone are the days of shootouts and challenging opponents to keep up the scoring pace. Gone are the 40 or 50 passing attempts slinging the ball all over the field. In its place is an odd form of hurry up ball control offense and a defense that is playing very well.

Looking Forward: A quick peak ahead.

Basketball season officially started on Friday night, which welcomed the formal debut of Roy Williams Court. As MGD recounts, “it was a fun night but the shooting accuracy left a lot to be desired. It can be corrected but I am surprised by how poor it was.”

What is undeniable about the 2018-19 version of the hard court Heels is that they have a ton of personality. It is a given that Late Night is designed for the players to seem personable, but it is really hard to fake having fun. This group is full of characters that will make the season a blast as a fan. Count me in as very excited for the year.

On the gridiron, a trip to Syracuse awaits for the weekend. The 4-2 Orange are a high scoring and very good team. The improved Carolina defense will be tested by the 43 points per game Syracuse offense.

Even though it was a frustrating loss, the game against Virginia Tech did provide a glimmer of hope. I am not dreading next weekend, which is a bit of an improvement at least.

Final Thoughts

The margin for error had now completed eroded. If there is any slim hope for a bowl game, then a win in New York on Saturday is a must.