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UNC vs VT: Three Things Learned

Moral victories are for losers, but there were some positives from this weekend

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

There’s no way to put these nicely. To date, this football season has been a disaster. On Saturday, the Heels found a new way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was frustrating, sad, and painful. I facilitated between laughing, crying, and pure rage throughout the evening.

Moral victories, quite frankly, are for losers and first-year coaches in rebuilding mode. However, for the first time all season, I’d argue the team finally resembled the closest thing to an ACC-caliber program as they have all season. There were quite a few lessons learned on Saturday night – and many of them, for the first time all season, were positive

In-game Coaching

This may be met with some resistance, but I’ll stand firm. The coaching staff, for once, was not directly responsible for a loss. The game plan, energy, and yes, even play calling, was as close to perfect as we have seen from the coaching staff in the past three seasons. Time and time again, the players were put in a position to make a play. Time and time again, they failed to execute.

  • Dropped (Dazz Newsome) and overthrown passes (Nathan Elliott to Anthony Ratliff-Williams) were on great play calls that saw WRs wide open in space.
  • Freeman Jones missed two more field goals.
  • A running game that has been the strength of the offense accounted for two fumbles (and 14 Hokie points).
  • Michael Carter’s 18 carries showed a clear devotion to the running game. For reference, Elijah Hood only reached that total four times in his collegiate career.
  • Hell, Fedora even ran the ball on 4th-and-1 and the team couldn’t find the physicality to keep it out of the official’s hands.

The coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for the current state of the program, with player development and/or evaluation among the most obvious gripes. Many of those frustrations are likely justified. However, on Saturday night, the game plan, management, and situational awareness were among the best we’ve seen from Fedora. Sometimes, players have to make plays.

UNC has a QB*

This may be short lived, but it’s worth mentioning. Cade Fortin wasn’t overwhelming in his debut at quarterback, but he was an instant improvement at the position. For a guy who hadn’t played competitive football since breaking his leg in the third game of his senior high school season, Fortin displayed impressive poise and awareness in the backfield.

The touch and finesse will come with experience, but he knew when to run, when to throw the ball away, and when to take a sack. The stats – 10 for 18 and 97 yards -- are mediocre, but he did everything that was asked (see: “Coaching”). His 44 rushing yards were a much needed benefit when protection broke down.

It’s easy to understand why Fortin may not have been named the starter in August, but the upgrade in talent was undeniable. It’s harder to comprehend why it took five games to get any meaningful snaps. Even his incompletions were better than 90% of the attempts from UNC quarterback’s the past two seasons. If he’s healthy, UNC will remain competitive for the duration of the season.

*Fortin injured his leg on the second-to-last play of the first half and sat out the second half. UNC has not issued any further information.

Pre-Snap Penalties

An optimist would say that UNC’s seven penalties for a mere 35 yards were an improvement. That was the fewest amount of penalized yards this season. A pessimist would argue that seven penalties are still too many. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

One holding penalty wiped out a Michael Carter touchdown. The other six were false starts. Three of them weren’t just called on first down, but on the first play of the drive. That is, on three drives UNC effectively started with 1st and 15 instead of 1st and 10. Those three drives ended in a punt, missed field goal, and fumble.

Three false starts were called back-to-back-to-back on the final drive. Their impact was only negated by Elliott’s 80-yard catch-and-run to Carl Tucker. How this continues to be a problem, when the signal to snap the ball is literally the QB clapping his hands, is mindboggling.

So, what were the positives in UNC’s penalty situation? They managed to avoid pass interference, defensive holding, personal fouls, and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties against the Hokies. That should be commended.

Honorable mention

The crowd was fantastic. Kenan Memorial once again showed the potential to be an electric atmosphere. Maybe one day the on-field entertainment will convince the television suits to schedule more night games in Chapel Hill.