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Tar Heel Hangover: Broken record edition

Another week, another loss, more disappointment.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

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.

I am reminded of a childhood joke. Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence, Pete fell off so who is left? Repeat. Pete and Repeat are sitting on a fence . . .

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

I would be packing. I understand that this is a broken record for this article and this website, but this was a game that Carolina had every chance to win. Not executing in the closing stretches of games, over and over again, has to fall on the coaching staff.

If Larry Fedora has any hope of surviving this season, then there must be some immediate changes on the staff. Maybe offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic is the sacrificial lamb for a team without great options at quarterback. To any reasonable observer, however, the offense is totally within the purview of Fedora and the blame should fall on him. Whether it is recruiting, play calling, or an inability (or unwillingness) to make mid-game adjustments, all of those are on the head coach.

One note on play calling; the throw out of the wildcat late in the fourth quarter to win the game was a great call. It worked. Sometimes, a wide open tight end just drops a pass. In that situation everyone has to know that only a first down is needed. Just catch the ball. No need to run anywhere.

Perhaps the victim will be John Papuchis. A defense that was sound for 90% of the game suddenly lost the ability to keep from getting beat deep by Syracuse receivers and a back-up quarterback. What defensive calls allow repeated deep passes in critical game ending situations? It was nearly the same story last week when a great defensive effort was spoiled by giving up a final 98 yard drive. This doesn’t even include giving up 41 points to a two win East Carolina team. There is certainly an argument but overall this Carolina defense has been decent and likely better than expected.

I think it takes three more wins to save Fedora’s job. I think this team will get one.

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

The mindset for this season. Throughout Saturday’s game against the Orange, I battled competing emotions. On the one hand, there was surprise and hope that stemmed from a solid effort and a seemingly insurmountable late game lead.

On the other hand, there was the nagging feeling that we have seen this episode before and already knew it would end in heartbreak. New week, same story.

This feeling will follow the team for the rest of the year. There will be a tremendous challenge on the staff going forward to maintain a semblance of confidence for the players. These last two losses have been devastating and even more so for a team that was already struggling to win. There can only be so and so many near misses before the players will doubt their talents and abilities.

There is a special kind of pressure that accompanies losing. It can be a total and incapacitating fear of making a mistake. All college football teams make mistakes. Granted, some make a lot fewer than others, but errors are part of the game. Winning teams, however, have the confidence to overcome mistakes while taking advantage of those by their opponents. Losing teams can see mistakes as an impending avalanche of defeat. Every dropped pass or overthrow will seem bigger than it is. Every fumble can lead to blame and finger pointing instead of being energized to make a stand.

If there are any wagons left, the players need to circle them.

Looking Forward: A quick peak ahead.

Next week brings a trip to Charlottesville for the annual installation of the South’s oldest football rivalry. The Cavaliers are exceeding expectations and could conceivably challenge for the division with a strong finish to a promising season.

For the Tar Heels, in many ways, 2019 starts now. A culture of winning has its seeds in staying competitive and pulling an upset or two. There will be no bowl this year, but there are five contests left on the calendar. The danger is that a team that gives up can bleed into the off-season and bring a negative mentality to the program.

Final Thoughts

Frustrating. Disappointing. Embarrassing. Time to turn it around.