Well. That wasn’t fun. At all. Al Hood asked last week if a loss can be painful when all hope is lost, and for a second week in a row, UNC football confirmed that despite the absence of hope, a loss can indeed be painful. One might even argue that Saturday’s game encapsulated UNC football for the past two seasons. Hell, probably even UNC’s entire football history.
However, the show must go on. Let’s put away the pettiness and misery – those will reappear next week - and take a look at our winners and losers.
Nathan Elliott: No need to repeat what has been said every week. Elliott has limitations, but he does deserve credit for taking care of the ball, moving the chains, and somehow leading UNC to 37 points. He executed the “game plan”, even if it meant throwing behind the line of scrimmage approximately 30 times.* At this point, it’s clear that Elliott is what he is – and for two weeks, that was good enough to give UNC the lead in the waning minutes.
*Not a real stat, but you probably nodded in agreement without even questioning it
Dazz Newsome: File this one under “Observations by Captain Obvious”. We already hit this one with our Player of the Game yesterday, so no need to rehash the obvious. Newsome is blossoming into a bona fide star right before our eyes. We should still maybe expect inconsistent showings due to other shortcomings on the roster, but he’s made the case for a minimum of 10 touches a game – no matter how they are manufactured.
Defensive Line: Tyler Powell, Allen Cater, and Jason Strowbridge combined for 4.5 TFLs and 4 sacks. They helped contain Syracuse QB Eric Dungey, resulting in the benching of one of the most prolific Syracuse quarterbacks to ever play (whether this was due to injury or poor play is unclear). Through 6 games, the defensive line has now recorded 15.5 of UNC ‘s 20 sacks. Last year, the defensive line accounted for 18.5 of 23 sacks for the entire season.
The Kicking Game: Freeman Jones missed 2 more field goals, though one of them is attributed to a bad snap. He is now 14 for 20 on the year, and has missed at least one field goal in the last four games. Not to be that guy, but in consecutive one-possession games, those misses add up.
Not to be outdone, Hunter Lent’s shank in the second quarter led to a short field and easy Syracuse touchdown for a 10-7 lead by the Orange. The old axiom “shooting yourself in the foot” takes on a new meaning when it’s the actual foot that is pulling the trigger.
Michael Carter: For the second straight week, Carter coughed up the ball. Already struggling for much of the day to find much running room, his fumble in the 3rd quarter relegated him to the bench. Whether or not such a drastic move for one of the Heels’ best playmakers was warranted is debatable, but it ended his afternoon. It’s not a stretch to say his running ability would have been greatly appreciated as the Syracuse defense continued to wear down throughout the second half.
Offensive play calling: Most of the chatter has revolved around the ill-fated 3rd down Wildcat formation late in the fourth quarter – and with good reason. Whatever your thoughts are on putting the ball in the air, 12 yards down field, when the opponent was out of time outs and you only need four yards to put the game away, it’s clear the coaching staff thought it was a good idea. Reasonable minds can disagree about that one specific play. That decision did not “cost” the Heels the game.
Instead, an entire 60 minutes of questionable decision making from the sidelines made this game essentially unwinnable. One week after calling an almost perfect game and watching the players fail to execute, the exact opposite transpired in the Carrier Dome. On Saturday, the players showed zero ill-effects from last week’s heartbreaker, only to have the staff constantly put them in unfortunate positions in a winnable game. I’ll explore this more later today in our Three Things Learned.