It’s becoming all too common to have to try to find shining spots in the middle of what has become another abysmal season. On the bright side, the 31-21 loss may have been the least frustrating of the season. UVa appears to have gelled as a program under Bronco Mendenhall, and with the usual chaos in the Coastal, they have a serious shot at going to Charlotte to be the sacrificial lamb for the Atlantic rep.
A few Tar Heels did have a good day on Saturday, and of course a few had to have bad ones in order for this to be a loss. Let’s take a look at the awards.
Malik Carney: With his suspension finally, fully, behind him, he returned with a force to the field on Saturday racking up a total of nine tackles, six of which were solo. While he didn’t have any sacks, he was all over the field and has shown himself to be the leader of this defense. If the team were any better, he likely would be getting more national buzz.
Cole Holcomb: If you are going to give Carney credit for nine, you can’t ignore the work of Holcomb. Cole lead the team in tackles overall with thirteen, assisting on eight and getting five solo. He’s the leader of the linebacking core that, frankly, needs work. The problem is they haven’t been able to duplicate Holcomb’s effort across the corps, and you saw that as quarterback Bryce Perkins was able to break free multiple times and keep UVa drives going.
Dazz Newsome: The receiver has been starting to put his talent on full display in recent weeks, doing it in the return game and catching the ball. His touchdown against Virginia was a thing of beauty, and it’s good to see the team now has another reliable option besides Anthony Ratliff-Williams. That has helped quarterback Nathan Elliott avoid interceptions and has at least given the Tar Heels a fighting chance.
Running backs: The Tar Heels only netted 66 yards on the ground, their lowest number of the season by far. A large credit of that goes to the UVa defense knowing that to stop the momentum of the Heels, you have to bottle up the ground attack. Still, the work of the offensive line and the effort of the backs usually produced yards on the ground. That they couldn’t against the Wahoos is concerning, and is hopefully a blip instead of a trend for the rest of the year.
Greg Ross: The sophomore corner has a target on his back, teams know to throw to him. A lot of it isn’t his fault, as KJ Sails hasn’t been on the field for a few games now and the secondary is thin, forcing Ross to play a much bigger role than he was expecting. Unfortunately the book is out on him at this point and until he shows he can make key stops, opposing quarterbacks will continue to find out where he is and throw to him.
Larry Fedora: I mean, it’s a soft target at this point, but every loss makes the seat hotter for head coach. The team hasn’t been able to close out a game, and if anything the talent of the receiving and tight end corps has made the lack of a decent quarterback the most damning. Elliott is fine for what he is, but we’ve seen the most of what he can do and the simple fact that in the second year post Mitchell Trubisky the quarterback situation is still this bad is on the coach. If the administration is thinking of keeping him, and with his buyout this is a real possibility, the number of empty new blue seats in Kenan this Saturday could change their mind.
As mentioned, Nathan Elliott had another game without an interception, and it’s fair to say he’s doing the best he can considering the circumstances, 22/38 for 271 and the passing TD to Newsome...add Beau Corrales to the list of talent on the receiving core, he lead the team in yards with 62. The entire receiving corps are fantastic, if only they had a Marquis Williams or Mitchell Trubisky under center to throw to them...Myles Dorn continues to shine as a safety despite the weakness across the rest of the defensive backfield and picked up another interception as well as a breakup...despite the UVa quarterback getting loose multiple times, Jeremiah Clark, Jalen Dalton, and Chris Collins were able to get into the backfield and get a sack each on Perkins.