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UNC Football vs. Duke: Three Things Learned

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The season is mercifully coming to its conclusion.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Duke Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a child of the 80’s and 90’s, which means the movie Groundhog Day played a formative part of my teens. In it, Bill Murray’s character wakes up in the same bed and breakfast on Groundhog’s Day, living the day over and over again. No matter what he does, he wakes up in the same place that he started. It’s only when his character undergoes a complete attitude change and realizes the error of his ways that the spell is broken and he’s allowed to move forward.

It feels like Carolina football is the living embodiment of this movie for the last two years. Every loss adds to the hopeless feeling when you wake up again on game day, fruitlessly looking for a way out of this spell. Your hope is that something comes along to change your fate, yet at the end of the game you know you’ll be right back where you started. The team has lost in many, many different ways, but the losses just continue to mount.

What will be the thing that ultimately breaks this spell and allows us to go forward? With that, let’s look at what, if anything, we learned this past weekend.

The Defense Didn’t Quit

Carolina was on pace to give up 70 points on the day after a putrid first half performance. Daniel Jones was lighting up the secondary, and the defensive line just couldn’t get any push or pressure on the quarterback. Knowing the limitations on offense, it would have been easy for the defense to continue with that lack of effort in the second half, as it would have meant less time on the field. Instead, they adjusted. After surrendering 35 points and nearly 400 yards of offense in the first, the defense held Duke to around 200 yards and seven points in the second. It gave Carolina a chance, and it says sometime about the players on that side of the ball that the Tar Heels were even in the game by the end.

You just wish that the defense had figured something out in that first half. When you only lose by seven, clearly you wish the defense hadn’t given up all those points early on. It’s great that John Papuchis is able to make these adjustments at halftime, but it would have been even better if they had a better plan to start the game. Especially considering the amount of film available on Duke at this point in the season. That lack of a plan may end up costing Papuchis his job at the end of the season.

The Offense Has a Lot of Talent

Nathan Elliott threw for a grand total of 221 yards. 221. This offense scored 35 points and their quarterback only threw for 221 yards. Elliott threw for one touchdown and the offense scored five.

Saturday reminded us of the fact that Carolina has a ridiculous amount of talent, which makes these losses all the more frustrating. A team that carries Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, Jordon Brown, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Dazz Newsome, and Rontavius Groves deserves an offense that utilizes their talent for a full game. Each one of those names figured prominently at one point or another in the game, the problem is that in the second half, the offense got bottled up and there was very little imagination to use this talent like was seen in the first.

The problem is Elliott. Duke quickly figured out that if they could sell out on the run and force Elliott to pass, they could get easy stops. That doesn’t spell a lot of success for the rest of the season.

You Should Have No More Faith in the Coaches

I’m speaking specifically about the first two points as well as the ridiculous decision to burn another game that you could use Cade Fortin just so he could throw up a prayer. Why do you not have a better defensive plan going into the game? How do you waste so many chances in the second half when you finally do adjust? Why in the world would you throw away a chance to win your last two games by burning a game on ONE PLAY?

The use of Fortin on the last play of the game is especially damning. It’s understood that Elliott doesn’t have the arm to get that ball into the end zone, but was it really worth it to use Fortin? In fact, if Fortin was in any shape to play to risk him on that final play, why wasn’t he in the game earlier? If he gets hurt again, fine, he still preserves his red shirt. If he wasn’t healthy enough to play, he shouldn’t have been in the game, period. Now, with two games left you can only use Fortin for one. Do you waste him against WCU and throw Elliott out against State, or put in a cold Fortin against State and hope Elliott is enough to get you past WCU?

I could go on, as we all have on this site since the beginning of the season. It’s one thing to lose, but it’s another when multiple horrendous decisions lead to constant losses. I don’t know what else can be said about how this staff has failed this team.