It’s not so much that they’ve been losing, as the Tar Heels did again on Saturday. It’s that almost each game they have lost this season was within reach. One more stop, one more play, one less penalty, it feels like it’s been wash, rinse, repeat since the Pittsburgh win.
When you score 35 points, you’re going to have some stars. When you surrender 42 you’re going to have fingers to point, so let’s look at our weekly Winners, Losers, and Honorable Mentions.
Michael Carter: Yes, a good chunk of his yards came in the first half, but when you go 18-148 and a TD, you had a good game. The Blue Devils seemingly couldn’t slow down Carter in the first half, and he was the main reason the Tar Heels were able to stay in this game during the first half. His longest run of the day resulted in his lone touchdown, an electric 40-yard rush with a dive across the pylon. Carter was the main reason Duke had to change their defensive strategy in the second half, and it showed how important Carter was that once Duke bottled him up, the offense completely stagnated.
Dazz Newsome: His 84-yard touchdown in the second quarter was simply electric, and since Duke was offsides on the first play of the drive, technically it was the only play of the drive. It was also the longest touchdown run since 1993 for any Tar Heel. It was a reminder that the Tar Heels have an amazing group of receivers, and their lack of a good QB has completely stagnated the talent they have. Creating this play at least gave Newsome the ability to show what he has. Add in his 66 yards catching the ball, and Newsome accounted for 150 yards of offense on the day.
Second Half Defense: Look, when you give up 629 yards of offense and 35 points in one half of football, you aren’t very good. It would have been very easy for the Tar Heel defense to just raise the white flag and let the Blue Devils continue going up and down the field. The fact is, after surrendering that horrendous amount of points and yards, Duke would only score one more time the rest of the game. The three play drive in the third to give Duke their lone score was the exception, not the rule, and you have to give it to that side of the ball for making a complete 180 in the second half. If only the offense could have helped them out.
Second Half Offense: While the defense deserves a lot of credit for keeping Carolina in the game, Duke was able to at least move the ball a little. Carolina...didn’t. After putting up 28 points of their own in the first half, Duke adjusted their defense to bottle up the UNC running game. Carolina’s coaches never fully adjusted and it took all the way until the last two minutes of the fourth quarter for Carolina to finally put up a score. It’s possible that Antonio Williams’ injury hurt because Carolina couldn’t change up the pace with their backs, but once Duke realized Nathan Elliott just couldn’t make a long pass and sold out on the run, the game was over.
Cade Fortin: How is the guy who only threw one pass on this list? Because he only threw one pass. Fortin was clearly going to be the quarterback for the rest of the year prior to him getting hurt against Virginia Tech, and once he did the thought was he was done for the year. It turns out his injury wasn’t as bad as first thought, but as he had already played in two games, it was widely known that for his development he shouldn’t have played in this one. Not only did he play, his play was one flipping snap because the other quarterback on the roster can’t make a long throw. Now with two games left, to save his redshirt he either has to sit against WCU or NC State. Not ideal for his development.
Larry Fedora: Yes, it’s a broken record, but this game was full of poor coaching decisions, poor defense, poor offense, all at the wrong times. A better effort by the defense in the first wins the game. A better plan in the second by the offense wins the game. With a small percentage of a chance to tie the game against a squad that has already given up a touchdown via a wacky series of reverses, you burn a full game of Cade Fortin. The team now sits at 1-8, and a 2-9 season is a very real possibility as there is zero chance NC State will sleep on a chance to make a statement in Chapel Hill. Even staunch holdouts for Fedora now have to be questioning the idea of him returning.
Myles Dorn had perhaps the dumbest interception, as he intercepted Daniel Jones in the end zone on fourth down when dropping the ball would have given the Tar Heels better field position, but it’s tough to go against instinct. Anthony Ratliff-Williams only accounted for 54 yards but had a great 35 yard catch and again shows the talent the Tar Heels have on offense, if only they could be thrown to well. Cole Holcomb once again led the team in tackles, assisting on seven and had five solo, he may be able to sneak into the NFL draft at this rate.