Is it possible to not feel good after a 23-point win? If it is, then Carolina’s 49-23 win against Western Carolina on Saturday is probably it. The score was in doubt for a little bit, and a call late in the second quarter raised more questions than it should have.
In the end, some folks had a game worth praising, but we are no closer to feeling any better about how this season will end. With that in mind, let’s see who shone, who stunk, and who deserves a mention.
Javonte Williams: Let’s give it up to the 5-11 freshman from Wallace Rose-Hill. He was a work horse, especially when Michael Carter went out of the game. 17 rushes, 93 yards for a 5.5 yard average and three touchdowns. This game announced to the world at large that, at least at tailback, Carolina is really stacked. It was refreshing to see Fedora stick with the hot hand and this is a game that is key for a young player to get some reps in and feel comfortable. We’ll get to that later.
UNC Receivers: Let’s just lump Anthony Ratliff-Williams and Toe Groves in one category here, as ARW led the team with 99 yards between the air and the ground, while Groves had the wonderful touchdown reception to start to break through here at the end of the season. Of course, you have to give a nod to Jake Bargas for catching that Hail Mary at the end of the first half from Manny Miles as well. In the end, eleven players caught a pass from UNC quarterbacks for 358 yards. It’s what you’d expect against a team like WCU, but it was good that some variety was out there.
Manny Miles: It’s pretty cool when your dad is in the stands and you get out on the field in your last season on the team. It’s even cooler when you are brought out for a Hail Mary and you end up connecting. That was a great moment for the walk-on with the new coach of Kansas in the stands watching him. That he got to finish the game when he is unlikely to play next week against State made Saturday his Senior Day. It’s one feel good story out of the game.
Larry Fedora: So, you have a guy in Manny Miles that you bring in for the Hail Mary at the end of the second quarter because your main quarterback can't make that throw. He’s successful at that throw. So, Coach, why didn’t you bring him out last week against Duke? You know why that’s a valid question? Because you could have brought Cade Fortin out in THIS game so that he could get some good work in and make him feel more comfortable going into the NC State game next weekend. Oh sure, State now doesn’t have a lot of film on Fortin, but considering how little experience Fortin had, it seems like playing him on Saturday would have been a smarter play. It is yet another head-scratching decision to add to the pile, and another one to point to if Fedora is let go at the end of the season.
Michael Carter: Not for anything he did, more just an acknowledgment that yet another starting player for Carolina is added to the injury list. He had to go to the hospital and everything, but luckily he was able to return to the bench. The number of injuries to Carolina players these last two years points to a real problem in the program, and if there aren’t changes made to the Strength and Conditioning coaching, it may be a greater sin than if nothing is changed at the top.
Defense: Against a 3-7 division 1-AA team, this defense gave up 300 yards in the air, and 133 yards on the ground. The score is not indicative of how relatively close the game was, as WCU really didn’t have any issues scoring on the Tar Heels at the start. Really, it was WCU’s own miscues that caused the disparity in the scoring, and everyone watching in the stadium and on the livestream knew that this game could have been a lot closer. This really doesn’t bode well for next weekend, and any argument for John Papuchis to keep his job after this season is quickly draining away.
Give credit to Trey Morrison for leading the team in tackles and getting in on a sack, even if the backfield wasn’t great, that’s impressive from Morrison...Cole Holcomb was second on the team in tackles, and came through with another workman-like effort. Here’s hoping he gets an invite to the NFL Combine and catches on with a team, because with a better defense he probably would be getting mentioned by more scouts right now...Lost in Javonte Williams’ breakout game was Jordon Brown rushing for 80 himself and getting on the scoreboard...British Brooks also got to pop for 57 yards and a tidy 8.8 yards per play to get some game action on the season...Nathan Elliott had a good statistical day, 18/24 for 308 yards and two touchdowns, but the two picks were nasty. Don’t be surprised if Cade Fortin is your starter for the season finale.