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UNC vs Cal: Three Things Learned

The final score was a lot prettier than the game. That was bad. Really bad.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I am among the most optimistic writers here at Tar Heel Blog. I expected 8 wins from the football team this year. That may still be attainable, but after yesterday’s performance, I don’t think I have any optimism left. That was abysmal. Embarrassing. Surprising. Sad.

Whatever word you choose to describe your feelings, nothing will change the fact that UNC has not won a season opener away from Kenan Memorial since 1993. They have not won a Week 1 road game since they defeated Navy in 1985. Both of those streaks stayed intact after yesterday’s dismal performance.

What else did we learn?

UNC’s best quarterback is...

I don’t know. Anthony Ratliff-Williams? Seriously, why didn't he at least get one attempt on a reverse option pass?

In the first half, Nathan Elliott was 5-14 for 12 yards and 3 interceptions. The Heels were 0-8 on 3rd down conversions, All nine possessions in the first half were exactly three plays apiece. (That doesn’t count the one play possession to close out the half). The second half was marginally better — largely because Cal relaxed on defense in the final period. He finished the day 15-35, for 144 yards, 1 TD and 4 INTs.

Where does UNC go from here? Chazz Surratt was likely going to lose the starting job to Nathan Elliott, regardless if he was suspended or not for selling shoes. True freshman Cade Fortin wasn’t even asked to take a single snap. He hasn’t played competitive football since he broke his leg in the third game of his senior high school season. The other true freshman, Jace Ruder, ran a run heavy triple option scheme in high school and couldn't beat out Fortin. Manny Miles does a great job holding for extra points and field goals.

Folks, there is a legitimate argument that UNC does not have a quarterback capable of playing Division I football this season. I’m not sure it’s even a debate.

Can the defensive line play both ways?

We knew there were questions on the offensive line. My only question after watching that atrocity is this: Can the defensive line play both offense and defense?

The offensive line didn’t do Elliott any favors. Passes were batted down. Timing was disrupted. There were zero holes for the running backs for most of the day. The average distance on eight third down attempts in the first half was 7.4 yards to go. Don’t be fooled by the “comeback” in the fourth quarter. Cal deliberately stopped stacking the box and gave UNC more two-high looks with safeties backed up 12-15 yards off the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the defensive line (and defense as a whole) was nothing short of excellent. I don’t care about the final score or if Cal wins another game this season. The defense is the only reason UNC stayed within shouting distance. They finished the afternoon with 4 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, and held Cal to 4-17 on third down. They forced the Bears to bench their returning starting QB and did not allow any of the explosive plays that were prevalent last season.

Cal scored exactly 10 points on drives that did not start after an interception. They gained just 3.7 yards per pass attempt and even less on rushing plays at 3.3 yards per carry. Both of those numbers were worse than UNC final passing and rushing averages. The Heels’ defense gave the offense plenty of chances to make the game competitive. Aside from forcing a turnover, there was nothing more they could have been asked to do.

Lack of Discipline

Two weeks ago, I mentioned four stats that would lead to UNC success. Yesterday, UNC accomplished almost none of them. However, the most noticeable problem, outside of quarterback play, was committing key penalties at inopportune times.

In the first quarter, four penalties accounted for 52 free yards. On one drive, a questionable pass interference on 3rd down put the Bears inside the 10. (If PI wasn’t called, defensive holding should have been). Cal punched it in shortly afterwards. On the following drive, Malik Carney apparently had a lobotomy and committed a personal foul after the Heels had stopped Cal on a 3rd down. That drive, thankfully, ended shortly afterwards.

Then, on UNC’s opening drive of the second half, two consecutive false starts stalled the first flicker of offense. The Heels were pushed out of four down territory and forced to punt. A few untimely holding calls on ARW negated huge gains. They finished the day with 13 fouls for 124 yards. That’s worse than last year’s average of 7.8 penalties per game and 72.7 penalty yards per game.

For reference, last season they finished 123rd in the country in penalty yards per game.

There are 130 Division I football teams.

Bring On ECU. I think.