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UNC vs Pitt: Three Things Learned

Let’s be honest. Did we learn anything new?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

We are four days away from UNC’s trip to Coral Gables but, before we look forward, let’s finish up our post-Pittsburgh analysis. As you know by now, the Heels pulled off the 38-35 victory over the Panthers. Aside from getting the 2018 proverbial monkey off of their back, was there anything promising about UNC’s performance? The start of the season was so horrid, can a silver lining be found in the annual one-possession victory over Pittsburgh?

Eh. Not really? Let’s take a look.

No answers at QB

I get it. Nathan Elliott was a respectable 22-31 for 313 yards and 2 TDs. On the surface, one could argue there is reason for optimism with Miami and Virginia Tech on the horizon. He did everything he was expected to do — took care of the ball, got it out of his hands quickly, and took advantage of defensive mistakes. The fact that these actions are cause for celebration (or sighs or relief) is a damning statement on the quarterback position.

Here’s the deal. Elliott was helped by a productive ground game, playmakers turning short passes into long gains, and an constantly improving offensive line. A 50/50 floater to ARW, a blown coverage touchdown pass to Michael Carter, and Dazz Newsome’s speed accounted for 115 passing yards on just three passes. Over 200 of his 313 yards were accumulated after the receiver caught the ball. Of his 22 completions, 12 were caught behind the line of scrimmage. Only five completions travelled more than 10 yards in the air. Elliott wasn’t out there throwing darts.

The coaching staff called a smart game plan that limited Elliott’s weaknesses, but we have to be honest with ourselves. Pittsburgh is a bad football program. They have just four winning seasons this decade, and haven’t defeated UNC since 2008. If the offense depends on 50/50 balls and underclassmen taking advantage of blown coverages and missed tackles, then this weekend is just a blip on the radar. Prepare to see Chazz Surratt in some capacity and pray he has remembered how to football.

Games are 60 minutes

UNC has yet to play a full 60 minutes of football. The defense showed up for California and the last two quarters on Saturday. The offense showed up against Pitt, but never really took the field in the first two games. If this team could learn to put together a full 60 minutes of effort, they may be capable of stealing a much needed upset in the coming weeks.

They haven’t done so through three games. Arguably, they haven’t put together a full four quarters of winning football against an ACC opponent since...at Miami in 2016? It’s absolutely mystifying. Maybe it’s a leadership problem. Maybe it’s a talent problem. Maybe it’s a little of both.

So, credit the coaching staff with making key adjustments on offense against Cal and on defense on Saturday. Moral victories always feel good and can help stabilize a locker room. I’ll keep waiting for the day they actually show up for an entire Saturday afternoon or Thursday night.

Effective Ground Attack

With Michael Carter returning from injury, the UNC ground attack finally was at full strength. Antonio Williams did the majority of the work (16 carries, 117 yards, 2 TDs), but Carter (6 carries, 30 yards) and Jordon Brown (9 carries, 31 yards, 1 TD) rounded out the Three Amigos in the backfield.

Add it all up and the trio finished with a combined 31 carries, 178 yards, 3 TDs, and 5.7 yards per carry. That doesn’t include the 6 receptions for 40 yards and one touchdown in the passing game. Carter did most of the receiving damage with a 31 yard touchdown on blown coverage, but all three also proved pivotal in pass protection.

Michael Carter isn’t some magic ingredient to cure the offensive woes, but his return did add a much needed dynamic out of the backfield. With Miami, Virginia Tech, and currently undefeated Syracuse on tap over the next three weeks, the Heels need all the help they can get.

Hopefully Larry Fedora doesn’t forget to use them. He has been known to do that from time to time.