It is Groundhog Day for the North Carolina Tar Heels. Bad penalties. Play call confusion. Burning timeouts. Undisciplined play. Time management issues. A bad loss as an overwhelming favorite.
The reliance on the run in the first quarter tells you a lot about the UNC quarterback situation. Nathan Elliott’s first completion was a roll out into the flats, and screens and drop offs were most of his next completed passes.
Elliott continued to throw into blanket coverage and nearly every ball seemed like a floater off his back foot. He did begin to get more comfortable as the first half ticked away, highlighted by a great toss to Toe Groves for 34 yards.
As the game started to slip away, Elliott went back to floating the ball and forcing it into tight quarters. This was exemplified by a pass into triple coverage on a third and 20 less than eight minutes in the third quarter and a jump ball in the middle of the field with around 11 minutes in the fourth.
Elliott gets an upgrade from his F grade last week due to no interceptions.
The white flag was officially raised when Cade Fortin was put into the game with less than six minutes to play. How many series does he get next week versus UCF?
Running backs: B-
The game started with four straight runs, led by an Antonio Williams 48-yard scamper. Williams had a good day on the ground until his ejection on a booth-initiated targeting call. He finished with 96 yards on six carries.
Jordon Brown carried the load the rest of the game. His cut back on the 12-yard TD run was great to see. As the game wore on, the ECU defense started to limit his gains, especially between the tackles. Out of 161 total team rushing yards, 147 came in the first half. Brown finished with 59 yards on 13 carries.
Wide receivers: C
Anthony Ratliff-Williams’s third down reception with about three minutes left in the first quarter showed his full skill set. He ran a sharp route and made the reception beyond the first down marker. He then juked, stiff armed one defender to the ground and stiff armed another. Ratliff-Williams’s efforts added another seven or so yards to that play.
Thomas Jackson had some struggles when Elliott made three straight passes to him in the second quarter. After his first reception, he nearly caused an interception when the did not secure the second pass and the third pass was fumbled out of bounds.
Jackson and Dazz Newsome both had multiple receptions and each had averages of less than four yards per catch. Most of this has to do with the plays that were called, but they certainly did not make anything extra happen after the catch.
Offensive line: C+
Brown’s 28-yard screen pass was made possible by some great blocking by the offensive line. The line was making room for Williams and Brown in the first half, while Elliott had plenty of time to float his passes.
In the second half, the line started to get beat and a couple of bad snaps led to two fumbles. Once the snowball started gaining speed down the hill, the line lost their first half effectiveness.
Defensive line: C-
In the first half, the line snubbed a flea flicker and was effective on preventing runs inside and outside the tackles.
The 48-yard touchdown run just a couple of minutes in the third quarter would be a sign of things to come. The Pirates had a much easier time in the second half running the ball, finishing with 220 yards on the ground.
The late hit by Tyler Powell on the third and 22 was awful. Instead of Carolina leading 13-10 if ECU made the field goal, this penalty kept their drive alive and ended it with a touchdown. It was the beginning of the end for the Heels.
The linebackers were overcommitted in a lot of situations and if the ECU running backs got to the next level, they were off to the races. They were overcommitted on the first play of ECU’s second scoring drive, a 26-yard run in the second quarter and one the fourth and one at the beginning of the fourth quarter that extended the ECU lead to 35-19.
Besides the poor run support, there were gaps in coverage and did not do much to improve upon the terrible pass defense.
Reid Herring threw for 290 yards, completed 59 percent of his passes, and absolutely sliced up the Carolina secondary. The UNC coverage was soft, had plenty of space in-between receivers, and had difficulties finding the ball in the air.
It was clear it was going to be a long day for the DBs whenHerring completed first five passes of the game and the team ended the drive with an easy touchdown.
ECU did not rack up as many yards as we have seen in the Fedora era, but the manner in which the Pirates completed passes is the concerning issue. ECU was 11-19 on third down and it just seemed like most of those conversions came through the air.
Special teams: B
Newsome’s first quarter 44-yard punt return was negated by a block in the back, but there was a lot to like with his moves on the play. Ratliff-Williams was once again solid on the few kick off returns he received.
MVP Freeman Jones hit field goals from 32, 42, 44, and 49 yards and was the leading scorer on the squad.
In the first drive, Carolina was running it down their throat. Instead of sticking to that plan, they go for the end zone on a third and three and was force to settle for the field goal. This set the tone for the rest of the game.
At the most critical stage of the game with Carolina down nine in the third quarter, confusion on a play call led to a bad snap. On the ensuing third and 20, the play call leads to an incomplete pass that was thrown into triple coverage. With that incomplete, it pushed the team outside of field goal range and forced to punt.
The defense forced a three and out on the next drive and UNC had another chance. Brown ran for seven yards on first down. This excellent start to the drive was negated by two straight passes than were for minus two yards each. After that punt on the three and out, ECU scored a touchdown and put the game out of reach.
Like the end of the Cal game, there was no sense of urgency. That occurred again with Carolina down 19 and more confusion led to another burned timeout with less than 11 minutes left in the game.
How much more of this will we see?