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Tar Heel Hangover: Don’t look ahead

It was an eventful bye week, but the Heels can’t look past Virginia Tech.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. On a normal fall weekend, this installment is authored by Joe Carpenter as he reviews the weekend’s game, second-guesses all of the key moments, and sets the game plan for the week ahead.

This weekend Joe had real-life work to tend to, so I’m filling in. Making it doubly awkward, UNC didn’t even play this weekend. Sorry in advance folks. Let’s see where this goes.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

North Carolina didn’t play and took a much-needed break from competitive action. Not to worry though – they still somehow moved up a spot in the ACC rankings after UVA stumbled at Miami. There is now a three-way tie for first place in the Coastal Division between UVA, Duke, and UNC. Raise your hand if you expected UNC to be one of those teams when the season started. (95% of you are lying).

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

I would continually remind the team to not look past each week’s opponents. I know. Pretty obvious, but no less important. Let’s dive in.

South Carolina just beat Georgia in Athens. Louisville took down Wake Forest in Winston-Salem. Virginia stumbled badly at Miami. Any team is beatable on any given week. All this talk about Coastal titles is fun and exciting, but it is meaningless if the Heels can’t take care of business in Blacksburg.

This Virginia Tech team isn’t the same caliber of Frank Beamer’s final years. The program is arguably in disarray. They’re getting pummeled on the recruiting trail. Players are leaving in droves. Fuente has led them to decreasing win totals for three consecutive seasons. They’ll even need seven FBS wins just to make a bowl this year due to scheduling two FCS opponents, Rhode Island and Furman, (who they beat by a combined 24 points).

However, the Hokies own a three-game winning streak over the Heels, who haven’t defeated Virginia Tech since they clinched the 2015 Coastal championship and ruined Frank Beamer’s final home game. Justin Fuente has never lost to UNC. His squad is riding a surprising two-game winning streak after winning at Miami two weeks ago. Miami’s five turnovers might have been a factor, but a road win is nothing to ignore. (See: Any team is beatable on any given week).

The win at Miami was even more shocking considering the Hokies mentally, emotionally, and physically quit against Duke in a 45-10 beatdown just three weeks ago. On national television. In Blacksburg. I’m pretty sure souls and spirits floated into the air like Patrick Swayze in Ghost, just ready for it to all be over. Judging by this picture from this past weekend, half of their fan base felt the same way.

Additionally, the combined record of Tech’s final six opponents is 22-14. Remove Georgia Tech and UNC, and that record evolves into 18-6. Of the Hokies’ final opponents, only Georgia Tech (1-5) and UNC (3-3) don’t have a winning record. Quite simply, this is a game that Virginia Tech cannot lose if they want a realistic chance to keep their 26 consecutive bowl streak alive. North Carolina cannot lose if they want to maintain control of their Coastal dreams. Saturday has the potential to be a real life version of the irresistible force paradox.

This Carolina team is not good enough to show up, put their pads on, tape their ankles, and expect their superior athleticism to take over. Mack Brown has said as much. That’s what Miami tries to do, and it doesn’t work for them either. That’s what UNC tried to do against Appalachian State and Wake Forest. They cannot look past the Hokies. If they do, then the following home games against Duke and Virginia are a little less meaningful.

Key stat for the week.

I was bored so I played around with some random stats this weekend. A source of frustration for the last seven years was the frequency and untimeliness of penalties. Oddly, except for South Carolina (first game), and Wake Forest (Brian Anderson’s first start at center), penalties haven’t been a major talking point. Turns out there is a great reason why. For your viewing pleasure, here are UNC’s national rankings for penalty yards per game since 2010:

2010: 89th
2011: 54th
2012: 106th (Coastal Champs. Kind of. Not really).
2013: 111th
2014: 107th
2015: 34th (Coastal Champs)
2016: 100th
2017: 123rd
2018: 73rd
2019: 18th (Entered the weekend at 17th)

Part of the reason the Heels have stayed competitive is because they aren’t giving away free plays or free yards with the same consistency as the previous nine years.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

We covered it above. Focus on Virginia Tech and only Virginia Tech. Nothing else matters.

Final Thoughts

Football is fun again. I forgot what going through withdrawal on a Saturday actually felt like.