I’ll be honest, I still haven’t fully calmed down after that game on Saturday. While the other three losses the Tar Heels suffered were all frustrating in their own way, you could talk your way into not getting too upset over each of them. Then they kicked off against Virginia Tech, committed mistake after mistake, and saw their control over the Coastal Division run away from them as Quincy Patterson ran into the end zone.
So yeah, the bitter taste is still there, and I’m sure the team has that bitter taste as well. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who’s responsible for both the good and the bad we saw on Saturday.
Sam Howell: The freshman is continuing to rewrite the Carolina record book, and the only reason that fans have come to expect more of this team is because Howell has shown skills beyond what you’d expect for a freshman. Can you argue that he shouldn’t have been passing as much as he did? Oh yeah, and I have, but the result of the game isn't on Howell. His offensive line failed him spectacularly on Saturday, allowing for five sacks, and yet he still went 26 for 49 for 348 yards and five...yes five...touchdowns. The best of them was this ridiculously well run double reverse:
Howell also managed to do all this without throwing a single interception or fumbling once, amazing when you consider the amount of pressure he was under. Does he need to learn to throw the ball away more and stop taking sack? Absolutely, and he arguably hurt the offense by holding onto the ball way too long. But considering his inexperience, you’d rather him take a sack than throwing a pick. It’s still a process, and the silver lining view is that he at least made better mistakes than you’d expect from someone at his experience level.
Dazz Newsome: He was the player of the game for a reason. On a day where, again, UNC’s receivers had trouble holding onto passes, Newsome was a steadying presence. His two touchdowns were amazing highlights, as his first one was on the near 50-yard bomb by Howell, and his second saw him helicoptered into the end zone. Also, if you watch that reverse above, look at who flipped the ball back to Howell and stood ready to block anyone coming at him. You’d expect someone like Michael Carter to be able to block a rush, but for Newsome to be there ready to go and give Howell such a clean pocket was a huge key in making the play work. It’s a shame his efforts weren’t rewarded with a win.
Chazz Surratt: He lead the team in tackles on Saturday with an amazing 17, including seven solos and one sack. Selecting anyone on defense for this category is questionable, I’ll grant you, and when you watch how successful the Hokies were with their running quarterbacks, you’d see several times where Surratt overcommitted on a play and allowed for a huge gain. This also ignores the fact that the converted quarterback once again led the team in tackles, was a force on the line, and is continuing to write one of the best stories in college football this season. This is also a process for him, and signs appear to be he can only get better from here.
Coaching Staff: This loss is on the coaches, pure and simple. From the offense going too pass happy when you have Michael Carter, Javonte Williams, and Antonio Williams, to the defense not being able to contain yet another running quarterback. The special teams also had the two missed field goals in overtime, one coming off a time out called by Mack Brown to ice his kicker further, and the other hurt by the fact that a delay of game penalty pushed the ball back five more yards. In the end you put up 41 points, had a quarterback pass for five touchdowns, and couldn’t secure the win. On top of that, the offense was completely stuck in the mud during the overtime periods, and that was supposedly the strength of this team. Saturday showed there is still a long way to go for everyone involved in overhauling this program.
Noah Ruggles: Sorry, kid. I know you’re beating yourself up over this, and in a lot of ways it just isn’t fair that you didn’t get any help on either of your overtime field goal misses, but if you make either of those kicks the Tar Heels escape Blacksburg with a win. During the television broadcast, it was alluded that the kicking competition is still ongoing, and it’s completely possible Saturday just blew it wide open. Also, not to pat myself on the back or anything, but there was a reason I made this “bold” prediction back in August.
Coastal Division Title Hopes: The fact remains that should Carolina win out the rest of their schedule, they would very likely still be able to claim the Coastal Division thanks to the games that other teams have left. That said, they had it in their grasp without having to hope for help, and really, the bigger reason those hopes are down the drain is that it becomes difficult to see this team actually winning out against their remaining schedule. Going into the year, even having this hope seemed ridiculous and a bowl game is still easily within reach for this squad. But if you have any hopes of playing in Charlotte, you’re safe to go ahead and forget them. Maybe if it’s in play by the last weekend, then you can realistically look to it.
Antoine Green was the recipient of that double reverse gem, and he did a great job of getting so wide open and turning on the after burners to score. Considering his injury issues, it was good to see him be the recipient of this pass...Javonte Williams only had 3.4 yards per carry on Saturday, but he showed he should have been given the ball more during the game when he managed to convert a 3rd and 9 by just straight up running for ten yards...Michael Carter was the leading rusher, going for a seven yard per rush average, and honestly should have had more than his 91 yards total. See a trend?