If you are one of those people that still can’t fully process what exactly happened yesterday in UNC’s win against Duke, you're likely in good company. Even in knowing exactly what happened, the way it happened is the still surreal. Regardless, the Tar Heels brought home the Victory Bell after Chazz Surratt got the game-winning interception, and we can officially look forward to what is going to be a tough game against Virginia.
Before we do that, though, let’s take a look at a few lessons that we can we can take away from this game. There were indeed some negatives that we have to discuss, and we’ll lead off with those so that we end things on a high note (spoiler alert: the high note involves the defense). Let’s dive in.
This team needs to discover balance
If there is one thing that has haunted the Tar Heels in every single game this season, it’s that they have struggled finding some kind of balance between the offense and defense. The Clemson game might be the best game they had in that department, but in every other game, the offense did well and the defense had backbreaking moments, or vice-versa. This fact wasn’t any less obvious in the game against Duke.
The best example that I could possibly come up with of the weird imbalance that this team has is when Dazz Newsome pulled down a 47-yard touchdown pass from Sam Howell to put the Heels up 14-3. The touchdown was largely needed for the Heels to have some breathing room, which is something they haven’t had for every game except the game against Georgia Tech. However, that very next drive Duke marched 74 yards down the field and Quentin Harris found Scott Bracey in the end zone. This was the beginning of a mind-boggling six minutes that eventually led to Duke taking the lead.
If UNC wants to keep some form of momentum going for the rest of the season, they need to find a way to have both units play well at the same time. If the offense fails to get things done, it puts more strain on the defense and at times puts them in really bad positions. Inversely, if the defense doesn’t get their job done, the offense has to play most of the game aggressively, which raises the chances of committing critical errors. Let’s hope this is something that gets figured out before Virginia comes into town.
The placekicker experiment was unsuccessful
Sometimes after a loss like the one that UNC suffered against Virginia Tech, it’s reasonable to think that something needs to change. In the case of Noah Ruggles, that change came in the form of Jonathan Kim getting the nod to be the new placekicker. To be really blunt: it was a pretty terrible idea if his one lone kick was a true sample of whether or not he had any business being on the field.
To be completely fair, field goal kicking relies on a weird amount of precision. However, the knee-jerk reaction in putting Kim out there instead of Ruggles led to a comedically bad kick from Kim that led to Ruggles kicking the rest of the game. Turns out, Ruggles was able to nail each of his two field goal tries, including the 40-yarder that gave the Tar Heels the lead.
The moral of the story? The special teams unit is a rough group this year to find any solid solutions for in terms of improving their performance. This was Ruggles’ one lone game where he made 100% of his kicks, so while he was the hero this time there’s no telling how things will go next week. The Jonathan Kim experiment failed this time, but who knows, maybe his number gets called soon when Ruggles kicks a football right through the visitor’s tunnel. Nothing is off the table at this point.
Jay Bateman may be a genius
Alright, so maybe this lesson is a bit of an exaggeration. Truth be told, the reason coaches get paid the big bucks is because they know the game so incredibly well that they can sniff most things out before they happen. Jay Bateman is no exception, but also it shouldn’t be ignored that he knew exactly what Duke’s last offensive play would be, and he had the Heels’ defense more than ready.
Right before Duke attempted to punch the ball into the end zone, UNC called a timeout and Bateman got to speak with his defense. Here’s an account of what happened from the hero of the game, Chazz Surratt:
“Before the play, we got in the huddle and Coach Bateman said to expect the pop pass kind of in the formation they were giving us. So that is what we did,” Surratt said. “(Ford) got a good hit on the running back to make him throw a bad ball and I was just able to make a play for the team.
”We were expecting it. I thought he would throw it a little higher. I jumped and it came right to me. I just wanted to get it and make sure I got the ball in my hands and on the ground.”
When looking at the replay, UNC’s defenders were exactly where they needed to be to make the play. Surratt was the one that pulled down the pick, but Myles Dorn and DeAndre Hollins were in position to make a play on Noah Gray, and unless Deon Jackson floats the ball above both of their heads the play would’ve likely failed. Credit to the players for the execution, but Bateman also deserves a lot of credit for figuring out what was coming.
The more and more I watch this defense, the more and more I’m convinced that the Tar Heels should back the Brinks truck up to Jay Bateman’s house and pay him anything he wants to stay in Chapel Hill should suitors come knocking at his door. The way that he had his group prepared to contained Quentin Harris on the ground was spectacular, and it kept Duke from finding any consistent rhythm on offense. As long as this defense keeps playing the way that they played last night, UNC is going to be in each and every game remaining on the schedule. That’s truly all you could possible ask for.