Time flies, doesn’t it? It sure doesn’t seem like the football season should be half over, and the fact that some of the hottest days of the year just happened probably doesn’t help. Still, once the final seconds ticked off the clock in Atlanta, Carolina had hit the halfway mark sitting at .500. It’s a pretty safe bet that if someone told you before the first game that you’d go into the bye week at 3-3, you’d be happy.
Carolina led a game from start to finish, and while it wasn’t dominant on the scoreboard, it was good to know they can take care of an inferior opponent. That said, what else did we learn about this football team yesterday?
There are still growing pains
If your first thought is that Carolina plays to the level of their competition, it’s valid. However, when you take a closer look, you realize that the plays were there for Carolina to win this one by almost 40 points. The problem wasn’t execution on offense or defense, but simple mistakes that just stonewalled drives.
Take a look at the play by play and you aren’t going to see “dropped pass” mentioned as much as it should, but multiple big gains were wiped out when receivers could not keep their hands on the ball. The receivers would be forgiven if there was heavy coverage or if the passes were off, but multiple times Sam Howell had the ball laid up perfectly and his teammates just wouldn’t catch it. Finally, going into halftime the offense clicked and took a 17-0, and the clicking continued in the second half until Charlie Heck couldn’t stop blocking and was hit with a 15 yard penalty. That took Carolina out of a realistic goal scenario, and Noah Ruggles would miss a field goal to keep hope alive for the Jackets.
Georgia Tech responded in kind with a touchdown drive, one of three they'd have on the day, and there was a little doubt in the air. When the next drive for Carolina ended with yet another dropped pass, that fear grew. However, Carolina showed their growth by promptly shutting down Georgia Tech to end their momentum. Carolina then went on what was effectively the game-ending drive that saw a fourth down conversion and a touchdown as the fourth quarter began. In multiple games this season, the Tar Heels had let their opponents back into a game to the point where it was tied or they took the lead. This time, both sides of the ball answered.
They proved it again by scoring again right after Georgia Tech had gotten it to within nine, and by the time the Jackets scored again, it was with a lot of freshmen on the field and the game wasn’t in doubt. The letdown potential was huge in this game, and while it wasn’t pretty at times, for the first time Carolina didn’t let an opponent catch all the way up to them. Even against an overmatched opponent, that’s good.
Be concerned about the secondary
The attrition in the backfield is just ridiculous at this point. Prior to the game, it was announced that Cam’Ron Kelly tore his ACL last weekend and had surgery on Thursday. Thus, if you had lost track before kickoff, this was the state of the secondary:
UNC’s secondary attrition since the end of last season:— Jake Lawrence (@TheRealestRJL) October 5, 2019
KJ Sails (transfer)
Cam’Ron Kelly (knee)
Patrice Rene (knee)
Bryson Richardson (Achilles)
Myles Wolfolk (lower body)
Corey Bell (position change)
CJ Cotman (medically retired)
Help is coming next season, but yikes.
Then just for good measure, during the game Tre Morrison was knocked out with an “upper body injury.” The attrition showed as Georgia Tech was able to get a few big plays once they got past the line of scrimmage. The defense was good in the first half, but they were also lucky as several times a wide open receiver was just outright missed by the quarterback. It was to the point where you wondered how Trevor Lawrence wasn’t able to have a better day last Saturday, and then you remember how their offense easily scored on their last drive.
This shouldn’t take away from the work of the defensive front, however. Tomon Fox needed to file a change of address form to show he resided in the Yellow Jacket backfield, Aaron Crawford laid out some pretty big licks, and Chazz Surratt once again led the team in tackles. If one thing was made clear yesterday, it’s that the defensive front is going to be the best chance the Tar Heels have at stopping teams, and they are at least up to the task.
The running backs are an even bigger threat
While the receivers had, at best, an up and down day, the combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams kept the offense humming. After a couple of stuffs early where Georgia Tech was ready for a first down run, Phil Longo mixed up the looks with some passes on first down. It forced the Yellow Jackets to spread out, and despite some early struggles the duo of Carter and Williams eventually took advantage.
The pair combined for 212 yards on the ground and 77 yards via a caught pass, meaning they accounted for 289 of Carolina’s 589 yards of offense. They ran wild in the second half when the sheer number of plays Carolina ran caught up the Jackets defense. The only concern here is the lack of any Antonio Williams sightings. It’s unknown if he is hurt, struggling to adapt to Longo’s playbook, or if Carter and Williams are just too good for him to take off the field.
The great part is that each back seems to be developing a different way to get their yards. Carter caught the ball five times on top of his 20 rushes, and one of the biggest plays of the game was his 40 yard reception on a screen. Williams, meanwhile, had a 40 yard rush down the field, as well as multiple 10 yard gains. The duo give Howell more options, which is very important as defenses adapt to the Tar Heels’ passing attack.
Carolina now gets a week off to get healthy, test what they’ve learned, and come back to take a serious shot at the Coastal Division. Combined with the other results from yesterday, that division is wide open.