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Tar Heel Hangover: Winning

A win is a win for a team coming off a season like UNC’s 2018

North Carolina v Georgia Tech Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s game, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

A trip to Atlanta culminated in a win for the Heels. It has been a long time since there was a game that Carolina was “supposed” to win; the spread of UNC -10.5 looked like a typo compared to what we’ve been used to the past 2 and a quarter seasons. Even though it was rocky at times, the visitors easily covered the spread and head home with victory and a 3-3 record.

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

I would be trying to figure out how good this team can realistically be.

This season has been full of perception versus reality for the Heels. Take Saturday for example. Carolina looked sluggish at times and missed a ton of downfield opportunities. And yet, they won the game comfortably and actually beat the spread. For those looking for a dominating road victory, this was it. Or perhaps it wasn’t.

The Heels almost doubled up the Yellow Jackets on offensive yards (580-307). Time of possession was dominated by Carolina at nearly 37 minutes to a slight 23 for the Jackets. The defense only allowed 14 first downs. It was a huge effort on both sides of the ball. It just didn’t feel like total domination. Georgia Tech hung around for most of the game and what should have been an easy win seemed like a struggle. Except statistically speaking, the Heels cruised to victory.

The same has been true all year. Carolina’s three losses, all coming with a chance on the final drive to tie or win, are against teams that are a combined 14-0. Unbelievably, the Heels have played, and played close, three teams that are undefeated fairly deep into the year.

They have also played three teams that are just not very good. Again, there is clearly room for debate, but as I pointed out 4 weeks ago in this article, it is quite possible that Carolina has yet to beat a team that will be bowl eligible.

Perception says that South Carolina and Miami are both pretty good. They are not. Perhaps it is the case that the Gamecocks are cursed with a difficult schedule. Standing at 2-3, however, with games remaining against Georgia, Florida, Texas A&M and Clemson, it is unlikely that South Carolina has the four wins they need to be bowl-eligible. They also still have Appalachian State left, which could lead to their record being as low as 4-8.

But Miami is pretty good, one might say. Well, at least they seem that way. Miami is also 2-3 after an ugly home loss on Saturday to a not very good Virginia Tech team. The Hurricanes’ remaining schedule includes Virginia at home and games at Pitt, Duke, and Florida State. None of those are certain losses, but they are all certainly possible L’s. That could leave a 5-7 Miami team that does not get a bowl.

So how good is Carolina? They have beaten teams that at the end of the year will not look very good and they have lost to teams that are having very good seasons. They have played close games against both sets of teams. The rest of the season will be very telling as the games start to line up against teams that are more in the middle of the pack. Virginia is pretty good. Mercer is not. Everyone else on the schedule is still looking for a path to bowl eligibility.

This is going to be a fun couple of months. At least it seems that way.

Key stat for the week.

Lots to choose from this week, but the most eye popping was 97 plays. 51 pass attempts. 46 rushes. It is amazing that Carolina did not score 60 points. Even though there was a significant time of possession advantage, the very high number of plays is indicative of an offense that is playing quickly and moving methodically. These may not be the 3 play home run bombs downfield, but they are game-controlling drives that move field position and put points on the board.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

Carolina enters its bye week in need of some rest and a bit of healing. This is the time to get well, get focused, and get ready for the home stretch. Bowl eligibility is within sight.

Final Thoughts

Snapping the three game skid and getting a win is a big deal, regardless of the opponent. This is a team that continues to grow and continues to improve. Go Heels!