This Tar Heel football team has more wins than last season, their first star quarterback since 2016, put up amazing offensive numbers, and injected life into a program that was going in a dangerous direction. Football is interesting again, which is a far cry of where it was at the end of the last two seasons and especially at the end of last year. You can see a light at the end of the tunnel, for sure.
The problem is that in the short term, that light has been the train.
The good news is that November football is still meaningful, as the Thanksgiving weekend showdown in Raleigh has a strong chance of being for 6-6 and a bowl game. Let’s take a look at the reasons, good and bad, why the Tar Heels once again came up just short, this time in Pittsburgh.
Antonio Williams: Javonte Williams clearly is still feeling the effects of his injury against Virginia, as he only had five carries the entire game. Fortunately, Antonio Williams had by far his best game of the season, and only the third 100+ yard game of his Tar Heel career. Slowed by injuries at the start of the year, the benefit for Antonio has been that he’s not staring at the same level of wear that either Javonte or Michael Carter have at this point in the season. Pittsburgh was ready to stop the run and Antonio still averaged 8.9 yards a carry, and even if you take out his 59 yard rush it’s still a great 4.3 ypc, as Jake pointed out yesterday. It’s good to see him get some burn, and there’s hope here that means you can expect to see some new sets using all three at the end of the season.
Noah Ruggles: This writer was almost kicked out of the blog thanks to his pessimism about how regulation was going to end. Having seen Ruggles’ performance in Blacksburg and knowing the infamously horrid turf at Heinz Field, I mentioned to my co-writers the game was destined to end with a missed kick. After being threatened with extinction from this site, Ruggles saved me by cooly and easily hitting the 32 yarder in the fourth to force overtime. Noah dunked on me with how easily he made that kick, and in all seriousness, if any fan isn’t happy for him right now you have no soul. You know he had to take it hard with the chances he had to win it for Carolina at Virginia Tech, and to go from losing his job to coming back and nailing that kick under those conditions shows a ton.
Beau Corrales/Dazz Newsome: Dazz Newsome’s career night earned him our Player of the Game honors. Since he accounted for over half of Sam Howell’s passing yards, it’s richly earned. Beau Corrales gets the equal billing here because of his outstanding work in yet another catch of the year candidate. After nearly getting decapitated and there being a real lack of punishment for it (we’ll get to that in a second), Corrales got his revenge with a sensational catch for the first Tar Heel score. Seriously, in a season full of amazing catches, Corrales’ will be seen again on ESPN because of the sheer strength.
ACC Officiating-All of it: We are going to include the replay officials in this group here for multiple egregious rulings. Let’s start with the obvious, the overturn of the targeting call:
This should show up on the digital film as a textbook case of targeting that goes out to all of college football. Not only is Corrales down, the defender lowers his hit without slowing up and aims directly for the head of Corrales, making absolutely zero effort to avoid him. I don’t know who in the ACC office decided to overturn the call on the field, but it’s probably the same one who didn’t think they should buzz to the officials in Winston-Salem to let them know they should have reviewed the clock. Later on, a targeting that at least was arguable was upheld.
It’s not just the booth officials, though. The on field crew didn’t distinguish itself any as they only calling one hold against Pitt all game. There’s a pretty egregious hold, at minimum, that they missed:
Yeah, the head snaps back like that naturally. Never mind that call would have put Pitt at 3rd at 29 in overtime and completely changed the scope of the rest of the game, it’s ridiculous that you have this many officials on the field and they miss something that blatant. ACC officiating has been a joke for a long time now, and at this point the league would be better off firing every single crew and starting from scratch.
Red Zone offense: Jake covered this yesterday as well so it’s not worth rehashing the pain of Carolina continuing to flail inside the red zone. There are a ridiculous number of issues, between the lack of depth, the lack of plays, the reliance on the deep ball, the lack of experience...in short, it’s not one issue that’s creating this horrid performance. As bad as that missed call was, Carolina still had every chance to tie and make another overtime, and the majority of the plays were just a mess. The only hope at this point is that in the offseason, experience and a deep review of the tools and plays available will cause this to improve.
Defensive Energy: If you were frustrated at how the defense made Kenny Pickett look like Lamar Jackson on Thursday, you weren't alone. The problem starts in a tweet from our Chad Floyd who felt compelled to say this for some reason during the game:
To nobody inparticular: this is my reminder that Carolinas 6 most talented DBs are not in uniform tonight.— Chadwick (@Chad_Floyd) November 15, 2019
Add that to the lack of depth up front, and you get some of these ridiculous snap counts ($ from IC), that break down just how much some of the players on defense have actually been on the field for. Even an off week can’t completely replenish that energy, as you could seem several players on defense grasping for air at multiple points. The hope here is that next week provides the opportunity to rotate some people in, and that they can give it one last push for the showdown in Raleigh.
Michael Carter got the game off to a quick start with his great return including a video-game style hop. It feels like he's due a touchdown return soon...the legend of Sam Howell and his fourth quarter magic continues, but the freshman has got to learn how to get rid of the ball when facing pressure. One of the reasons Pickett was so successful is that in the rare cases Carolina was able to get pressure on him, he wiggled away and threw it to the sideline. Howell always is looking for the big play, which has saved on his interception numbers but led to five sacks on Thursday...Chazz Surratt had arguably his worst game in a while as he blew by Pickett several times, which kept drives going. As mentioned above, the wear of so many snaps has to be affecting him as well as his line mates....Ben Kiernan punted really well, cooly completing his first one despite a ton of pressure bearing down. He hasn’t been mentioned in a while, which is the best thing you can say after his rough start.