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Tar Heel Hangover: Football must win out

There is no margin of error for this team to get to a bowl game.

North Carolina v Pittsburgh Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

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

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

Another week, another close football game for the Heels. The overtime loss on Thursday night in Pittsburgh was emblematic of the season as a whole. An early deficit was followed by a gutsy fourth quarter comeback. Pitt was just too much in overtime and the Heels fell once again.

On the basketball court, the game was closer than many thought Friday night but Carolina managed to pull away from Gardner Webb. Cole Anthony continues to be very good offensively, but a fair question is what other offensive weapons does the team have? Everyone is still finding their role on this new team and injuries are still a major concern, but the trend should be at least mildly concerning to fans.

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

Once again, it is time to harp on the play calling in crunch time. Having battled back from a 14 point deficit in the second half, both the Carolina offense and defense caught fire. Sam Howell hit Dyami Brown less than two minutes into the fourth quarter for a 10 yard touchdown to close the Pitt lead to 7. The defense then forced a three and out to get Howell the ball back. A quick strike to Dazz Newsome for 34 yards tied the game.

Pitt then put together an impressive drive of their own, taking up over 6 minutes of game time and advancing all the way to the Carolina 6 yard line. Once again, the Tar Heel defense rose to the occasion and forced a Pitt field goal.

With 5:18 remaining, it was Sam Howell and the Carolina offense’s turn. 13 plays. 60 yards. Over 5:00 minutes of clock consumed, and all for a field goal.

The drive got off to a bit of a rocky start with a pass interference bail out for a first down. Then Howell got rolling with 4 consecutive completions. A big 6-yard Michael Carter run set up first down from the Pitt 13. With time left on the clock, another Carter run was predictably called and resulted in a two yard loss. This was a critical play call that was simply too conservative for the situation.

In addition to not moving forward, the call also put Howell in a difficult second and long. Two head scratching play call to Beau Corrales looked like a team that was settling for field goal and getting ready for overtime. Could the Corrales passes have been successful? Sure. But the point is that that they were just not necessary. Howell moved the ball downfield with consistent short range throws. That should have continued right on into the endzone.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The football Heels now sit at 4-6 and must win the last two to get to a bowl game. First up is Mercer at home and the Heels will be a big favorite. Without any buffer left, this is a game that simply can not be taken for granted.

Basketball hosts Elon on Wednesday to start the Battle 4 Atlantis. Cole Anthony has been excellent through the first three games but there are some causes of concern. Injuries have really piled up, which was covered in this article last week. Those injuries have forced some heavy minutes on Anthony (34.7), Garrison Brooks (34.0), and Leaky Black (33.0). Armando Bacot’s average minutes are skewed by only getting about 3 against UNCW due to the injury. Season long fatigue and foul trouble are two areas of concern.

Additionally, there are just not a lot of offensive options at this point. Anthony is averaging 27.3 points per game, which is about 35% of the team’s total. He has also taken over a third of the field goal attempts and nearly half of the three point attempts. In other words, Anthony is unquestionably the top offensive weapon on the team but there needs to be some additional options. Brooks and Justin Pierce are the only other players averaging double figure points, despite the extended playing time.

The defensive effort has been very good early in the season, but there will be plenty of games that require a score in the 80’s. That is something that the Heels have not been able to accomplish, yet.

Final Thoughts

This should be a winning week for both football and basketball. The football team has competed so admirably this year and has just come up heartbreakingly short time and time again. A team that looked like it knew how to win early in the year is now uncertain at times. For basketball, a healthy week is priority one while the the supporting players develop into viable offensive options.

Go Heels!