clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

UNC vs UVA: Three Things Learned

Welp. UNC is no longer a legitimate threat to win the Coastal, but we did take a few more lessons from the loss.

NCAA Football: Virginia at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Alright, folks. With UNC’s defeat to Virginia last night, any talk of a Coastal championship should officially be put on hold. At least until the Hoos lose to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech and UNC beats Pitt and N.C. State. This is the Coastal, after all. Nothing ever goes according to plan.

All supremely optimistic and irrational banter aside, it’s better to look at this game, team, and season with some perspective. Finishing at 6-6 or 7-5 and getting to a bowl is still possible and maybe even likely. At the beginning of the season, every single one of you wonderful readers would’ve taken that outcome and never looked back.

Truthfully, that’s what this team is. An up, down, frustrating, exhilarating, heart attack waiting to happen, middle-of-the-road team. In the first year of Mack Brown Redux, it’s better than anything UNC fans have experienced since 2015. The path has been a bit different than expected, but that’s why games aren’t played on paper.

So, with those qualifiers out of the way, what else did we learn last night?

Red Zone Play Calling

Look. I’ll jump on this one right away. Phil Longo called a great game. The offense put up 31 points while compiling 539 yards. Mixed 37 non-sack runs and 29 pass attempts with impressive and balanced success. Three touchdown passes were set-up by multiple punishing runs prior to the scoring play. The fourth can be attributed to Dyami Brown breaking tackles and putting on the afterburners down the sideline.

The offense continues to make improvements, despite starting eight underclassmen learning a new system, with a freshman quarterback. Three-and-out drives have decreased over the second half of the season. Yardage is increasing. Game flow continues to improve. Most of the complaints about the offense are completely overblown. And yet…..

The situational and/or red zone play calling is baffling. It was most apparent on UNC’s penultimate drive of the night. After getting down to the UVA 6-yard line on a Javonte Williams rumble, the Heels faced 3rd and 4. This was clearly four-down territory, with the opportunity to pick up an additional first down at the UVA 2-yard line. Yet, instead of trying to run it two more times for a fresh set of downs, the Heels took two shots at the end zone. Both fell incomplete.

Earlier in the game, on 3rd and 4 from UVA’s 20, UNC ran Javonte Williams in the Wildcat. Unsurprisingly, that wasn’t successful. It hasn’t been impressive all season long. That was followed by a 4th and 4 attempt, where Howell’s pass again fell incomplete. Again, if you decide you’re in four down territory, then why get cute?

If you remove Sam Howell’s six rush attempts, two of which were sacks, UNC averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Granted, Javonte Williams went out with an injury prior to those final two plays, but Antonio Williams wasn’t available as an additional blocker or for two attempts to move the line? No jumbo package to get an extra push for Carter? Not even a quick flare screen to get Carter in space?

I get it. UNC should have “executed” better. The WRs should catch the ball. Fine. But the head-scratching red zone play calls have been a trend all season. After last night, UNC ranks 103rd in the nation in RZ TD%. They’ve converted 35 red zone trips into 18 touchdowns. This isn’t just a UNC anomaly in Longo’s system. In his three seasons in Oxford, Ole Miss finished 107th, 93rd, and 122nd in the same metric.

Not great, Bob.

Where is the RB receiving game?

As noted above, it’s hard to complain with over 500 yards of offense, but in the past three games the trio of UNC running backs have caught a whopping three passes. For a team that increasingly finds themselves in close games and short yardage situations, one would think that all options would have been explored. That hasn’t been the case.

On the season, Carter has 15 receptions, 123 yards, 2 TDs, and an average of 8.2 yards per catch. Javonte Williams has 11 receptions for 110 yards – an average of 10 yards per reception. For a team that can’t find a consistent short and/or middle threat (because, you know, the whole WR corps has a case of the dropsies), this seems like a capability that could help keep drives alive. It should be noted, both of Carter’s receiving touchdowns came inside the red zone (see the above paragraph).

Last 2 Minutes, First 2 Minutes

Much like with basketball, the final five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half can be the difference in winning or losing. That belief held true on Saturday. North Carolina had scored 14 unanswered points to take a 17-10 lead with 2:06 remaining in the half. Virginia responded with a touchdown to tie the game, right before halftime.

The Fighting Thomas Jeffersons followed that up with a touchdown drive on their first possession of the second half. Or, more succinctly, Bryce Perkins scored on his own touchdown drive after running 65 yards on the second play from scrimmage. Virginia took a 24-17 lead that it never relinquished.

Those combined three minutes of game action ended any momentum UNC had created and continued a trend of UNC giving up untimely explosive plays. Throughout the season, the Heels have yet to play a full 60 minutes in all three phases. Fast starts are met with offensive droughts (Miami, App State, Clemson) or the defense gives up rapid fire scoring drives (Wake Forest, Virginia Tech, Virginia). Special teams have been an adventure all season, including last might when the UVA back-up QB lined up as a punter, and converted a 4th down on a “fake” punt.

Time and time again, the youth and inexperience of this team has struggled to bring urgency and intensity for a full game. The end and beginning of the first and second halves once again supported that observation.