Say this much about Carolina Football in 2019: it’s not boring. After five wins in two years, plus a 2016 campaign that ended with an inexplicable collapse in Durham and a complete no-show against the Wolfpack in Chapel Hill, Mack Brown has come in and restored the entertainment value in the football program.
Unfortunately, more wins haven’t come along with that.
Saturday Night was the latest example. Bryce Perkins was able to run roughshod over the team in Kenan, putting the Virginia Cavaliers in the driver’s seat for the ACC Coastal division crown. It leaves the Tar Heels needing two wins in their final three games just to qualify for a bowl. As has been the case in every game all season, there was plenty to like and plenty to hate, so let’s dig into that.
Dyami Brown: Brown only caught six passes all night, but made each of them count as he managed to get an eye-popping 202 yards, and scored three touchdowns. Matt had a great breakdown of his day in his Player of the Game profile, but the remarkable thing is that he didn’t just rack up numbers by catching bombs. Two of his monster grabs had a significant amount of YAC to them. His night was so good he has a highlight video:
The sophomore announced his arrival making the catch of the year against South Carolina, and he currently holds an absurd 21.21 yards per catch right now. He’s going to be a weapon for Howell for some time.
Sam Howell: Yes, when you go for 353 yards on only 15 completions and toss four touchdowns, you had a good night. Howell put up great numbers against one of the best defenses in the league, and seemed able to find the soft spot in the secondary with ease for an absurd amount of big plays. The yardage on Howell’s four TD passes: 47, 34, 50, and 42. He’s still a freshman, meaning he’s still making some head-scratching decisions. However, when you put up that stat line, give your defense 31 points to work with, and don’t turn it over you can’t ask for too much else. This tweet from David Hale puts the absurdity of Howell’s season in perspective:
Two QBs have:— Mr David (@ADavidHaleJoint) November 3, 2019
2400 passing yards
25 passing TDs
5 or fewer INT
One is Heisman favorite Joe Burrow.
The other is freshman Sam Howell.
Running Attack: Javonte Williams and Michael Carter were a huge reason why Howell was able to get those passes out there. The duo accounted for 185 yards on the ground, had several big gains, and averaged 6.1 and 6.2 yards per rush, respectively. Their dominance forced UVa to play tighter up front, which exposed their secondary for Howell to exploit. They also did great job in pass protection when needed, it’s just disappointing that neither were able to see the end zone. There’s some concern, though, as Williams appeared to get hurt late in the game. Him missing any amount of time would not be great news.
Defense: Last night is what happens when you have the culmination of a new staff, a young team, and have depth issues due to injuries. It had appeared that they had solved their problem of containing a running quarterback last weekend, but in retrospect it really was a case where Quinton Harris wasn't able to fully take advantage of a hobbled secondary. Bryce Perkins was. The issues were on full display at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, when the defense let Perkins easily score in the air and on the ground. It put pressure on the offense, and when they couldn’t answer on their first drive in the second half, the defense again let UVA score easily which created the hole UNC could never dig out of.
Letting one person account for nearly 500 yards of offense means you couldn’t get consistently pressure on him, and when one receiver gets 134 yards on 13 catches and another gets 93 on nine, well, you have problems in the secondary. The hope had been the return of Trey Morrison and Myles Wolfolk would be a help, but as they clearly weren’t 100% Virginia was ready to exploit it. The good news is that UVa is likely the best offense they’ll play the rest of the season, but the Cavaliers just laid out the blueprint for the rest of Carolina’s opponents.
Fourth Down/Red Zone decisions: You don’t want to pile on here, but fellow staff writer Jake Lawrence brought this up yesterday in the Three Things Learned: Carolina cost themselves points on poor decisions on fourth downs deep in opponent territory. The Tar Heels turned it over on downs three times on Saturday, and all three times they were deep in Virginia territory. Adding to this, on two of them you had short yardage on third down and weren’t able to gain a yard twice. It’s head scratching that with the rushing and passing attack Carolina has that they were unable to get short yardage when they needed it. On the other side of the ball, the coverage Carolina had on Virginia’s first fourth down conversion, aka the “fake punt,” was ridiculous. If you have an odd formation in obvious four down territory, maybe burning a timeout wouldn’t be a bad idea. That conversion basically got UVa off and running, and it once again makes special teams an area of concern.
Coastal Division title hopes: I know after the Virginia Tech game, I said we should put those hopes to rest, but the Coastal being the Coastal, Carolina had a realistic shot of winning the division by taking out the Cavaliers. They aren’t mathematically eliminated, but really let’s just drop any pretense that they’ll win the Coastal at this point. The good news for Carolina is that a Tier 1 bowl is still in play, even at 6-6, thanks to the ACC being the ACC. In short, when you look at the bowl assignments, by the time the Tier 1’s pick there likely won’t be four 8-4 teams left that would have to go to one of these over Carolina. Add to this the fact that you’ll have star power in Sam Howell and the guarantee of a close game, it’s very likely one of those four would be happy to take this team if they can get to 6-6. You have to get to 6-6, though, and honestly, any bowl at this point would be seen as a successful season.
Chazz Surratt once again led the team in tackles, racking up 13 solos, 15 total, and one forced fumble. He’d probably tell you he’d prefer to not be the leader if it meant it came in a win, but it still bears mentioning because they wouldn’t even have much of a chance this season if he hadn’t made the transformation he had.
Storm Duck came back after being in concussion protocol, which is admiral and provided help for the backfield, but it was clear UVa thought he was the player to exploit. Sometimes the best way to learn is by fire.
Antoine Green had been battling an up and down season and injuries, so it was great to see him get the other long TD pass by Howell, the 50-yarder that was actually Howell’s longest. Green only has five catches on the year, but two of them have been massive bombs.
Dazz Newsome also had a great day in the air, but provided the Tar Heels a chance on the last drive with a great punt return, something that the Tar Heels have had too few of this season.