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Tar Heel Hangover: Ups and downs

A frustrating home loss puts a pause on rebuilding success.

Virginia v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/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.

The loss at home to Virginia is frankly pretty hard to swallow. What should have been a defensive struggle turned into an offensive onslaught and the Heels could not keep up. The race for the Coastal division will not involve Carolina, but a bowl game is still a possibility in Mack Brown’s first season back. This team needs two wins.

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

I would figure out how to stop a running quarterback.

Bryce Perkins put up a career night against the Heels with 378 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air to go with 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. It was an impressive performance that kept the Carolina defense guessing all night.

Of course, this was not the first time the Carolina D was bitten by a running quarterback.

Had injuries and poor play not welcomed Quincy Patterson II to the game against Virginia Tech, then the Heels likely would have won. Despite not entering the game until nearly the end of the third quarter, Patterson rushed 21 times for 122 yards and a score and torched the defense. He added just enough of a passing threat (3 of 6 for 54 yards and a touchdown) to keep the linebackers off-balance.

Zach Thomas of Appalachian State was mobile enough to evade the Carolina rush and still move the ball. Primarily a passing quarterback, Thomas rushed 6 times for 57 yards including a 50-yard dagger.

Jamie Newman from Wake Forest ran all over the Heels. He finished with 19 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns to go along with 214 yards and an addition touchdown through the air.

Trevor Lawrence rushed 11 times for 45 yards but many of those carries were to avoid the very active Tar Heel rush. The argument can be made that Lawrence’s limited running game was the reason why the Heels held Clemson to only 21 points and nearly won the game.

The root cause of the issue is difficult to pinpoint. The line has done a good job of keeping the pressure on and generally fills holes well against the run. There are, however, wide gaps when the call is a straight pass rush. The linebackers are filling well, but are too frequently needed to assist the defensive secondary. This creates lanes for mobile quarterbacks to take advantage of. The tackling at times has been suspect.

Whatever the issue, there is not a lot of season left to figure out a solution.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The gridiron Heels have almost two weeks to prepare for a road game against Pitt.

Carolina basketball, however, opens the season at home Wednesday against Notre Dame. It is certainly an odd start to the year, prompted by the ACC network, to kick things off with a conference game. So what can be reasonably expected?

There will be a ton of excitement for Carolina basketball this year but there are too many newcomers to expect a perfectly smooth premier. With Brandon Robinson’s ankle injury, Carolina is now down one of its few veteran core players for the near-term. Wednesday will give fans a first true look at Cole Anthony and his highly anticipated freshman campaign. While a home win is anticipated, it will likely not come without a bit of drama as everyone gets used to the fast-paced Carolina offense.

Two days later, the Heels will travel to Wilmington to take on the UNCW Seahawks. It remains impressive year after year how Roy Williams is willing to travel and take on a challenging non-conference schedule. This will be a big early test for a talented Tar Heel squad.

Final Thoughts

The football season remains a back-and-forth affair as the peaks of success match the valleys of disappointment. Overall, it has been a successful campaign thus far from a team that flashes brilliance while always competing.

There is a lot of optimism surrounding the basketball team although that is matched with considerable uncertainty. This is going to be a wild ride.

Go Heels!