It wouldn’t have been 2019 Carolina Football if it had been too easy on Saturday, would it? However it happened, for only the second time this season, Carolina entered the fourth quarter safely in the lead against a Power 5 opponent. In that short span, the few fans who had braved the weather in Carter-Finley Stadium headed for the exits and the Tar Heels were able to celebrate a cathartic 41-10 win over the Wolfpack.
For the last time in the regular season –but not the last of 2019!– we go over what was great, what wasn’t, and what deserved a mention in Saturday’s football game.
Sam Howell: Look, maybe it’s getting repetitive to always put him at or near the top of this list but the fact is this: Carolina does not go to a bowl game without Howell. He completed an amazing regular season by tossing for 401 yards, three touchdowns, and only one pick. Perhaps the best part of those yards were how many of them came on short tosses to the check down player and were YAC. The second touchdown came on this play, which was after a short pass to Javonte one play earlier
This type of pass hasn’t been in Howell’s repertoire this year. That inability to throw it in the first half led to the horrible interception on a ball that he had no business throwing. Considering Howell hasn’t had many of those this season, it’s easier to remember he’s still a freshman.
But yes, he can still throw the deep ball:
This was the fourth touchdown of the quarter for the Tar Heels, and Howell operated the offense with precision once things started rolling. This game locked him into All-ACC as a quarterback, it’s only a question of whether he’ll be first or second team.
Javonte Williams: I’m a huge fan of the movie Major League. As a lot of things from the 80s, there are things that probably wouldn’t be written today, but anytime one player acts as if they are just frustrated with the help around them and takes over, I think of this scene (language). I thought of that scene as Javonte did this:
Then did this.
You already saw what he did on the second score. Then he did this:
His stat line may only have read 56 yards on nine carries, and 42 yards on three catches, but at a time when Carolina needed to cash in on the poor play by the NC State offense, Javonte basically said “I’ll do this myself,” and did it to the tune of three touchdowns in one quarter.
Third quarter defense: The defense, honestly, was the least problematic unit on the field Saturday as even the ten points given up to State seemed like mostly a fluke. What problems they did have in the first half quickly disappeared after they left the locker room. Here’s what NC State did in the second half: Punt, Interception, Punt, Fumble, Interception, turnover on downs, Interception. Each one of those turnovers except the last one led to a UNC score, and that only happened because Carolina was able to end the game. Chazz Surratt specifically capped off a storybook year leading the team in tackles with ten, one of them being a sack and two being for loss. In short, once the defense got their first turnover and the offense quickly cashed it in, the rest of the game just rolled downhill. Jake went over this yesterday, but what Jay Bateman has done considering everything handed to him is remarkable, as are the players that are left standing at the end of the year. A bowl trip is a fitting reward.
Bowl options: Hey, it’s the last game of the regular season so why not have a fourth? If you had been following the ACC results of the day along with this handy guide that someone gave you on Monday, you’d know that Saturday’s games broke about as perfectly for Carolina as it possibly could. Louisville and Pittsburgh both lost, and now a Tier 1 bowl is possible. More predictions and info will come out during the week, and I will post an update on Friday before Championship Weekend.
The First Half Offense: You’d have been excused for thinking Carolina was going to let their season slip away based on how things went in that first half. The pitiful Red Zone woes continued, as they could only muster two field goals on their two longest drives of the half, plus Sam Howell had his worst turnover of the season when he sent up a wounded duck straight into the hands of the Wolfpack. They cashed in a few plays later, and the crowd in Carter-Finely was smelling upset. Even though things got a lot better after halftime, the offensive staff –players and coaches– need to spend the offseason getting better in the Red Zone. It could be the thing that keeps Carolina from hitting that next level.
Game Day Cleats: You know what hurts your offense? Playing on a slick field with cleats designed to be used on artificial turf. The first play from scrimmage should have been a warning to everyone that they had the wrong shoes on as Michael Carter slipped badly after a gain, and then had to go off the field when the offense was ready to just immediately give it right back to him. It gave the Wolfpack a chance to recover and ended their first drive, which set the tone for the half. The conditions in Carter-Finley basically justified Mack Brown’s decision to switch to artificial grass, especially when you see how well Kenan stood up to similar conditions last weekend.
Punt Protection: For what seems like the umpteenth time, Ben Kiernan almost had a punt blocked as the special teams group got through the projection and came within a whisper of creating a major play. Give Kiernan credit for how he handled the pressure and has avoided the blocks, but in evaluating things this offseason, one suspects Brown is going to take a look at Special Teams and wonder if some changes need to be made.
Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome were beasts catching the ball, each catching a touchdown, and going for 150 and 130 yards respectively. In just about any other game this season they would be getting a ton more praise, and they deserve it for their work under the conditions Saturday...for as good as Javonte Williams was, Michael Carter was the leading rusher on the day, going for 97 yards on 16 carries. The Law Firm will get to play one more time in its current form, and it’ll be a real joy to see them on the field one more time...the turnover belts really were popping on Saturday as Jeremiah Gemmel grabbed a fumble, while Myles Dorn, Trey Morrison, and Don Chapman all picked off the NC State quarterbacks...Finally, let’s just end with this perfect gif of Ty Murray for no particular reason: