After thrilling finishes in the first two weeks, Carolina’s fourth quarter magic ran out on Friday as they couldn’t come all the way back from being down 21-0. It’s absolutely amazing they had a chance at all as the offense was horrid for the first three quarters, and injuries continued to plague the Tar Heels at key spots.
There was more bad than good on Friday night, but still, some positives should be pointed out. Let’s take a look both the good and the bad from Winston-Salem:
Ben Kiernan - No offense to the Irish-born Kiernan, but his leading this off should give you an idea about how most of the game went if you didn’t know already. Kiernan took a lot of heat for his performance in the first two games, most of it warranted. On Friday night, he was a weapon. The offense was so inept that Kiernan had to punt ten - yes, ten - times, and the same punter who averaged sub-30 yards per kick last week against Miami averaged 46 yards in Winston-Salem. This included three 50+ yard kicks, including a 57 yarder, and he had only one touchback. On top of that, Wake wasn’t able to get a long return on any of them. Kiernan deserves a ton of credit for shaking off the issues he had last weekend and consistently pinning the Deacons back. Hopefully his Saturday was filled with his leg in an ice bath.
Dyami Brown: Matt covered this on Saturday in his Player of the Game column, as Brown made the most of his three catches getting 84 yards. This included catching a 55 yard bomb from Howell, and then the touchdown on the same drive. Brown has really blossomed into a great weapon, showing that his miracle catch in the South Carolina game wasn’t a fluke.
Second Half Defense: Whenever a team makes a comeback, we somehow forget about the side that keeps the top end of the margin stable for the offense to catch up, so let’s shout them out here. The defense was having trouble with Wake’s delayed handoff the whole of the first half, and while you can’t blame them for one of the touchdowns because of the fumble from Javonte Williams (more on that in a second), three scores in quick succession really put a damper on the game quickly that lasted into halftime. In the second half, the defense held Wake to just three points, and that was on Wake’s last drive where they were trying to milk the clock. The five other drives in the half saw four end in punts, and the other end with a Myles Dorn pick off. Even when the offense wouldn’t take advantage, the defense went right back out there and kept the Tar Heels in it. Fight like that is good to see, especially considering the results of the past two seasons.
Sam Howell (The first three quarters): Fans were wondering when Howell would hit his wall and he face planted right into it on Friday. Some of the blame goes to an offensive line that was missing Nick Polino from the start, and saw both Charlie Heck and Jordan Tucker get hurt during action, but give credit to the Wake defense. They schemed well, stuffed Carolina’s running backs, and gave Howell difficult looks to where it felt like he was seeing ghosts pretty quickly. Howell was sacked six times in the game, and most of those sacks felt like they came on a delay when he had plenty of time to make reads. It was bad enough to where Howell was benched for the last two drives of the second quarter, to try and slow the game down for him. Maybe the scoreboard in Kenan should just stay with a “4” under the quarter heading from here on out.
Running Backs: The one promising drive Carolina had in the second quarter started with a 17 yard run by Javonte Williams who then promptly fumbled the ball and gave it right over to Wake. Wake scored in just two plays and they were off and running for the rest of the half from there. Williams’ other eight rushes gained a total of thirteen yards. Michael Carter had a great stats day, 13 for 96 yards and a receiving touchdown, but he also struggled for much of the game, plus he was the one who didn’t go down or go out of bounds before the clock ran out. Lest you think I’m being to hard on Carter here, he owned up to this very mistake after the game. Williams’ and Carter’s lack of production contributed to the panic that Howell faced for a majority of the game.
The Last Drive: Instead of filling this column with everything that went wrong on the last drive, I broke it all down yesterday. It does speak to another clock management issue by the Tar Heels, and the hope is that the combination of a freshman quarterback with a new offensive coordinator are learning from their mistakes as they go. Meanwhile, though, sideline management on gameday hasn’t been fantastic.
Fourth Quarter Sam Howell was outstanding, he just doesn’t get to be a “winner” because he was so bad in the first three quarters, and his catch of his batted ball on the last drive was a big reason the final play was so rushed...Trey Morrison lead the teams in tackles on Friday. Good for him, but it’s probably not a great sign when a defensive back is your leader in tackles...Noah Ruggles nailed a 49 yard kick in the third to finally put the Tar Heels on the board. The sophomore is 6-8 this season with one of those misses being a block. With kicker being a big question mark headed into the season, it’s good to see a steady foot...Myles Dorn had an up and down day, but provided a big spark by getting a third quarter interception that led to that Ruggles kick. It was disappointing at the time it didn’t lead to six, but in retrospect it was just the spark the team needed to get the offense rolling. Carolina would score on their next two possessions.