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UNC Football at FSU: Three Things Learned

It’s never easy being the hunted.

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Well that was an exciting Saturday night. UNC’s fast, if not consistent, start was brought to a halt by Florida State. The Heels will seek to regroup before N.C. State come to town, and Mack Brown remains winless in Tallahassee. Every worst fear was confirmed within the first two quarters, and a mad scramble could not save the top-5 ranking.

There are plenty of lessons and questions from last night’s loss. Where was the passing game between the hashes in the first half? Does the defense need to relax their blitzing tendencies? Was Phil Longo using a Magic 8 Ball to decide 3rd and 4th down plays?

Acknowledging that emotions may still be high and logic is not always fun, let’s see if we can find three things learned from the mid-season hiccup.

They Are Who They Are

Mack Brown was quick to point out earlier this week that UNC’s publicity doesn’t equal the product on the field. In honor of former NFL coach Dennis Green, four games into the season, it’s time to say these Heels are exactly who we thought they were. Flawed. Inconsistent. Explosive. Insanely talented and equally frustrating.

This is still a young and/or inexperienced team. Not taking the COVID-induced free year of eligibility into account, this offense has just two regularly contributing seniors in Dazz Newsome and Michael Carter (plus Beau Corrales and Garrett Walston). The defense has exactly two upperclassmen defensive backs on the entire roster (Trey Morrison and Patrice Rene). The defensive line lacks any NFL talent for next year’s draft.

Nobody on this team has ever won more than 7 games in a college season.

Living up to top-5 (or even top-25 expectations), on the road, in prime time, takes some some trial and error. That also includes coaches who have never been in that situation, such as Phil Longo and Jay Bateman.

That doesn’t excuse the special teams playing worse than a high school JV squad. Nor does it excuse the defense forgetting how to tackle, or the offense blowing timeouts looking for the perfect two-point conversion play with the ball placed just 18 inches from the goal line. Dropped passes, lack of pass protection, Howell holding onto the ball instead of throwing it away, and missed field goals are not new events for these Heels.

We’ve seen all of that for the past 17 games since Mack, Bateman, and Longo arrived, much less this season’s first three games. Last night, we just saw all the worst-case scenarios play out all at once.

Giving Points Away

Some quick math. Three empty-trips inside the 30-yard line, cost the the Heels anywhere from 9 to 21 points. Going under center at the FSU 25-yard line with about a yard and half to go on fourth down, stalled UNC’s first real threatening drive of the night. Most loved the decision, and hated the play call.

Ditto for stalling out at the FSU 6-yard line in the third-quarter after taking two shots at the end zone. Despite only needing three yards to gain a first down inside the 5-yard line, the Heels wasted 3rd and 4th down thru the air. Trailing 31-7 at that point, literally almost any decision other than the ensuing fade to Dyami Brown or crossing route to a double-covered Dazz Newsome made sense.

That was followed up by Grayson Atkins’ missed field goal in the fourth quarter, which was ultimately the final score differential.

Meanwhile, FSU was gifted 14 quick points off the blocked punt and Sam’s pick-6. Fuzzy math tells me that UNC had every opportunity to leave Tallahassee with at least a 37-17 victory. If you want to include FSU’s missed chances, fine. Add their two missed field goals for a 37-24 potential score line.

Yeh. Sure. Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Those don’t win football games. This isn’t meant as an excuse or emotional fan griping and whining. That’s what we hope N.C. State’s fans do next week. Instead, I simply want to point out that while Florida State deserves credit for putting UNC on the mat, the Heels deserve the blame for willingly staying there throughout the night.

It’s always frustrating when you defeat yourself so soundly that looking in the mirror is a waste of time because you already know who to blame.

Beau Knows

He only registered four receptions for a whopping 141 yards and a touchdown, but Beau Corrales gave the Heels something they’ve been missing all season long. UNC finally used a second legitimate deep threat that can stretch the field vertically and horizontally.

The lack of explosive plays for the Heels has been mentioned more than once this season. There are multiple reasons for that, but part of that issue was a reliance on Dyami Brown in the passing game as the only reliable deep threat. Corrales had been largely relegated as an afterthought (nine catches, 95 yards, 0 TDs) or run blocker. Considering he accounted for 40 receptions, 575 yards, and 6 touchdowns last season, it was an odd disappearing act.

Last night, his re-emergence added a dimension to the passing game that had been missing. For most of the game, FSU played with two high safeties and gave Brown 7-10 yards of of soft coverage. One safety would shade over to Brown, while the other patrolled the other side of the field. FSU then relied on mostly man-coverage underneath to deny the short and middle passing routes.

Beau’s size and length on the boundaries against FSU’s defensive backs eventually stretched the defense horizontally, opening up the middle of the field. His 6-3 frame also countered Brown’s speed on the opposite side of the field, resulting in 50/50 balls turning into 70/30 or 80/20 propositions. With the defense forced to refocus their attention out and up the field, Garrett Walston found space up the seam and between the hashes.

There are more weapons on this team than there are snaps, passes, and runs. Someone is always going to get forgotten about on any given night. Regardless, it’s still good to find and have options.

Beau’s productions was one of the few bright spots on the night. He’ll receive plenty of praise and deservedly so. Hopefully, it isn’t a one-time thing as the UNC offense keeps finding new ways to confuse defenses.