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A strong second half effort was not enough as the Tar Heels fell to Florida State 28-31

Well that was excruciating.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina Pool Photo

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

That was the theme of UNC’s unfortunate defeat at the hands of the Florida State Seminoles. After rising to the top five of the AP rankings, the Tar Heels will take a slide back down before dealing with the NC State Wolfpack next week.

The Tar Heels started off the game stalling out on their first drive and having to punt. Florida State managed to block the kick, giving them excellent field position to get into the end zone to go up 7-0. The Heels and Seminoles then proceeded to trade unproductive drives for the rest of the first quarter, mostly due to the large amount of run plays that Carolina tried to execute against Florida State’s defense. This set things up for what would be a catastrophic second quarter.

After yet another stalled drive by the Heels, Jordan Travis helped march Florida State down the field before running the ball in himself for a touchdown. Howell then got the ball back after the score and on second down threw a pick-six on a pass intended for Javonte Williams in the slot. After falling into a 24-point deficit, the Heels finally managed to sustain a good enough drive to set Javonte Williams up for a one-yard touchdown. Having finally put points on the board, one would’ve hoped that the defense could make one more stop before halftime, but Jordan Travis once again gouged the Heels for large chunks of yardage before connecting with Camren McDonald for yet another touchdown.

When looking at what went wrong in the first half, there was almost too much to point to. Special teams did the Tar Heels absolutely no favors letting Florida State block the punt early, and Sam Howell committing to throwing the pass in the backfield cost the Heels seven points. Perhaps the biggest crime, however, was the lopsided play calling on offense. The Tar Heels fell in love with the run game in an effort to take advantage of what has not been a very good run defense this season from the Seminoles, and they unfortunately left a lot of pass plays in their back pockets. The Heels finished the half attempting 30 run plays and only 15 pass plays, At the time it could’ve been worse, and unfortunately there was a whole other half to play.

The Tar Heels went into the third quarter and managed to stop Florida State from putting points on the board on their first drive. After a failed drive of their own, the Heels got the ball back on a three-and-out and Sam Howell connected with Javonte Williams for a 38-yard touchdown. The Heels then closed out the third quarter with Howell throwing for another touchdown, this time connecting with Beau Corrales for a 33-yarder. The third quarter ended with Trey Morrison picking off Jordan Travis via a ridiculous one-handed grab.

Momentum was the name of the game going into the fourth quarter following that big time interception, but unfortunately the offense went three-and-out after two run plays from Michael Carter and an incomplete pass to Garrett Walston. The defense was able to keep Florida State out of the end zone yet again, however, and Ryan Fitzgerald’s field goal attempt from 38 yards away was no good. The Heels then marched down the field yet again and Sam Howell connected with Dyami Brown for a 25-yard touchdown. Only down three points, things were looking up for Mack Brown’s team. However, the final drive was...quite a thing to behold.

After being sacked on the first play of their final drive, Sam Howell found Beau Corrales for a 32-yard completion. Phil Longo then called for a run play from Javonte Williams, picking up 6 yards. Howell failed to connect with Antoine Green on the next play, but a flag was thrown for pass interference. Now that they had a fresh set of downs, Howell handed off to Michael Carter for what only amounted to a one-yard gain. Howell attempted to connect with Beau Corrales down the right side of the field, failing to complete the pass and no flag was thrown for holding despite the defender grabbing onto Corrales’ jersey. Howell failed to connect his final two passes, and the game was over.

There is so much to unpack from this game that it’s almost too hard to know where to begin. The cold, hard truth of this game is that the Heels’ poor play in the first half came back to bite them in the second half, and the level of fight they showed was too little, too late. From a micro perspective, it’s clear that this team isn’t quite ready for the top five position that they were crowned with last week. The reasons for that are many: the suspect offensive line, the defensive line that can’t create pressure, missed tackles, Sam Howell making sub-optimal decisions, and yes, highly questionable offensive and defensive play calling. The good news is a fair amount of this is fixable, but tonight it all amounted to the first loss of the season for the Tar Heels.

While it would be easy to dwell on how brutal this game was, UNC is going to have to watch film, learn from their mistakes, and move on to NC State. This game is undoubtedly going to be a dog fight in Chapel Hill, and if there’s anything worse than losing back-to-back games, it’s having the second loss come from that team in Raleigh.