You knew it was too good to be true, right? On ABC primetime for the first time in a long time, in essence their last chance to make some national noise before the Big 10 began their season, against a team that was staring at the bottom. It was all there for the Tar Heels to make a statement that they belonged with their lofty number five rating.
Instead, as happens so many times when Carolina Football has a chance to make a statement, this happened:
It would almost be impossible to play a worse first half of football than the Tar Heels did. Yet, despite all that, there they were with a chance to at least tie it as the fourth quarter wound down. Fans hoping that the team had put performances like this behind them after last year were sadly mistaken.
As you can imagine there’s a lot to go over for the second part of this post, but let’s go ahead and talk about the good first.
Javonte Williams: We’ll get into the end of the game in a second, as he was just one part of a bigger issue on that end, but Javonte had a game. 6.6 yards a carry for 119 yards and a rushing score, as well as three catches for 68 yards including a 38-yard TD catch meant that Williams accounted for almost half of the Tar Heels’ offense on the night. Williams continues to be a bowling ball trucking over defenders, and while it was frustrating that coordinator Phil Longo seemed to stick too long to the running game, it’s difficult to fault him for continuing to feed the beast. His touchdown catch with him coming out of the backfield might be something they should use more, maybe?
Beau Corrales: Only catching the ball four times and getting 141 yards and a touchdown is a model of efficiency, and it was a reminder that this team has a ton of weapons for Sam Howell to use. In fact, this reminder is what made the play calling so questionable because for a long time in the first half, it just seemed like the Tar Heels were trying to play Virginia Tech again. Beau is another threat teams will have to prepare for, and the senior is hoping to make a name for himself this season as a back door NFL pick.
2nd half defense: When you give up 24 points before halftime (7 were due to a pick six), it’s easy to hang your head and just give up. Instead, FSU only had two series where they even had a chance to get points, their first one was after halftime and the other was deep into the fourth. Both resulted in missed field goal attempts, and the Tar Heels sprinkled in an interception from Trey Morrison in there. It would have been great if the offense and defense had shown up on time, but Bateman’s squad at least gave the offense a chance.
The First Half. Just. All of the First Half: That was just bad. Horrifically bad. The offense got off to a decent start, but the drive stalled to the point where Carolina had to punt, and it just went all downhill from there. The blocked punt, the immediate cash in, the three and out, the tipped punt, the sack, the absolute head-scratching fourth down play under center that went nowhere, the bad collapses that allowed FSU another touchdown, the Pick 6, and then finally scoring a touchdown only to give up a complete and utter garbage touchdown before the half ended. That garbage touchdown was the difference in the game, as otherwise the Tar Heels would have completed the comeback and at minimum had a lead with under a minute left.
OC Phil Longo seemed to stick to the run too long and didn’t have Howell test the Seminoles deep, the defense got too blitz happy and was always a step late allowing FSU to complete some garbage throws as receivers would break open in the secondary, and special teams...oh, we’ll get to them. It was reminiscent of the first half against Wake Forest last year, and ended up with a similar result that somehow despite that half, the Tar Heels had a chance to at least tie. Credit the Tar Heels for coming back in the second, but we are at the point now where this team just can’t come out flat to start a half of football.
Special Teams: So, if you’ve been brought in specifically because either a) special teams weren’t good the previous year or b) the kicker couldn’t be relied on to make a field goal, maybe you should make special teams better or make a field goal. Jovan Dewitt came in this season to try and address a huge weakness of the team last season, the third phase of the game. Instead, FSU got two blocked punts, one that led to a touchdown the next play, and there were zero quality returns either on kickoffs or punts. Meanwhile, Grayson Atkins missed his only field goal attempt of 44 yards, which, you know, was the difference in the game. At this point, it may be worth just bringing Noah Ruggles back out, because at least he has a 49-yard make on his resume. In short, Dewitt is going to have a lot to answer for this week, and while all the coordinators should wear this game, Dewitt bears the biggest responsibility.
UNC Receivers: Drops, drops, drops...sing it to “Shots” and you can see where I’m going. Someone more talented than I could make a highlight reel set to that song with all of the crucial drops made by Carolina receivers over the past few games, including Saturday night. The biggest was, of course, Javonte’s drop on fourth down that ended the game but there was one from Corrales, Waltson, and more. It was so bad, it led to Bryan Ives to tweet this horrid fact:
North Carolina has dropped 6 passes on 32 targets on 3rd or 4th down this season.— Bryan Ives (@awaytoworthy) October 18, 2020
That is a drop rate of 19%.
Carolina’s receivers have got to start helping their quarterback, because this is beyond laughable.
You can’t call Sam Howell a winner based on that first half, which included the pick six and several times where he just seemed to hesitate getting rid of the ball. That said, he graded out as the best quarterback of the week, mostly based on a terrific second half performance that would have been even better had it not been for the drops. 20-36 for 374 and 3 TD’s is a great night, and had his receivers just helped him out a wee bit more, it would have been a performance all of college football would have been talking about...Chazz Surratt probably had the most “former quarterback playing linebacker” game of his career, being virtually invisible against the Seminoles unless he was missing making a sack. Overall, Jay Bateman may need to retool the way he’s using pressure because, right now, it’s not working for his guys up front...Garrett Waltson is starting to see some real play as a target, snagging not one but two passes, and if defenses keep playing Carolina’s threats tight, he should see his share go up more.