We are officially three days removed from what was clearly a pretty bad night for the Tar Heels. Credit to Florida State for punching UNC in the mouth in the first half, but the fact of the matter is that there were a number of self-inflicted wounds as well. The lesson learned? Underestimating your opponent/getting too comfortable causes nothing but problems, and Mack Brown agrees.
Brown, Phil Longo, and Jay Bateman all discussed the various miscues in Saturday night’s game in Tallahassee. Here’s what the head coach had to say about UNC’s top-five ranking and how that may have played a role in the lackluster first half against the Seminoles:
“As far as our top-five rating, we’re ahead of schedule as a team, our recruiting is going really well, we’re playing hard. But we weren’t the top five team in the country. Now part of that was because the Big Ten wasn’t playing yet. Part of it’s because we’d won two or three games, but I didn’t think we handled it well. I thought we were a little comfortable at Florida State instead of confident, and we got hit right in the mouth. And thank goodness we responded to it and came back and still had a chance to win. But I felt like it was a little bit like our response at Wake Forest last year after we’d beaten South Carolina and Miami.”
When discussing more specifically what happened, Brown had plenty of blame to go around. While he did give a lot of credit to the team for what he thought was an “unbelievable” second half, he stated that drops and sacks played a sizable role in the offense’s failure to complete drives in the first half.
Here’s what Phil Longo had to say about how pass protection may be the biggest issue plaguing his offense right now:
“I think probably that’s the area that needs the most improvement. I think we are doing a really good job run blocking. We’re doing a good job in play-action protection. I think our straight drop back protection right now is probably the area of emphasis for the week. And when and how we choose to throw those drop back shots I think will have a lot to do with keeping people off of Sam (Howell). How quickly and what plays I call in the drop-back game with regards to how quickly Sam can get rid of the football. I’ve got to help the O-line and help Sam in that respect, so we’re not sitting there holding.”
To say that Sam Howell looked uncomfortable for a large amount of the first half is quite the understatement. It was a rare sight to see Howell standing in a comfortable pocket without the need to scramble away from a defender. It’s really hard to knock Howell too much for some of the questionable decisions that me hade against the Seminoles, as he really hasn’t had a great deal of time to make the best decisions all season long (though it is worth noting that he is still playing really well). The run game has helped a lot when it works, but Longo will absolutely need to dial up some quick pass plays to get opposing defenses to think twice about going into their blitz packages.
Turning to the defense, Mack Brown expressed that the biggest issue that the team had Saturday night was the abundance of missed tackles:
“Defensively, we missed entirely too many tackles. We missed 19. That’s two weeks in a row we haven’t tackled well against good offensive players. We lost our eye discipline in the first half and guys are playing man coverage. The quarterback’s a good runner, so he’s scrambling, we didn’t contain him very well. And he’s looking downfield and we’re looking at him and they complete balls, which really, really hurt us.”
Jay Bateman went into a bit more detail about the tackling woes during his part of the conference:
“I think we’ve gotten smarter as football coaches. I don’t think you need to tackle to the ground every play to get good at tackling. When we talk about our kids tackling, it’s not an effort, it’s not a physical, it’s more of an angle and a finish-the-play situation. So we work on our angles and every time the ball is in space, we work on our angles. And so I think that’s the point of emphasis. And another thing is as a coaching staff, we’re committed to it. That’s the first five minutes we spend every day. The more talented team, the more tackles you’re going to miss, but it’s the good misses versus the bad misses and that’s where we’ve got to improve.”
It’s hard to combat that tackling has been arguably the biggest issue for this team recently. It’s been even more crippling when it comes to getting sacks, as both Virginia Tech and Florida State kept their quarterbacks upright comfortably. UNC only logged two sacks in the last two games, which is a huge drop-off in production compared to the 10 sacks that they had against Syracuse and Boston College. The Heels are going to have to figure out how to finish plays, or it may be a long day when Raleigh comes to town this Saturday.
As. I said in the recap of the game Saturday night, a lot of what happened against the Seminoles is fixable. Players and coaches alike are going to have to do their part in making sure the Wolfpack don’t roll into Kenan Saturday and deliver another big punch in the mouth. It’d be hard to believe that the Tar Heels won’t have a lot of fire going into this game, so we will have to wait and see how this annual dogfight turns out.