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Tar Heel Hangover: Dealing with loss

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It was a hard weekend for Carolina fans. Let’s figure out what’s ahead.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 05 The Citadel at North Carolina Photo by Tim Steadman/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s game, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

The first half was a disaster that could not be overcome. A great second half comeback was nearly enough but the mistakes of an entire game finally caught up (or dropped) with the Heels. There is no doubt this was a significant setback in prime time.

Water Cooler Discussion: If I were the coach . . .

There are a lot of changes that need to be made this week.

Let’s start with special teams. I was a big fan of getting Grayson Atkins. The graduate transfer from Furman was a FCS All-American and a big get for the Heels. Now, he is on shaky ground after a streak of missed field goals. It is time to sit him down for a game or so. Keep in mind that everyone gets a free year of eligibility this season. That means that getting Atkins’ confidence back on the big stage could still yield huge benefits through the end of 2021. Additionally, just getting off a punt has to be a part of practice this week.

Also, burning all of the two-point conversion plays should be in the works. In addition to failing, they apparently each cost a time out as well. In a close game those might be needed.

For the defense, perhaps tackling drills are in order. I know that this is a young squad and that there have been some losses in the secondary, but equating a mobile quarterback on a horrible team to a loss is not acceptable. Chazz Surratt looks totally out of sync. He still seems to be in the right place, but his inability to finish plays really turned the momentum at the end of the first half. Actually, aside from that drive, the defense was not terrible. Florida State scored 31 points in the first half but that included a pick six and two blocked field goals. Take away those mistakes and it is 10-7 at the half. A shutout second half helped. Giving up 432 yards to a terrible offense is still bad.

The offense was good once the game was teetering on a blowout. Coaches should stand on the sideline all week and yell “pretend its third down (or fourth down)” during passing plays. Drop a ball and you don’t get to play on those downs this weekend.

Also not able to participate is any coach who called a fourth down play or a red zone play or a two-point conversion play.

All joking, satire, and frustration aside, one must look at what lies ahead. This is a team that can still make the college playoff. Yep, I wrote it. Last week, I questioned in the byline if this was really a top five team. It is not, yet. But the pieces and potential are there. Here is what it will take:

  1. The Heels must win out. This includes a victory in the ACC Championship. A one loss ACC champion will make the playoffs this year. By the way, I do not care what they are ranked, Georgia is in the same boat. Two losses to Alabama and they are out.
  2. The ACC win has to be against Clemson. Carolina does not play Clemson in the regular season and the head-to-head win is needed to make sure the Heels are ahead of the Tigers in the rankings.
  3. Florida State has to not be totally terrible. They are really bad, but this loss can’t be an absolute albatross around the season’s neck. Give me 2 or 3 more wins and that will due.

Here is what I am assuming:

  1. No Pac-12 team will make the playoff. There were six games cancelled this week for COVID-19. Out of 30. The Pac 12 does no have enough bye weeks built in to accommodate the cancellations that will occur. They are just starting too late.
  2. No one from outside the Power 5 will make the playoff. An undefeated Cincinnati or SMU would not finish ahead of a one loss ACC Champion with wins over Clemson and Notre Dame. Ok, maybe they would get the 4 spot, but the ACC Champ would still get in.
  3. There are not two one-loss SEC teams. This is the issue. Both of the SEC teams would get in along with Ohio State and perhaps an undefeated Big 12 team. The Big 12 is horrible, but undefeated in a major conference is still good. All of that won’t happen.

There you have it. Win out and the Heels are in. This is college football after all; the regular season does not matter nearly as much as everyone says it does.

Key stat for the week.

Consistent scoring. Although the defense barely showed up against Virginia Tech, the offense put up consistent scoring throughout the game and kept the Hokies at a safe distance. In every other contest this year, the Heels have had a half where they scored 7 points or fewer. That is just not going to get the job done this year. The offense is too loaded to fall asleep for lengthy periods of time.

This team will win if it scores a lot of points and it should always score a lot of points.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

NC State is better than they usually are, at least their record is. They have a lot of wins over lower tier conference foes and now will face the best offense they have seen this year. The Pack has squeaked out a couple of close wins and gotten blown out by Virginia Tech. The Heels need to come ready to play for four quarters and put up a lot of points on a team allowing over 30 points per game. Do not give them hope.

Final Thoughts

Saturday was a set back but it is not a season ender. It is time to get down to business and start a real winning streak. Hopefully the Heels will use the loss as a wake up call.