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UNC Football: Sputtering offensive start vs Florida State

Carolina’s offense did something for the first time this season against the Seminoles: not score a touchdown on their opening drive.

Opening drives have been Carolina’s jam this season. In the three games played before the Tar Heels laid an egg in Tallahassee, UNC scored touchdowns on all of their opening drives. To wit:

  1. Syracuse (home): 10 plays, 65 yards, scoring play - Sam Howell 11-yard pass to TE Garrett Walston (2 runs, 7 pass plays, 1 sack, 1 penalty for UNC, 1 penalty for Syracuse)
  2. Boston College (away): 12 plays, 83 yards, scoring play - Sam Howell 24-yard pass to WR Khafre Brown (5 runs, 6 pass plays, 1 sack)
  3. Virginia Tech (home): 11 plays, 75 yards, scoring play - 1-yard run by Javonte Williams (6 runs, 6 pass plays, 1 penalty)

All of these drives were methodical, taking at least 10 plays to get down the field. Only the Syracuse game lacked good balance between run and pass plays (doubly strange considering the Orange played a 3-3-5 defensive formation). So what kept Carolina from continuing their pattern against Florida State?

It was probably a combination of UNC’s film against Virginia Tech, and Florida State’s film against Notre Dame.

The combination of this film was likely seductive to Phil Longo, who probably looked over his shoulder at Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, then back at Florida State’s defense, and went like this:

But just as the seductive song of the siren caused ships to crash into the rocky shoreline, so too did Phil Longo crash the Tar Heel offense by being too clever for his own good. Where previous drives had balance, or went pass heavy, Carolina’s opening drive against the Seminoles focused exclusively on their perceived weakness.

Let’s take a look at where things started to go wrong.

On the opening drive, Michael Carter, playing in front of 16 friends and family members, gets off to a quick start. The first two plays go left, with lineman Marcus McKethan and tight end Garrett Walston both pulling from the right side. On the first play, Walston makes his block at the edge on linebacker Emmitt Rice for a 6-yard gain, and on the second play, gets to the second level and blocks safety Jaiden Lars-Woodbey a good ten yards downfield as Carter gains another 13 yards for the first down. (Quick aside, on that second play, Dyami Brown downfield blocks corner Asante Samuel, Jr. so well, it would make @3YearLetterman nod in approval.)

Michael Carter definitely has juice, so the Heels roll with him again. Carolina’s offensive line didn’t do anything especially wrong on the next play, but defensive tackle Marvin Wilson stunts and makes a great play after re-engaging at the line of scrimmage. Javonte Williams checks in for Carter.

Garrett Walston has lined up on every play so far one step behind the right tackle. The next play will be a counter draw to the right. Unfortunately, right tackle Jordan Tucker loses his one-on-one battle with defensive end Janarius Robinson after the Seminole engages and sheds him to set the edge and drop Javonte for a 3-yard loss. Walston, who had blocked so well on the previous downs, was lost in space. He could’ve helped Tucker on his right side, or at the least cracked on a linebacker, but instead he kind of dithered around with nothing to do.

This set up a 3rd & 11, and Beau Corrales dropped Sam Howell’s first pass of the night, which was well short of the first down marker anyhow. An inexcusable blocked punt ensued, and was followed by a one-play touchdown drive. Carolina was wrecked on the shoreline two minutes into the game.

With all of the neglect they put up with, I almost feel like Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome could’ve returned to the sideline and had this conversation with Phil Longo after the first series:

With NC State coming up next, it would be wise for UNC’s offense to return to a balanced attack and not let the Wolfpack defense key on anything they feel gives them an advantage. Carolina’s defense needs their offense to score lots of points, and the earlier the better. Having UNC score on their opening drive will likely propel Payton Wilson, NC State’s version of Yosef, to similarly declare to Sam Howell and company, “I liked you a lot more before you humiliated me!

Saturday can’t come soon enough.