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UNC Football vs NC State: Positional Grades

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After a week of detention, Carolina moves back to the head of the class while NCSU sits in the corner wearing their dunce cap.

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

I don’t subscribe to the notion that sometimes losing is a good thing, but I will admit that it can refresh and refocus the mind. After Carolina’s tough loss to Florida State in Tallahassee, the Tar Heels had just the tonic to shake their doldrums; a rivalry game against NC State. The Wolfpack would have been wise to let sleeping dogs lie, but on Friday, they posted this video on Twitter:

Bookmark that. It’ll be important later.

On Saturday afternoon, Mack Brown took off his belt, put Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack team across his lap, and proceeded to spank their collective ass for the second year in a row. This spanking picked up in pace and ferocity in the second half, until the 11:19 mark in the fourth quarter when Mack decided to show mercy and put in his subs.

Because I must nitpick, there won’t be As across the board, but make no mistake. If NC State ever felt they had a chance in this game, it is because Mack Brown allowed it. NC State was beaten comprehensively. Completely. Totally.

Carolina beat them with style and flair. They beat them with wine and cheese. Carolina also beat NC State with their preferred pick-up trucks, lunch pails, dip, cold beer on a Friday night, hand-in-the-dirt, blue collar crap. If State fans are honest with themselves, truly honest, they know that their best days in this rivalry are over. Their chances at top prospects in the state are gone, unless Carolina decides to pass on them. Hell, if I needed an engineer in North Carolina, I’d hire a guy who went to Georgia Tech or VPI before I hired an NCSU alum. They have a dark cloud over their program and their soul. All that will follow is more loss and humiliation at the hands of those they hate the most.

Mack Brown might as well walk into the middle of the Brickyard and make this proclamation:

All right, it’s time for some grades. Let’s get to it!

Quarterback: B+

In the first game of the season against Syracuse, another defense that runs a 3-3-5 defense, Sam Howell was itching to get Carolina’s vertical game going and made some poor passes that kept things with the Orange closer than they should have been. Yesterday, he largely took what the defense gave him, throwing underneath and along the sidelines to eat up chunks of yards and gain first downs. He threw for 252 yards and a touchdown.

He also **mostly** eliminated the costly mistakes that put UNC behind the eight ball against Florida State, though he did take some bizarre sacks; one on the second drive of the game that took Carolina out of field goal position, and another on the first drive of the second half on 3rd & 10.

Sam will feel hard done by his receivers after he put pin-point accurate passes into their hands in stride, only for them to drop said passes for first downs, and in Dyami Brown’s case, a possible touchdown in the first quarter. He continued to run the ball well, both in design runs (he scored his first rushing touchdown of the season in the second quarter) and to keep passing plays alive by leaving the pocket.

Sam Howell is no doubt a leader, but he falls in the stoic/quiet leadership category. He showed something today that I haven’t really seen before, more edge. Observe him lead blocking for Javonte Williams:

Also, you may have heard about the fifth quarter of football games. As the quarterback, he is the face of the team. How he behaves during post-game interviews will usually reflect the attitude and spirit of the entire team to the media. When asked about the NC State video (top of the article) Sam was unsparing in his dismissal of the Wolfpack as a genuine concern to this team.

This is a man chastened in defeat to Florida State and now looks to be on a quest to punish the remaining teams on the schedule. NC State had the misfortune of 1.) being the little brother to the University of North Carolina and 2.) running into this offense after they struggled mightily against the Seminoles.

Running Backs: A+

I know I really lay it on thick with the Gruesome Twosome schtick, but Michael Carter and Javonte Williams are both just so good, and they are both bringing it constantly. Michael Carter will feel a bit let down after his game in Tallahassee, but he righted the ship immediately against NCSU, scoring a touchdown on Carolina’s opening drive. He cruised to the tune of 106 yards rushing, and caught two passes for an additional 46 yards.

Javonte Williams was even better, rushing for 160 yards on 19 carries (8.4 ypc average) and three touchdowns. His second touchdown was his most savage, as he essentially trucked over Garrett Walston who happened to be in his way to the end zone. His third touchdown was probably the easiest, it looked like he was out for a jog and was untouched.

But Javonte’s most important run wasn’t even a scoring touch. NC State managed to turn chicken shit into chicken salad when they had their quarterback pooch-punt on fourth down and got the ball inside Carolina’s one-yard line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Javonte picked up 24 yards to give UNC breathing room, and a 99-yard scoring drive followed. That put the score up to 31-7 and was fait accompli for the Wolfpack.

Both running backs gained tons of yards after contact. They wore out NC State’s defense, and really took the vinegar out of Payton Wilson. He was largely ineffective, though he did seem to be dealing with some injuries. This stat from Pro Football Focus basically tells you that the Wolfpack were getting destroyed trying to take Javonte down:

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: B-

As mentioned previously, NC State’s 3-3-5 formation presented Carolina’s offense with the opportunity to pound it mercilessly from the ground and with underneath passes. The Tar Heels were only too happy to oblige. When the script is going to be run-heavy, all opportunities for receptions must be grabbed with both hands.

I don’t mean this figuratively. Carolina’s receivers have got to stop dropping the ball! Garrett Walston, who probably thought it was his birthday with the volume he was seeing, had one pass hit his hands, and instead of claiming the ball and a first down, it bounced off him and was almost intercepted. At some point, against a non-garbage team like NC State, this will come back to haunt us. Oh, wait! It already has on the final drive in Tallahassee!

That’s not to say that the receivers didn’t do good things, they were just frustratingly inconsistent. On the first play of UNC’s second drive, Sam Howell completed a one-yard checkdown pass to Dazz Newsome, who shimmied and shook his way to a 14-yard gain. On the very next play, Dyami got loose deep on the left side and had a potential touchdown bomb hit his hands, then the ground.

I was briefly concerned when I read the news that Beau Corrales was out for the game. He was coming off a career day against Florida State and provided a different type of target for Howell to high-point passes to. No matter. Emery Simmons stepped in, and like a shiny new toy on Christmas morning, Sam Howell became fixated on the wideout, completing four passes to him in the first half, and missing on three others. Simmons looks like the real deal.

Kudos to freshman Josh Downs, who made his only catch a 17-yard touchdown.

Offensive Line: A

The point of the video above is that Sam Howell and the Gruesome Twosome had all sorts of time to make good decisions against NCSU.

Mack Brown was effusive in his praise for the offensive line, and boy did they deserve it. Coach said during the post-game interview, “I thought our offensive line was dominant today. And when that happens, your protection’s good.” Sam Howell was sacked three times, but two of them were really the quarterback’s fault for bad decision-making.

The running backs had room for days, and aside from a few tackles for loss or tackles at the LOS, they were making their usual chunk or explosive plays, thanks to the holes being opened by the offensive line. On Javonte’s second touchdown of the night, when he took the handoff, he did not feel an NC State paw on his jersey until his head had already cleared the goal line.

Brian Anderson, the much improved center, was so pleased after that touchdown that he asked the Gruesome Twosome to take a picture with him, so he could show his children and grandchildren some day that he in fact played with two UNC legends.

Brian Anderson and the Gruesome Twosome

Phil Longo helped the line out by varying his play-calling, so the Heels would not get caught in obvious passing downs. Howell’s pockets were mostly clean, and whenever your team rushes for a total of 326 yards, you did good.

Defensive Line: B

When I was watching the game in real time, I did not really notice anything good or bad from the defensive line. It looked like the linebackers and secondary were making most of the tackles, and the statistics bear that out. The overall team defense will be limited if Carolina’s defensive line cannot generate pressure and sacks on their own. Blitzing will always leave us vulnerable somewhere else on the field, and UNC’s nasty habit of not tackling players may lead to an unexpected loss.

Today, that was not a problem. The defensive line only had inept bozos in front of them, and a quarterback that couldn’t move the team, and then a new quarterback that could only throw sideways passes or hilarious interceptions that weren’t his fault. They also closed gaps and help shut down NC State’s running game. I’ll hope that Ricky Persons is okay, but at the end of the day, he and Bam Knight only combined for 53 yards rushing. For the entire game. Javonte regularly got about that much on a drive.

One bit of exciting play to keep an eye out for in the future was when freshman defensive end Des Evans, pursuing the quarterback from the right end, scooped up the fumble Chazz Surratt caused in the third quarter. That was a heads up play, as the fumble was almost recovered by an NCSU player.

Linebackers: B

Chazz Surratt shook off the Florida State game pretty well. He was once again Carolina’s leading tackler, with 8 total tackles (6 solo, 1 TFL) and a sack. He put a clean hit on Ricky Persons that knocked the star running back out of the game. He also had a great interception after Tyrone Hopper put a big paw on one of Ben Finley’s passes that actually was going directly downfield.

In one series in the fourth quarter (NCSU - 2nd & 10), Tomon Fox beats left tackle Ikem Ekwonu for speed and spears Bailey Hockman at his waist. The sack makes it 3rd & 18. Ekwonu is so frazzled by almost letting his quarterback get impaled that when Des Evans, (who switched sides on the line with Tomon Fox) stab steps before the snap, Ekwonu flinches. False start, five-yard penalty. Hockman completes a meaningless nine-yard pass to make it 4th & 14. Tomon Fox, still on the left side, beats right tackle Justin Witt for power, and sacks Hockman in his back. Turnover on downs.

The linebackers will have opportunities to make these types of plays later in games. Carolina’s offense should build sufficient leads that force opponents to throw, which will allow Tomon Fox and Chazz Surratt to use their superior speed to hit quarterbacks and make plays. They just need to make sure they wrap up once they make contact.

Defensive Backs: B

This gif has double meaning. First, I’m hopeful that Patrice Rene and Storm Duck are back soon. After a preseason that saw three secondary members opt out of the season, Myles Wolfolk lose academic eligibility, and various injuries and attrition, a position of strength suddenly became a liability.

NC State could not move the ball on the ground, but once freshman quarterback Ben Finley came in to replace the ineffective Bailey Hockman, the Wolfpack found some mojo. That mojo came in the way of bullshit sideways passes and numerous missed tackles from the Heels, but give credit where credit is due; NCSU did their scouting homework and put in a plan that worked.

The second meaning of the gif is that UNC’s secondary made a momentum saving play early in the second quarter, just when NCSU enjoyed a brief spark from their quarterback switch. NC State definitely should have had another touchdown on the board. Don Chapman blew coverage and released tight end Dylan Parham to the end zone. Finley threw accurately to him, and you can see that fellow Wolfpackers Emeka Emezie and Thomas Ruocchio have their arms in the air to celebrate.

They do not realize yet that Parham has bobbled the pass, and Don Chapman snags the ball while it floats in the air, despairingly out of reach to the fallen Parham who watches helplessly as Chapman drags a foot to gain possession for the Tar Heels. This is proof positive that God hates NC State and seeks to make them suffer during their brief time on Earth.

Cameron Roseman-Sinclair got an interception late in garbage time. The game was decided long ago, and the pick for Hockman was karmic retribution for NC State throwing the ball in a decided contest after Mack Brown showed mercy. He may not be so kind to the Wolfpack next season.

Special Teams: C+

My kingdom for a kicker who can hit a comfortable 22-yard field goal!

This grade all comes down to the field goal kicking. Jonathan Kim did his usually excellent business on kick-offs, not allowing NC State any returns. Punter Ben Kiernan only punted three times for a 38.7 yard average, and dropped two inside the NC State 20-yard line. Dazz Newsome could only return one punt for 8 yards, and came awfully close to letting one that he decided not to catch end up on the 1-yard line. He was very lucky Payton Wilson couldn’t get to it on time.

The field goals. In a game of fine margins like football, we have to have a kicker we can count on. For Carolina to reach the heights it wants to crest, they will have to beat better teams with better defenses that keep Sam Howell and the Gruesome Twosome from scoring touchdowns all afternoon. The Tar Heels could potentially need a field goal going away to tie or win a game.

How does that notion make you feel right now? It makes me a little ill.

Fortunately, Mack Brown showed faith in Grayson Atkins. After missing a chippy in the second quarter, the kicker hit his next two (from 40 and 33 yards out). It appears that we ride or die with Atkins, so let’s hope we keep scoring plenty of touchdowns. Grayson hasn’t missed a PAT yet (furiously knocks on wood).

Coaching: B

Mack Brown is a leader and a gentleman. Dave Doeren is a man who knows that time is running out.

When Mack did the kind, decent thing and put his subs in and instructed them to only run the ball, he did NC State a favor. He tried to help them save face, return to Raleigh with dignity. Doeren passed and pushed tempo as if there was some time warp that would make a comeback possible.

No more. Next year at Carter-Finley, Mack needs to deliver another deathblow then salt the earth. Or... maybe he lets it slide. No point in pushing Doeren too far off the ledge; keeping him employed at NC State is agreeable to UNC’s ambitions in local recruiting and the ACC standings.

Phil Longo did a better job of varying the play calling. He took the passes that were available to him, stretched the defense out, then gave them a steady dosage of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter until they withered on the vine.

Jay Bateman’s defense continued to allow long drives, but were able to get off the field quickly at opportune moments, and they managed to turn NC State over four times (three interceptions and a fumble recovery). That’s good work with an offense like UNC’s, and should be a winning formula against Virginia, Duke, and Wake Forest.

Someone has got to stand up and take responsibility for the heinous clock management at the end of the first half. Letting 15 precious seconds burn off the clock when you aren’t in the red zone is asinine. Never again!

Bonus Grade

Carolina’s Social Media Team: A+++

Remember the NC State hype video that I posted at the top of the article? The good folks that run @TarHeelFootball posted a reply video at the end of the game that put that nonsense in the dirt.

They weren’t finished:

Finally, they had a subtle dig at NC State’s overall claim that they have a blue collar culture that Carolina lacks.

The implication is that Carolina is not tough, does not want to work hard, and is somewhat less than. Based on the evidence of Mack’s first two games against the Wolfpack, I’d say it’s time for NC State to workshop some new material. This blue collar thing isn’t working.