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Tar Heel Hangover: Back on track

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A blowout win against a (non)rival has the future looking bright.

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/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.

I am not going to re-post it, but I thought the Wolfpack hype video was very well done. It clearly did not work, but that does not mean that the staff should be devoid of compliments. In fact, those social media editors were perhaps the best State participants of the week.

All joking aside, the Heels have now blown out both of their top 25 opponents this year. That seems like a source of optimism.

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

Mack Brown relayed this week that the Heels do not know how to handle success. He is correct. The next several weeks will be a good test to see if they have learned their lesson. With two upcoming games against one win teams, complacency could be easy to find. Instead, the focus must remain on execution and blowout wins.

Success plays out in a handful of ways for this team. Special teams remains a question but at least the last two fields goals were a nod in the right direction. I would have pulled Grayson Atkins after the chip-shot miss but credit Coach Brown with taking my advice from last week and sticking with the transfer. One day, Carolina fans may look back on that decision as pivotal. Of course, it is made easier with a big lead and a dominating offensive performance. Atkins should thank Sam Howell, Javonte Williams, and Michael Carter for yet another chance.

The secondary specifically and pass defense generally, stressed from injuries, turned in a good performance. Three interceptions including one by Chazz Surratt, is a big step forward. Giving up 358 yards passing is not great. Blow out victories allow substitutions from the bench and grant precious time to heal. This could be a very different unit in a month or so.

The big question for the coaching staff is what the offense should look like. This is a dominant running team, which usually equates to major ball control. Nearly 40 minutes of possession against State is exhibit one. That seems like an odd juxtaposition against the no huddle kind of hurry that Carolina runs. Finding the balance will be key.

Now, let’s check in on the playoff checklist for the week:

  1. The Heels must win out. Check.
  2. The ACC Championship win has to be against Clemson. Check.
  3. Florida State has to not be totally terrible. Not great. It is very uncomfortable for Carolina fans to root for the Seminoles, but the time has come.
  4. No Pac-12 team will make the playoff. TBD. By the way, how does an Oregon team that has defeated only offseason slumber pass Carolina in the ranking?
  5. No one from outside the Power 5 will make the playoff. I did not see the blowout of SMU coming. Cincinnati is now in a good spot with no ranked opponents left. This one is in question.
  6. There are not two one-loss SEC teams. Still four teams left with one or fewer losses and no one with a tough matchup this week.

Key stat for the week.

First half scoring margin. 21 point lead in the first half against Virginia Tech and 10 against NC State. Both top 25 opponents were forced to play from behind and that is a tremendous amount of pressure against the Carolina high-scoring offense. Everyone knows how good Carolina is in the fourth quarter, but the best comeback is one you do not have to make. Play hard early and win big.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

On first glance, the 1-4 Cavaliers appear to be terrible. They score about 24 points a game and can move the ball, but this has not been a successful year. Keep in mind, however, that two of those losses are against Miami and Clemson. One could argue that a total margin of defeat of only 23 points against those two teams is actually pretty good. Sticking to the game plan and surviving a night game could be scary. When Dr. Seuss meets Halloween, all the Hoos down in Hooville will will all cry BOO hoo.

Final Thoughts

A great win over State gets the season back on track. This is a team that could be finding its stride and getting ready to make big moves.

Go Heels!