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Tar Heel Hangover: Still winning

It is a luxury to complain about victories; welcome to Carolina football 2020.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Boston College Adam Richins-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s games, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the week ahead. After a couple of weeks off for vacation, strategically coinciding with no Carolina football, it is time to get back on the wagon. Or fall back off of it. Whatever.

The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.

Three weeks ago, I noted that “the Tar Heels looked rusty out of the gate.” This weekend was just more of the same. Only managing five second half points, yes five, the defense held tight (including getting two of those points) and Carolina escaped with a narrow victory. The explosive offense is yet to truly get on track but the Heels are 2-0 and ranked in the top 10 nationally. Plus, fans have plenty to complain about with these two wins. I guess everyone is happy.

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

I would head straight to read Three Things Learned after the game. Stepping in for Jake last week, Akil brought the hard-hitting analysis home. Constantly imitated but never duplicated, fans know where to learn things about the game. Akil’s article also begs the question of how good the running game could be if the offensive line can really get its act together? While it is certainly possible to be great at run blocking and simultaneously terrible at pass protection, a lot of credit for the success has to go to the rushers.

Michael Carter and Javonte Williams combined for 27 rushes for 178 yards, averaging over 6.5 yards per carry. Those are impressive numbers and the play selection reflected that success with Sam Howell attempting only 26 passes (and having 11 carries himself including sacks). Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned in the passing game.

Howell was great last year on deep throws, particularly in the second half. With speedy and sure-handed receivers across the board, the options to go long look great. The problem is that those routes take time to run and the offensive line has not yet proven up the challenge of providing those precious seconds. Four sacks by Boston College with limited drop-backs and two more by Syracuse should be indicative. Although the big strikes are a lot of fun to watch, quick hitters to play makers is precisely what the doctor ordered for this team. Coach Mack Brown has a week to redirect Howell’s eyes a little shorter and get some points on the board.

Key stat for the week.

Penalties. Maybe the 22 total accepted penalties for over 200 yards are just an indication of both teams being a little sloppy in an unusual and fan-less environment. For Carolina, however, 10 penalties for 96 yards is just too many. In the second half, it felt like every offensive drive was stopped and every defensive stop was negated by a Tar Heel penalty.

These are the kinds of mistakes that need to get cleaned up in practice and eliminated on game day.

Looking Forward: A quick peek ahead.

The long offseason, easy opener, offseason again, and winnable road game have come and gone. The Heels sit at 2-0 but have not put together a complete performance yet. They will need to this week.

Virginia Tech is a formidable opponent that is finally getting a full team on the field after an outbreak. Their victories are arguably better than, but comparable to, Carolina’s. The Hokies had a big win over NC State and a tough road victory at Duke. They have thus far run the ball very well, averaging almost 320 yards per game on the ground. Khalil Herbert has led the way with over 300 yards through two games, but do not discount junior quarter Braxton Burmeister who has 100 yards on the ground this season. The Tar Heels had difficulty containing mobile quarterbacks last year, including against Virginia Tech.

Carolina is allowing only 54 yards rushing per game this year. If they meet that average, or anywhere close to it on Saturday, then they will come out with a win.

Final Thoughts

Two wins but fans are hungry for better execution and more offense. A top 20 matchup may be just what the doctor ordered to get this team focused for 60 minutes.