Carolina fans can be forgiven if they do not want to see another night game for the rest of the season.
Once again, a gassed-up Tar Heel team rolled into an ACC opponent’s lair for an 8pm kickoff to square up with a team with a losing record. Once again, they left with a 3-point defeat. Florida State punched Carolina in the mouth, and it took until the fourth quarter for the Heels to get things right before dropped passes on offense cost UNC a shot at victory. Last night, it was the defense’s inability to stop the run that ultimately sealed Carolina’s fate. Let’s take a look at how this Halloween ended with a few treats, but more tricks.
End of the 1st Half and beginning of the 2nd Half woes
This critical time period of every American football game, where momentum can lift or cripple a team, went about as catastrophically as you could ever imagine for the Tar Heels. With 2:13 left in the first half, Tomari Fox managed to sack Brennan Armstrong on 3rd & 15 to force a punt, a huge win for a tired defense that surrendered touchdowns on three of Virginia’s previous four drives.
On the ensuing punt, Toe Groves muffed the punt and Virginia recovered at UNC’s 20-yard line. The Cavaliers only needed three plays to punch in another touchdown. What should have at the very worst been a 20-20 tie heading into the locker room, was now a 20-27 deficit.
But there was time left for Sam Howell to cook!
Yes, you’re correct, and cook he did! Howell completed passes for 36 and 29 yards to quickly get Carolina to UVa’s 5-yard line. A pass interference against Dazz Newsome gave the Heels a 1st down with 12 seconds left. With the ball on the 2-yard, UNC could afford to take two shots in the end zone, take one shot and one run, or a shot and a field goal to close out the half. Instead, Phil Longo dialed up a backwards pass to Dazz, which was dropped/fumbled, and time ran out. What should have been at the very worst a 23-27 halftime score (or 27-27 if you’re optimistic) was still a 7-point deficit.
Virginia got the ball to start the second half and went on an 11-play, five minute touchdown drive. That’s about as bad a seven-minute period of football as you can ask for from a Carolina perspective.
Dyami Brown breaks loose
Virginia had plenty of injuries in the secondary and a stout defensive line. This combination was ripe for a big passing night for the Heels. Dyami Brown was the only player to really take advantage, having a career night with 11 catches for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
Fact: Sam Howell can sling it pic.twitter.com/OHMxwXrDex— ACC Network (@accnetwork) November 1, 2020
When Carolina was making their furious second half comeback, Dyami was the one shining light that put Virginia under extreme pressure by piling up yards and points in a small amount of time.
There was a Dazz Newsome sighting last night, as the slot receiver caught three passes for 58 yards, including a clutch 30-yard reception on 3rd & 8 for a first down at Virginia’s 16-yard line. Dyami’s little brother Khafre had a catch, a quick slant that he broke into a 76-yard touchdown strike.
In the future, Carolina will need more balance from the running and passing attacks. But none of that will matter if the last lesson learned continues to be a problem.
UNC’s run defense is trending in the wrong direction
Virginia’s offense was like a metronome, such was the steady, rhythmic pounding they gave UNC’s defense. Brennan Armstrong had 208 yards passing and three touchdowns, but it did not feel like he was carving up the Tar Heel secondary. All success that the Cavaliers enjoyed on offense was set up by the threat of the quarterback run.
Virginia had 11 offensive series in the game (six in the first half, five in the second), but if you combine the two series at the end of the first into one and discount the final series (which ended in kneel-downs to end the game) they only had nine. Carolina held Virginia to a three-and-out on their third series of the game and got a crucial end of third quarter interception, but in the other seven series UVa scored every time, including six touchdowns. That’s not the recipe for winning football.
Sam Howell and the offense were nearly up to the task of keeping up with Virginia. Carolina’s offense probably did their defense no favors by scoring so quickly and forcing them back on the field for more time-soaking drives, but the avalanche of Virginia touchdowns forced the offense’s hand. It was a vicious circle.
Duke does not nearly have Virginia’s running prowess, and Chase Brice can probably be counted on to make some boneheaded plays. But Wake Forest looks to be a problem, especially with their unorthdox slowdown draw style. Carolina seemed stuck in quick sand trying to account for Virginia’s QB-running style, especially when Keytaon Thompson was involved.
If you’re feeling a bit glum about the trouble Carolina had against Virginia’s quarterbacks, imagine Ian Book, who can run and competently throw. Sam Howell and the offense had better skip Thanksgiving until after the Notre Dame game. They’re going to need to score a lot of points to help UNC’s defense keep pace with the Irish.