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UNC Football at Virginia: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

At this point, it may be time to readjust expectations.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was bad enough that Mack Brown was unable to end his streak of losing against Florida State, but surely in a season where UVA was 1-4 coming in and not looking very good at all, he could get his first win in Charlottesville. Right?

After the first drive it sure looked like the Tar Heel team we expected. Then UVA just laid the hammer down, and Carolina took that hammer and nailed their own feet to the floor. By the time the first quarter was over, the Cavs had come out on the good side of a 23-point period, and never trailed again as the Tar Heels dropped to 4-2 via the 44-41 loss. While the game was different than FSU, it was no less frustrating because it saw Carolina make a furious comeback that just fell short at the end.

It was a frustrating result, for sure, so let’s just dive right into this week’s list.

Winners

Dyami Brown: Matthew named him the Player of the Game for a reason, as the sophomore had an absolute beast of a game. The numbers are ridiculous: 11 catches for 240 yards, and THREE, yes THREE, touchdowns. All of his scores were beautiful, and he didn’t have a single drop that hurt the team. He’s quickly emerged as the top receiver, and more efforts like this will earn him more national attention, as he’s already on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. He has 35 catches for 641 yards so far on the season and currently has a 55-yard lead for first place in the conference, and has done it with five fewer catches. He still has about 800 yards to go before he can think about being UNC’s all-time single season leader, and it’s tough to see that happening, but Brown is a deep threat that few in the ACC can keep up with.

Sam Howell: Yes, he had a critical fumble, and yes, he has to learn how to get rid of the dang ball, but come on. 23-28, 443 yards, four touchdowns, and no picks. That's the stat line that we had been expecting from the sophomore. Going into the game, it was pretty well known that UVA could slow down the UNC rushing attack, but they really didn’t have much of an answer for the passing game. Howell took that and feasted. When your quarterback puts up THAT stat line, you can’t blame him for the loss. He literally did everything he could.

Grayson Atkins: He went 2-3 on his field goals and made all of his PAT’s, and considering how much of a shipwreck both he and specials teams have been, he deserves credit here for overcoming his early season struggles. He nailed his first kick — a 51-yard bomb that probably would have been good from 60. He showed why Mack brown sought him out, and it’s tough to blame him for the one he missed as it was his longest attempt of the night, and came after a horrid set of downs that saw Howell take an unnecessary sack. Considering the adventures in the kicking game, if this is the level that fans can expect from him for the rest of the season, we’ll take it.

Losers

Jay Bateman: You’re going to notice a theme here, because it’s easier to single out the coordinator for a unit than it is to try and point out individuals. This game was, by far, Carolina’s worst performance on defense. FSU you could excuse away because of severe mistakes, and once the second half got underway, the Tar Heels tightened up and gave them a shot. Not the case on Saturday, as the defense continued to shoot themselves in the foot time and time again. UVA had the most productive half of the season, kicked the Tar Heels in the teeth to start the second half, and the defense couldn’t get a stop to give the offense one more shot. Some of this can be blamed on a lack of depth in the secondary, which is tough when that’s the section that Bateman focuses on for signal calling. However, for a coordinator that seemed to pride himself on being able to make adjustments, he’s stubbornly stuck to blitzing despite it proving to be ineffective. Offenses are now wise to Carolina’s shortfalls, and you can’t fool an experienced coach like Bronco Mendenhall. Bateman needs to take a serious look at his personnel and decide if its time to scrap his plans and start over.

Phil Longo: This is a little harsh considering the stat lines of the offense (see Howell’s numbers) and the mere fact that they put up 41 points should have been enough. He’s clearly given Howell a great chance to succeed, and there have been fewer instances this year where you want to question his decisions. They’ve adjusted to the lack of deep options by going more short-range, and the Tar Heels didn't punt once on Saturday night.

But what on earth was that play in the second quarter?

If you try to go online to watch the condensed game, it’s not in the package and you’ll need a valid login to see it on the ACC Network. 12 seconds left and no timeouts, you just let UVA walk into the end zone but you've managed to get into sight of your own in less than a minute. Somehow, though, you’ve decided the play you want to run is a backwards pass to Dazz Newsome. It is, literally, the worst option. Handing it off to Javonte was a better option there, because if he’s stopped you at least have time to clock it and get a chance at an Atkins field goal. The pass to Dazz takes more time, relies on him to make a play to get to the end zone, puts the ball further away from the hash marks, which would make the officials take more time to spot the ball. Oh, by the way, if what happens happened THE CLOCK KEEPS RUNNING. 12 seconds was enough time to get to quick shots into the end zone, and you have a treasure trove of receivers, a solid tight end, and Javonte Williams who doesn’t shy from contact and is a pretty good catching back on his own.

That sequence is a big reason Carolina lost. Getting a TD there completely changes the tenor of the game, and likely leads to a win...or at least overtime. Once again, Longo overthought things and needed to just keep it simple.

It’s not the only reason Carolina lost — see the defense above and what I’m about to say below — but Longo can’t escape criticism here. In the end, neither can Mack Brown for letting that play get to the line in a desperate situation.

Jovan DeWitt: Special Teams are so, so, so bad right now. Why was Toe Groves back to catch the punt when you have Michael Carter and Dazz Newsome who’s been handling this? You don’t want to criticize the kid for the muffed punt when there was no reason to put him out there in the first place. They tried to be sneaky with the last kickoff of the fourth, but it ended up out of bounds and very well could have been the reason why UVA decided to run the fake punt to seal the game. Then on the actual fake punt, no one bothered to call timeout to make sure the right defense was on the field, and the Cavs were easily able to convert. DeWitt was brought in specifically to fix a weak area for Carolina, and if anything they have regressed. Just being competent in special teams would have Carolina undefeated right now, and at this rate it wouldn’t be shocking if the Tar Heels have yet another special teams coach to start next year.

Honorable Mentions:

Chazz Surratt has seen his stock take some serious tumbling this season, it turns out that part of what made him so good was having guys like Jason Stowbridge up front with him, and now that the burden has shifted to him he’s looked out of place several times. For a guy only playing his second season as a linebacker, it’s clear that he has a long way to go and he’s still a marvel for doing what he’s done, but it may be time to pump the brakes on him while he gets better at the position...Kudos to Cam’Ron Kelly for coming back to play and for being the leading tackler at 12, 10 of them being assists. On the other hand, when you are a leading tackler as a member of the secondary and 10 of them were assist, it’s probably not a good sign for how your defense did...How spoiled are we as fans when Michael Carter and Javonte Williams only combine for 118 yards and a TD on the ground, and it’s considered a down game? Carter STILL managed to average 7.2 yards per carry...Khafre Brown has some jets doesn’t he? His one catch was that dynamic 74 yard TD catch that was mostly a 5 yard catch and a 69 yard touchdown run. It’s really unreal the amount of talent at the receiver group that Howell has to work with.