Look, after generations of getting close to the top only to stumble, Carolina Football fans are right to be done with trying to take moral victories. It’s tough to continually get punched in the...we’ll say stomach...repeatedly and try to find something good to say about a loss against the number two team in the country, but here we are. After a great first half, the Irish took over in the second. Despite a pretty valiant defensive effort, the Tar Heels fell at home on Black Friday 31-17.
The great thing about this post is that it forces us to look at both the good and the bad, so we can find the silver linings in the game while still pointing out the miles the Tar Heels have to climb to hope to be at the level of a Notre Dame or Clemson. Last year, Carolina snuck up on an unsuspecting Clemson team and almost bit them. This year, the Tar Heels learned what it was like when a team takes you seriously.
Let’s go ahead and sing some praises, hold our noses, and point out what we all saw on Friday.
Dazz Newsome: After getting off to a sluggish start, the senior was all over the field for his quarterback on Friday. Newsome’s final line may have looked modest: six catches, 64 yards, zero touchdowns, but he was a playmaker on the outside that allowed the Tar Heels to move the chains when everything was bottled up. The sideways pass to the sideline was open a lot for Newsome, and for the most part when he was given space, he did something with it. In retrospect, one would think that maybe he could have been used a little bit more in the second half to exploit Notre Dame missing their All-American safety, but not much was working at all for the Tar Heels so it’s tough to know if they forgot about him or if Howell just couldn’t get it to him. Either way, Newsome is building some good tape for the NFL at the right time.
Chazz Surratt: The kid has the story tailor-made for the A-Crew at ABC, and he didn’t disappoint, unlike other times during the season. He shared the lead on the team in total tackles with seven, had a sack of Ian Book when the quarterback just seemingly wouldn’t go down, and generally harassed the Notre Dame QB all game, forcing some head-scratching throws that somehow connected. At one point when Surratt had him in the grasp and Book connected a ridiculous floating hand toss, which led to the tweet of the game:
Surratt was standing there thinking...”I tried that once and now I’m a linebacker”— GLM (@nuggetpalooza) November 27, 2020
He didn’t deserve the result for the effort he, and most of the defense, put in, but if there’s any consolation it’s that showing up in that way on that stage will solidify his name being called in the NFL draft this spring.
Ben Kiernan: First off, hat tip for playing the Irish and putting the Irish word for “Equality,” Comhionannas, on the back of the jersey as a nod to actually being from Ireland. I’m glad that was pointed out because at first I thought he had put “Coronavirus” on his nameplate. Second, Carolina isn’t in the game without his effort booting the ball away. It’s no secret that Carolina’s special teams have been a disaster this season, having already dealt with a couple blocked punts. Once Carolina’s third drive stalled, Notre Dame was ready to test Kiernan and came at him with a ton of pressure. The sophomore adjusted, kicked away from that pressure, and pulled off a 47 yard kick that rolled out of bounds at the ND 16. Only one of his punts was returned, and only for eight yards, while five of his kicks went deep into Notre Dame territory. He managed a 62-yard boot to end up with a 50.6 yard average. If they had won, it would have been because Kiernan kept putting the Irish in poor field position.
Sam Howell: If Surratt took the stage and used it to shine, Howell wilted in the spotlight a bit. After the first couple of drives, it sure looked like we were getting the same Howell we had for most of the season. After the second touchdown, however, the Tar Heels were kept out of the end zone the rest of the game. Now, Howell isn’t to blame for all of this — the offensive line just didn’t do a good job of protecting him and it forced the quarterback into making some decisions he otherwise wouldn’t have made. Notre Dame also did a great job bottling up the rushing attack. Still, he shot himself in the foot, over-shooting receivers on passes that stalled drives, and generally starting to panic as the rush continued to get to him. He at least didn’t throw any interceptions, but the sophomore showed his age on Friday by failing to completely rising to the challenge when the defense was actually giving him some support. It’ll be a big lesson for the sophomore, as he likely got a preview of what life will be like next season once Michael Carter and Javonte Williams are gone.
Secondary: Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit loved telling the story of Tony Grimes, the kid who should be a senior in Virginia and instead was on the field with the number two team in the country. His inexperience showed on multiple occasions and Notre Dame liked to pick on him, especially for the game-changing “Pass Interference” penalty that basically kept the ball rolling downhill for the Irish. Read Akil’s takedown of DPI if you haven't, by the way, in yesterday’s Position Grades, located in the Secondary section. That said, the whole section gets in this portion because of the way he and Kyler McMichael were abused, as well as how they failed to come up with any turnovers on Ian Book’s, we’ll call them backyard football plays. Yes, the defense held Notre Dame to a much lower total than expected, but the secondary was completely abused and could have provided a spark to the offense.
Carolina’s Luck: Let’s use this part for the discussion about both the absurdity of the completions Book had when the defense had him bottled up, and the imbalance of yellow flags thrown. This space does not get conspiratorial, and refs almost never cost a team a ball game. Plays were there to be made on both sides, yada yada yada. That said...how on earth did Notre Dame get called for only four penalties for 24 yards total, 15 of which was the obvious targeting call that was almost missed despite it happening right in front of an official? None of those calls were holding calls. Zilch. How, when the Irish were doing this?
There was the decision to call Carolina for offside on the 4th and 2 play, the rewarding of horrid decisions by Book to just fling it out there and hope his guys would catch it, and the sheer fact that Carolina couldn’t have a full crowd roaring in Kenan to help lift them up for those first scores. It felt like if it could go against the Tar Heels on Friday, it did. That said, if you want to compete at the level Carolina wants to get to, you have to be able to overcome that, and the Tar Heels didn’t. It’s an important lesson as the program continues to rebuild.
Michael Carter had a day that he should be ready to show NFL scouts, when the Irish were ready for the rushing attack, the senior still pulled down a 7.1 yard average with several amazing moves, and caught one pass for 23 yards. As the game wore on, Longo had to use his backs more as extra blockers to try and give Howell more time, which hurt both him and Javonte Williams...Dyami Brown made his name known nationally with yet another “Moss’d” style catch to set up the second touchdown for the Tar Heels. He led the squad with 84 yards in the air, but was mostly shut down like the rest of the offense in the second half...Tomon Fox got the other quarterback sack of Book, it was just frustrating the overall total wasn’t higher...Whether it was Mack Brown or Phil Longo who decided to kick the field goal at the end of the second to go up 17-14 instead of going for it on fourth down, they really should have gone for it. As Tanya said in the THB Slack “Scared money don’t make money.” At the time I defended the decision, as Carolina was going to get the ball back to start the next half and they would rather be, at worst, down four instead of seven. But a conversion could have eaten up the entire clock and would have kept the Irish from getting a little momentum before the half. Being up 21-14 instead of it 17-17 could have completely changed the texture of the next half.
Next up, the rescheduled game against Western Carolina this Saturday, and we should find out a time in the next day or two.