Yesterday’s 49-9 drubbing of Western Carolina was not surprising. The Heels took care of business, pushed their record to 7-3, and gained some momentum before next week’s regular season finale with Miami. Just about everything went right for UNC. Almost.
The complete lack of consistent offense was surprising. Even if the second half consisted of mostly second and third string players, the talent disparity should’ve still allowed UNC to score more than one touchdown. That didn’t happen.
There are a few possible explanations. Is the talent difference for UNC’s reserves that stark? Have they not received enough reps throughout the season? Did the coaching staff purposely keep the game plan bland or decide to focus on specific coaching points? Without more context, I decided not to examine it more closely, but it was surprising.
So, with that shared understanding, let’s check out three things we learned.
Yesterday was Senior Day. Understandably, most of the attention has gone to Michael Carter’s three touchdowns and Dazz Newsome moving into 4th place on the UNC career receptions list. Both players were heavily involved throughout the first half, accounting for four of UNC’s six scores.
However, we would be remiss if we did not give a shoutout to all 16 players graduating from UNC. They are: Dazz Newsome, Michael Carter, Patrice Rene, Garrett Walston, Tomon Fox, Chazz Surratt, Xach Gill, Jace Ruder, Matthew Flint, Noah Ruggles, Austyn Chesnut, Austin Chrismon, Trevor Collins, Cooper Graham, Mason Laurence, and Tobechi Nwokeji.
Here’s the deal. They have seen the lowest of the lows and have also helped rebuild North Carolina into a top-25 program. All those players were recruited by the former coaching regime, with different systems, expectations, and relationships. Some lost playing time or were actively recruited over. A few of them may even have some resentment or frustrations with their time in Chapel Hill or the staff. That’s just part of college athletics.
Yet, they stuck out Mack Brown’s first two years, even though they could’ve transferred at any point. That level of maturity and leadership is a major reason that chemistry problems or locker room disgruntlement have been non-existent. That is rare when a new coach takes over, regardless of that coach’s pedigree. The players deserve most of the credit for that successful transition.
Now, some of them will graduate and move onto the next non-football phase of their lives. Others still have multiple years of eligibility remaining and will seek playing time elsewhere as graduate transfers. Regardless, they will leave with a UNC diploma and in 20 years we may point to many of them as the class that laid the foundation for a decade of competitive football, much like we reminisce about Brown’s early-90’s teams.
While the offense was steamrolling the Catamounts with their experience, the defense continued increasing playing time for the underclassmen. Former ESPN five-star defensive end Des Evans got his first career start, lining up on the edge of the defensive line. He finished with three tackles and one tackle for loss.
Freshman Kaimon Rucker led the team with seven tackles (two for loss). Sophomore Eugene Asante earned four tackles. Both totals were career highs. Of the 26 Tar Heels who were credited with at least one tackle, 17 were either a sophomore or freshman. Apply all the usual caveats for talent discrepancies, but that’s still encouraging for future seasons.
This is a continuation of recent developments, as Jay Bateman finally feels comfortable with the young talent’s combination of skill and schematic knowledge. Since making some specific personnel substitutions in the second half against Wake Forest, the UNC defense has allowed just four touchdowns in the last 10 quarters.
Those are numbers to build on.
In-state Winning Streak
This one is a bit obscure, but important to the culture that Mack Brown is trying to build. “Winning the state” is a crucial piece to Brown’s recruiting strategy. It was so important, that from 1992-1998, North Carolina actually won 19 consecutive games against in-state opponents.
What does that have to do with yesterday’s game?
Dating back to last season, this was the sixth straight win over an in-state opponent. Those opponents were Duke and N.C. State in 2019. Duke , N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Western Carolina have been the victims in 2020. That is longest such streak since....the aforementioned 19-game streak in the ‘90’s.
Between that time, the longest winning streak against in-state opponents was five, which the Heels accomplished over the 2004-05 seasons under John Bunting. Butch Davis never won more than three in-state games in a row. Larry Fedora’s longest streak was four, which was completed during the 2015 season (ECU, Wake, State, Duke). Simply put, UNC has not really “owned” the state since Mack left.
Now they have a six-game streak to boast about for the next 10 months as they continue to round up the best talent in North Carolina.