Welcome to the Tar Heel Hangover. This is our opportunity to review last week’s game, second-guess all of the key moments, and set the game plan for the weekend ahead.
The Elevator Speech: What happened last week.
The Carolina loss to Florida State feels like a real low point, not just for the year, but for the second Mack Brown era. Two months ago, this was a team that appeared to have a legitimate chance at a playoff birth. That wasn’t just the rose colored lenses of Carolina fans, that was an opinion supported by national rankings of both the team and its players. Now, its a team that will struggle to make a bowl game. What happened over these last two months and can it be fixed?
Water Cooler Discussion: Preparation issues.
Working from home, the pandemic has played a lot of tricks on my sense of time. Very very long days accumulate one upon another until suddenly a whole month is gone. Then in the blink of an eye, 18 months have flown by in a haze of worry, boredom, and repetition. It looks like the Tar Heel coaching staff has no better grasp on timing than I do.
Apparently the off-season and pre-season just totally slipped by. There is no way the team was mentally prepared for the first half in the season opener against Virginia Tech. Some of the disorganization is understandable considering the environment and the lack of anything similar for a full year, but this was supposed to be a top 10 team.
Instead, this looks like a team that is playing catchup every week. The front end of the schedule was the easy part of the year. The three Tar Heel losses are against teams that are under .500 combined. Take away the Carolina wins, and Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida state are a combined 5-9. Either the Heels are bad or they are not prepared on a weekly basis to face inferior opponents.
Time can also slip by during games. Over the last two years, there was always time in the fourth quarter for Sam Howell to perform a little magic. Not this year. The in-game management has been abysmal.
Take last Saturday for example. Down 18 points with 8 minutes left, Carolina started the drive at its own 42. With such a large deficit, the Heels proceeded on their second longest scoring drive of the season (only outlasted by their first half touchdown drive of 6:34). There is no way that a team down 18 with a quick strike offense should meander down the field on a 5:25 drive. How is that even possible? Where is the sense of urgency? The coaching staff has to get the plays in faster and get the offense moving in that situation. Instead, the touchdown scoring drive effectively ended the game.
This is not the first time that this coaching staff has had blunders in the fourth quarter, but this was one of the worst. The penalties show a lack of preparation. The play calls show a lack of preparation and an inability to make in-game adjustments. I just hope this week is being put to better use, because the season is about to be lost.
A Quick Look Ahead
The Heels are again home, this time hosting Miami. Perhaps the most disappointing team in the conference, if not the country, Miami is in disarray. What was once circled on the calendar as a make or break game for the division is instead a make or break game for a bowl berth. Miami is coming off of their bye week and have had time to get things together. Both teams will likely be playing with some desperation.
The back half of the schedule for Carolina looks potentially disastrous. Three games against top 25 teams with a trip to Pitt thrown in the middle. I think every one of those opponents is beatable, but so is Carolina. I would feel so much better about things if this team were starting to gel instead of still searching for its path.
There is still a lot to like about this team, but fans are understandably running short on patience in what was to be a break out year for the program. I know I am. Perhaps that level of anxiety masks the optimism that shows improvement. We shall see.