The North Carolina Tar Heels dug deep in the second half to climb out of a 23-7 halftime deficit, but ultimately fell short in overtime 30-23 to Pitt. Carolina was fortunate to only trail by 17 in the first half as the Panthers were rolling on offense and stifling on defense.
Improvements on both sides of the ball allowed UNC to force overtime, but it was not enough on Thursday night.
Here are a few things learned from the loss in Pittsburgh.
The Offensive Line Remains a Liability
The first half was the worst performance for the UNC offense all season. Take away the 76-yard touchdown reception from Antione Green, all Carolina could only generate 45 yards of offense.
Six rushing yards was the first half total. Six.
Sam Howell was sacked five times in the first half, and never had a chance to gain any yards when he was forced to scramble. There was improvement in the second half as Howell was able to buy some time in the passing game and more holes opened up for the run game and QB scrambles.
However, critical penalties inside the five yard line late in the game were the most glaring errors for this group. Howell on a fourth and goal from the one covered one blemish. But the false start that eventually led to the game-tying field goal, rather than a game-winning touchdown was a fatal mistake.
The Tar Heels helped Pitt out a lot with the number of penalties. Even as the worst team in the ACC in penalty yards per game, Carolina exceeded their season average in just the first half.
As mentioned above, the false starts inside the five yard line were the most costly penalties, but the holds were bad too. No hold was more costly than the one that negated a Howell 17-yard first down run.
Drops were another issue, even before the ran started. There was good news for Kamari Morales was that Antione Greene’s second touchdown came in the play after his drop in the end zone. That play, and other drops during the game hindered the flow of the offense.
The Defense Stepped Up
Tar Heels Nation was ready to turn off the television and head to bed. It was a school night, after all. Pitt was moving the ball at will in the first half, and down by at least 16 points was not encouraging for either side of the ball.
But the defense gave this team a chance to win tonight. Their second half effort was night and day from the first half. The Carolina defense did not allow a single point in the second half.
After UNC scored a touchdown to get it within three, linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel snagged an interception to set the Tar Heels up for the win. There were still a few miscues in the defensive backfield, but both the pass and run defense in the front seven flipped a switch in the locker room.
Kudos to the defense for making this a ball game.