It’s tough to read a lot into a game against an FCS opponent this late in the year, and the game played like the team just really didn’t want to be there. It seems kind of harsh to say after a 34-14 win, but usually in games like this there’s some sort of spectacular play that you can remember where the team wants to show out against inferior competition. Instead, it was a very vanilla performance against an overmatched Wofford team.
As always, though, there are things to like, things to hate, and things worth mentioning. Let’s dive right in and not waste time, in honor of the speed of Saturday’s game.
British Brooks: A player who many thought would be in the tailback rotation at the beginning of the year had faded into mostly special teams play, but on Saturday Brooks got his chance to show out on Senior Day, and he took advantage with an 89 yard effort on only seven rushes, and scored two touchdowns. There’s a chance this won’t be the last you’ll see of Brooks in the backfield, as DJ Jones seemed to get hurt in the game, and it’s possible the backup spot behind Ty Chandler is wide open. Either way, it was a great result for the Senior.
Josh Downs: It was a little surprising to see the star sophomore out there as long as he was, especially considering the injuries suffered by others on the team, but it was clear that the staff wanted to give both Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye an equal chance at the offense, and the only way to do that for sure was to make sure that Downs was on the field for both QB’s. He had a productive day, leading the team with 89 yards, and ultimately showing he’ll be ready for whichever quarterback gets the starting nod next season. He now has almost 1200 yards catching on the season, and hopes to get to 1300 on Friday.
Fans: These days it’s nearly impossible for a college football game to come in under three and a half hours, and this one was over in under three. With a game that had zero doubt about the outcome, and fans hoping to have time to be able to watch the basketball game that started at four, both squads did fans a favor by just being efficient with their play calling and almost playing like there was a permanent running clock. Considering how vanilla the game was, it really was nice to just get in, out, and move on with the rest of the day.
Goal Line offense: Specifically the last series of the game where the Tar Heels basically got five chances from short to punch the ball into the end zone from short and play after play saw the offense stuffed. It wasn’t a good look for Caleb Hood, who saw his first action in a while on Saturday. If they can’t punch it in against Wofford, what are they going to look like next weekend against a more stout defense from NC State? Granted, a similar situation next weekend will have Sam Howell under center and likely Chandler in the backfield, so it’ll be a different look...but ultimately, that’s a preview of what we’ll see in the future and if they are causing that much trouble there is a lot that group needs to work on.
Injuries: There are a few things you hope to avoid in a game against an FCS opponent, and top of the list is injuries. Unfortunately, Ja’Qurious Conley was hurt on the first play of the game, trying to return a kick, in an ugly way. So ugly that on Monday, UNC announced that we was done for the year, likely with a torn ACL and MCL, something that could affect him for next season also. That’s another huge piece of the secondary that’s now gone against NC State. Then D.J. Jones appears to get hurt as well. Luckily there’s some more depth in the running back room, and we saw it on display, but it’s absolutely something you don’t want to have to deal with going into another short week.
Defensive Holding: So, as bad as the goal line offense was at the end of the game, it was helped by an absurd rule when it comes to defensive holding. On the first fourth down play, Wofford was called for defensive holding, and everyone in the stadium assumed that meant the Tar Heels got a fresh set of downs to get into the end zone, and the play after seemed to indicate that’s what Carolina thought. It turns out that, no, in fact that was another fourth down play because Drake Maye did not pass the ball. Normally, it doesn’t matter because holding comes with a ten yard penalty and even if it doesn’t get passed that’s usually enough for a first down, but in this case all it allowed was one more play. It’s a ridiculous rule because if there hadn’t been holding, Maye would have thrown it, and holding someone in the end zone could also arguably be Pass Interference, which would also be a first down. Just take away that stupid “you have to pass it” part of the penalty and make defensive holding an automatic first down.
Ty Chandler finished up his one season in Kenan by getting to 1,000 yards on the ground and then promptly sat for the rest of the game. The grad transfer really found his footing late in the season and lived up to what the coaches could have hoped for when he transferred in from Tennessee, here’s hoping he has a couple strong games left in him...Jacolby Criswell and Drake Maye combined to go 18-28, 214 yards, and one TD in the air. In short, Longo kept the offense ridiculously simple. The question is if it was a decision just to not have anything new on tape for future opponents, or if Longo just wanted to put his quarterbacks in the best position to succeed. Either way, both were solid but fans are right to still wonder what they have behind center next season when Sam Howell leaves.
The regular season finale is set for 7 PM on Friday, in Raleigh against an NC State team still in the hunt for the Atlantic Division. Mack Brown is hoping to thwart their hopes and claim the “state championship” again, and it should be a good one.