Yesterday morning, the sun rose, I went with my beloved wife of 19 years to Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm to get a freshly cut tree for our place, and I genuinely smiled at the wholesome activity. Our home is now awash in the smell of pine, toasted marshmallow, peppermint, and all of the other wonderful smells you associate with the holidays as we get the place ready for company.
I wanted to go ahead and put that nice imagery in your head because the rest of this post is not going to be pretty, and I suspect a lot of you have some shouting you want to do in the comments as well.
No need to stall any longer, let’s go ahead and talk about winners, losers, and honorable mentions for what our own Jake Lawrence is calling the Collapse at Carter-Finely (TM).
British Brooks: Talk about someone who decided to use his last two games to make a statement. Brooks led all rushers Friday with 124 yards in 15 attempts, which was a healthy 8.3 yards per carry. He stepped up for a rushing attack that was already short D.J. Jones and then at some point lost Ty Chandler to injury. The fourth year senior-who went through Senior Day and does have a COVID year left-was a huge reason why the Tar Heels were up nine with two minutes left, and some folks say he probably would have been a reason they’d had been up 13...we’ll get to that. It’s a shame it took him this long to find a rhythm. With that year left and having gone through Senior Day last weekend, will he try his luck in the NFL, pull a Ty Chandler and try to be a featured back, or try one more year in a still-crowded backfield? He’ll have options.
Jeremiah Gemmel: His strip of Ricky Person in the third quarter ignited the Tar Heels and was the catalyst to them going from down four to up nine. He’s had a rougher year than expected, as we truly underestimated what he could do with Chaz Surratt on the line with him, but he was part of a amazing effort by the defensive front on Friday. Gemmel had ten tackles total, split a sack, and was just all over the field as the front seven mostly kept State in check, only surrendering fourteen points (remember seven came on the blocked punt) before that fateful final two minutes. If this is his last game as a Tar Heel it’s a shame it came with that ending.
NC State Fans: For the last few years, despite having a winning record against the Tar Heels, we could always call up the clip of the Gio punt return nine years ago and smile as it completely changed the landscape over in Raleigh. They had beaten the Tar Heels several times since, but didn’t really have a “memorable” game in their favor. Now they have it, and it’s one that will be really damn difficult to overcome. It’s fair to say I’m glad I work from home...and I also won’t be tuning into local sports talk for a few days so they can have their fun.
Everybody involved in the last 2:12: How...just how did that happen? I’m not going to post the stupid graphic about how Carolina’s probability was to win the game, but do you realize how much had to go wrong for that to happen? Carolina had to give up a 37 yard return off a kick by someone who normally skies it through the end zone which gave State 20 yards more of field to work with, THEN Tony Grimes trusts Cam Kelly to pick up Emeka Emezie so that he can be in position to tackle a slant pass, only Cam...doesn’t....and they give up a TD with barely any time coming off the clock, THEN Trey Morrison had to completely whiff on picking up the ball when it was obvious that’s where State was going with an onside kick, THEN Carolina gives up 30 yards in penalties (oh we’ll get to that), THEN Cam Kelly gets beat AGAIN trying to knock a ball down when he actually could have intercepted the pass and ended the game, THEN Carolina still had a chance but has an ineligible receiver on one play that eats up time forcing a desperate heave. If you noticed a common theme there with Cam Kelly, you’re right, because his responsibility was Emezie both times and he failed spectacularly. It’s just so sickening to see the team put up such a great effort, waste a memorable game from Sam Howell and arguably the best effort by the front seven of the Tar Heels all season to just throw up on themselves like that. Because of this, every coach has to question their decisions, and a disappointing season ended in one of the most painful ways possible.
Sam Howell: He’s here not because of his effort. It’s clear he was still not 100% as the offensive coaches tried to limit his running early, and he was slow to get up on several tackles when things opened up and he did run. No, he’s here because one of the grittiest efforts he’s put up, 14/26 and 147 in the air as well as 18 for 98 on the ground for three touchdowns total, was just flushed completely down the toilet. Sam Howell’s last moment in this disappointing season should have been a kneel down as he left undefeated against NC State, and instead it was a desperate heave in the end zone that was picked off because his teammates couldn’t at least salvage one good thing for him. I hope he takes the bowl game off, gets healthy, and impresses NFL Scouts in the coming months, because as cliche as it is to say “he left it out all on the field,” Sam Howell gave this program more hope than it deserved when he flipped to Chapel Hill three years ago, and he’s earned the pay day coming his way.
Officiating: Alright, I’ve credited the other team for the win, I’ve spelled out in detail who screwed up and how many opportunities that Carolina had to win this themselves and take it out of the hands of the seven...adults wearing stripes...on the field, but something also has to be said about the complete ineptitude of this officiating crew. We could go back and talk about what is and isn’t targeting, but let’s just concentrate on the fourth quarter and specifically the Red Zone that led to Carolina up six. There’s some consternation out there about the fact that with the Tar Heels up only three and first and goal with seven minutes left, the Tar Heels ran three pass plays. The problem is they should have only HAD to have run one pass play, because Antoine Green was interfered with so badly, so blatantly, and right in front of an official that it should have been first and goal at the two. The Tar Heels then likely run in three times and at least melt two minutes off the clock, completely changing the trajectory of the final...two minutes of the game, and that’s assuming they don’t get a TD there. Thus, you can’t blame the offense for going to Green again on second down when it was there, Green was open and just didn’t hold on. The third down screen pass, yeah I’ll blame them for that, but again, it shouldn’t have even needed to happen. So, the officials have already changed the trajectory once, then they do it again by calling a bogus roughing the passer call with 1:25 left changing 3rd down to 1st down. It was a horrid call, so bad that the announcing crew said so. Then two plays later Storm Duck gets called for PI giving State ANOTHER 15 yards. Did Duck interfere? Yes he did, except the ball landed closer to the stands than it did in the field of play. It was horrifically uncatchable, and the officials didn’t even give it a second thought about whether or not anyone had a chance to make a play on it. Thus, it was academic that State would score again, thanks again to Cam Kelly’s abysmal coverage.
North Carolina had their chances to win this game and overcome this ridiculous officiating, I will make that perfectly clear. All you have to look is see the bumbling on the onside kick and the poor coverage by the secondary on the touchdowns, but the officials absolutely inserted themselves into this game and helped State win. It’s putrid, ridiculous, and a situation that has to be remedied by the ACC at some point because there is too much money in this sport to have officiating be this consistently horrible.
Phil Longo continues to just completely stupefy us all in the Red Zone, including two drives where field goals were the result instead of touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Either one of those changes the complexity of the game, and it’s frustrating when most times it just seems like they just completely lose themselves in that area, I mean, Dadgum Box Scores put it better than I could have, and it’s why some are starting to look at him as someone who may need to move on after this season...Jay Bateman had a bad year, but it’s tough to blame all the defense for Friday night when they only surrendered 14 points before that debacle, and then it was really the secondary that completely failed them in the last two minutes. The problem, of course, is that Bateman is the safeties coach and, well, that’s who really messed up in the end. It may be time for him to surrender those duties to someone else and just concentrate on the defense as a whole...Ty Chandler deserved better in likely his last game in a Tar Heel uniform, but as mentioned before something was going on and he couldn’t stay on the field. He took some time to get into the offense, but ultimately he’s what Carolina needed, and hopefully he gave the younger backs time to get into the scheme and be ready to take over...Antoine Green did not have a great night holding onto the ball, and kind of exemplified why Howell just didn’t have a lot of trust in receivers not named Josh Downs. On that missed PI Call...he still had a great chance to get it, and then on second down the drop was totally on him. Either of those conversions there again changes the complexion of the game...Tony Grimes had a stellar game, with seven total tackles and two pass breakups, completely shutting down whomever he was responsible for (despite what some want to say, thanks Ryan Switzer for always being a Tar Heel)
That’ll do it for the regular season. Next weekend we’ll find out which game the Tar Heels will get sent to for their bowl, then it’ll start to trickle out who’ll sit out that bowl game because they are going pro, then on December 15th the 2022 class can start signing, and we’ll do this all again. It’s just a question of which coaches will be there with this class.