Let’s get this out of the way now: this Tar Heel team is not what we expected it to be at the beginning of this season. This is an obvious statement, but the really disappointing thing is that all of the position groups that we thought would take a step forward this season have taken three steps back somehow. Some of it is complicated, but there are some things that are pretty straightforward. The veteran offensive line? Extremely overrated. Adding depth on defense? Doesn’t do any good if you can’t stop mobile quarterbacks. Returning Heisman-caliber quarterback? Well…we’ll get to that.
Let’s discuss the three things we learned from UNC’s brutal loss in Atlanta.
Sam Howell needs to do too much for this team to win
Last week against Virginia, Sam Howell had a monster game both through the air and with his feet. On the ground specifically, Howell ran 15 times for 112 yards. The win before that? 11 times for 104 yards. Against Georgia Tech, things went very differently, as Howell finished the game running the ball 16 times for only eight yards and a touchdown. The plus side is that he completed 25 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns, but his three fumbles were responsible for 20 of Georgia Tech’s points. In short, Howell had a bad night, but it’s a little hard to feel like it is all his fault.
It became obvious last week that in order for UNC to have success on the offensive side of the ball, Sam Howell had to pass the ball efficiently, run the ball productively, and he also has to be responsible for keeping himself off of the ground thanks to this highly suspect offensive line. He also has to do all of this while being surrounded by a whole new set of skill players from last season, which has been a mixed bag of production with the exception of Josh Downs. Here is my thing: I haven’t known of many teams that have ever won championships with their star quarterback doing literally all of the dirty work. I do not mean to sound like an apologist for Howell coughing up the ball three times, but Mack Brown needs to find a way to get everyone around Howell to help him out, or we’re going to keep seeing games like this all season long.
Mobile quarterbacks remain a huge problem
Alright, so this isn’t something brand new that we have learned. Ever since Jay Bateman arrived at UNC, this defense has been awful against mobile quarterbacks. This was almost certainly why Georgia Tech replaced Jordan Yates with Jeff Sims, which led to a scoring onslaught in the second half. Sims finished the game completing 10 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, but ran the ball for…128 yards and three touchdowns. Everyone say it with me: OOF.
I’ll be honest: I really don’t understand why mobile quarterbacks are still such a problem. From a technical standpoint, Jeff Sims did a great job in the option game, and faked out UNC’s defense more times than I can count. However, after the second time you would think that Bateman would’ve made sure that someone stayed at home and stalked Sims until they were absolutely sure that he didn’t have the ball. This is all without factoring in missed tackles, wide open running lanes, etc. I truly don’t know how Jay Bateman can possibly fix this…ever, really. I’m losing my faith in his scheme literally being able to do anything against mobile quarterbacks, and I can’t decide what that could mean for the future of this team.
The ACC is wide open
There’s only so much a dead horse can be beaten when it comes to some of the Tar Heels’ issues, so let’s talk about the state of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson and UNC, two teams that were heavily favored to win their respective divisions, both lost to unranked teams. As of right now, Wake Forest is the only remaining undefeated team in the entire conference. Last year’s Coastal division champion, the Virginia Cavaliers, are in last place, with Miami barely being right above them. To put it simply: I have no idea what the heck is going on.
It’s pretty obvious at this point that the ACC won’t be represented in the College Football Playoffs this season. There is just too much chaos to think that it is possible. However, the ACC championship game will happen one way or another, and I honestly couldn’t say who I expect to make it now. Clemson’s offense is embarrassingly bad, UNC has a number of weird issues, NC State should never be trusted, and teams like Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are going to slip up at some point. I say all of these negative things about these teams, but the sad truth is that any of them could end up in Charlotte. We have officially entered ACC chaos, my friends. I wouldn’t count out UNC to win the Coastal division just yet, because the sad truth is that literally anything can happen between now and December. Make of that what you will.