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UNC Football: Cognitive Dissonance

Perception vs. reality in a weird season.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

In the second game of this season, the Tar Heels defense gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter to Chase Brice and the mighty Appalachian State offense. (I don’t bring that up as a Mountaineer alumni, but to prove a point). A depleted Florida A&M squad was only down two scores at the end of the third quarter in the first game of the season. The Georgia State offense ran collectively for 235 yards. A struggling Notre Dame offense made the Carolina defense look like junior varsity.

The defense has been a liability as highlighted by these indelible marks against it from the early part of this season, and I’ve heard this fact oft-repeated amongst Tar Heels fans both online and off. A gentleman sitting in the row in front of me at the Notre Dame game, for example, left in the third quarter shaking his head and mumbling to himself about never buying season tickets again. I’ve seen comments online melting down about defensive miscues, wondering about the program at large and worrying about any and everything to do with this year’s team.

The thing is, that Notre Dame game was the solitary mark against the Heels so far this season. Even with all the doom and gloom correctly identified by McKay in his wonderful Virginia Tech preview, 4-1 ain’t bad. In the immortal words of Shoresy (Of Letterkeny and later Shoresy fame), “they don’t ask how; they ask how many.” There are a lot of teams that would take 4-1 at this point in the season, especially looking down the barrel at a wide-open Coastal division and at least five imminently winnable games remaining on the schedule.

So how do we balance this, then? The Heels gave up 40 points in the fourth quarter in Boone, sure, but still came home with a win over the team that would go off and expose top-ten Texas A&M squad the very next week. Florida A&M was held scoreless in the final frame while the offense put the Rattlers to bed officially with a 21-point fourth quarter. Georgia State suffered a similar fate, finishing the third quarter tied at 28 only to watch the Heels score the only points of the fourth quarter on the way to back-to-back wins over Sun Belt teams. The record says 4-1, that’s only two wins shy of bowl eligibility. It’s conceivable that Carolina could be bowl eligible before Halloween—something that hasn’t happened since 2016.

The offense can be, at times, transcendent. The defense is regularly cause for worry. Both things can be true, but it can be hard to hold these truths at the same time. A defense ranked 113th in points against, with a record that is one game away from perfect. A quarterback who makes routinely very good decisions with the ball, who also sometimes decides inexplicably to attempt to hurdle two defenders when his team is up by 21.

A year is long, and football season is all too short. It’s fine to want the team to be better, and necessary to hold coaching staffs to a certain standard, but we do ourselves a disservice if we can’t also enjoy the success while it’s here. Multiple things can be true.

We just have to remember that.