Last night’s loss to Oregon in the San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl is one where “moral victories” provide a sense of hope heading into the next season.
The North Carolina Tar Heels fielded a thin roster where many youngsters were on the field. Despite Oregon’s opt-outs and transfers, the oddsmakers did not give Carolina much of a chance.
Yet, UNC held the lead from 26 seconds left in the first half to 19 seconds left in the game. And there was still a sliver of hope at the end with just one second to play.
This is one of the tougher postgame scorecards due to these factors.
Last night was not one of those Heisman-hopeful evenings for Drake Maye. However, his composure without his top two receivers and play-caller was beyond his years.
Maye was the difference-maker in the first half, and his three touchdown passes were all worthy of the highlight reel.
Needless to say, next year should be fun as long as Maye continues to grow and improve.
Running Backs: C
Elijah Green was Carolina’s leading rusher last night with 50 yards on 17 attempts. The paltry 2.9 average says more about the offensive line and playcalling than Green.
The rest of the crop of young running backs got a few touches, but Maye ended up as the second-leading rusher, which is no surprise.
Head coach Mack Brown said that his hire of new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey meant that there will be adjustments to the scheme, namely the running game.
Let’s hope so. This game (season) would have been different with an effective running attack.
Freshmen Kobe Paysour and Andre Greene, Jr. stepped up in the absence of Josh Downs and Antoine Green with each player scoring a touchdown.
Greene caught all three targets, while Paysour was Maye’s top target. He caught seven of 11 targets and tallied 26 yards after catch.
J.J. Jones had six targets but only pulled in one 11-yard reception.
Tight Ends: A
With the success of the tight ends last night, you have to wonder why these weapons were used so inconsistently during the season.
Bryson Nesbit had three catches on six targets for 37 yards and a touchdown. He had receptions of 16 and 14 yards, and tacked on 13 yards after catch.
John Copenhaver had just 24 yards, but caught all his targets, including that spectacular one-handed grab.
Let’s hope these two sophomores are more involved in the Lindsey offense next season.
Offensive Line: C
On one hand, the offensive line only gave up two sacks and four hurries. One of those sacks was costly as it was a 13-yard loss on third down.
However, there was not much of a push for the running backs.
Once again, the issues on the line come down to coaching rather than player effort.
Defensive Line: D
For many parts of the game, the defensive line was nonexistent. Your eyes automatically went to the second level to see if the linebackers could get the Duck.
The third quarter was an improvement, and the Gene Chizik tactic of committing to the run and sacrificing the pass contained Oregon until late in the fourth.
The final line shows just one quarterback hurry. All four tackles for loss and the lone sack were tallied by linebackers or defensive backs.
Cedric Gray and Power Echols were stars last night. They put the defensive on their backs.
The duo was involved in each level of the defense and took it to the next level during the scoreless third quarter.
Gray had half of the team’s tackles for loss and the lone QB hurry. The pair each had a pass breakup, the only two for Carolina.
The Echols interception will be shown on the screens in Kenan for years to come.
The Carolina coaching staff must do everything they can to keep this duo in Chapel Hill and on their trajectory. It will alleviate some of the question marks around this defense next year.
With the mass exodus in the defensive secondary, there were freshman starters at corner and safety.
Through the first three quarters, the Oregon passing attack was efficient but did not move the ball far. In fact, there were 29 run plays that gained 197 yards and only 19 passing plays for 102 yards.
Bo Nix was nine of 11 passing in the first half but ended the first stanza with an interception by Echols.
However, there were issues throughout the game. Four of six third downs by Oregon were converted through the air.
The flats were a weak spot for the UNC defense. Nix completed all nine passes thrown to the left side within five yards of the line of scrimmage. Oregon gained 71 yards on these passes.
The run defense outside the tackles was easy pickins’ for the Ducks. And if Oregon reach the third level on the ground, it was almost always a sprint to stop a long touchdown run.
And in the fourth quarter, the Ducks took to the sky. Nix completed nine of 11 passes for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
This shredding of the pass defense was capped off by two pass interference penalties that just cannot happen in critical moments of big games.
Special Teams: C-
A missed field goal and no touchbacks are the lowlights of the kicking game.
On the positive side, George Pettaway had an excellent 56-yard kick return and D.J. Jones was solid on his lone return.
Ben Kiernan’s game-long punt of 57 yards was downed by the punt coverage team on the one-yard line, and Oregon’s subsequent drive went for just six plays and 17 yards.
Wide receivers coach Lonnie Galloway served as the passing coordinator, and tight ends coach John Lilly was the running coordinator. It is unclear if this was the right decision, but based on the offensive performance in the red zone, there is still much to be desired.
As mentioned earlier, the defensive performance in the third quarter kept the game in hand for UNC, but the stalled offense did not help Carolina.
Here’s the bottom line: the Tar Heels were up 10 with 9:13 to play in the game.
Players’ Effort: A+
It is evident that the Tar Heels gave it their all last night. The team’s heart and soul were poured into this game, and they were almost rewarded with a huge upset victory.
You hate to do this, but when there is a direct impact on the game, it must be pointed out. There was a blatant missed call on the Oregon 66-yard touchdown. Without that hold on Don Chapman, the Ducks only get a first down.
The illegal hands to the face on the first Oregon touchdown of the fourth quarter may not have stopped an eventual touchdown, but the obviousness of the infraction is frustrating.
The review after the spiked ball was another fumble by the officials and should have led to more time for the Tar Heels.
And we might not know exactly what happened on that illegal substitution, but you have to feel for that dude that was dumbfounded with jersey in hand.
Stop playing football games in baseball stadiums.