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UNC vs. Notre Dame: Winners, Losers, & Honorable Mentions

An embarrassing show still leaves the Tar Heels 3-1 going into the ACC schedule.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Man, there is some real anger out there.

It’s funny how college football’s week-to-week schedule makes you adjust expectations to the point where it’s almost impossible to look at the bigger picture. So, let’s take a tonal shift from what’s been put out there and point this out: The Tar Heels are 3-1, including two wins on the road against a conference that has caused fits for other teams across college football. The quarterback situation is better than we could have imagined, the running game is better — nowhere near what they had with the 2020 tandem, but better — and the two experienced receivers are back healthy and showed out in a big way on Saturday.

The fact remains that going into the season, 3-1 is what fans thought would be the “best” case scenario, and there was the thought that Notre Dame was going to be a loss no matter what. Then, Notre Dame lost their starting quarterback, then lost to Marshall, and didn’t look great against Cal, so a team that many thought would be a top 10 squad plummeted and gave fans hope that the Tar Heels could finally get their third win-second official-against the Irish.

For the first back-and-forth it looked like it truly was something different. Carolina scored a touchdown, held the Irish to a missed field goal, and got the ball back to take a two possession lead. went downhill after that. The defense regressed, players lost their composure and want to fight others on the sidelines, the offense sputtered till the second half, and Notre Dame just punched the ball down Carolina’s throat to another embarrassing showing on national television. Believe it or not, there are good things to talk about from Saturday, and plenty...not. Let’s accentuate the positive before we pile on to the negativity that’s out there.


Antoine Green-Yes, a majority of Green’s catches and yards came when the Tar Heels were down multiple scores, but for the receiver who hadn’t played a down yet all season the fact that he got 150 yards on three catches, two of which were just absolute bomb touchdown throws by Drake Maye, portends a huge positive for the offense going forward. He had no problem shaking off his corner for the catches and showed the speed he needed to pull away and score. While the effort came in a loss, it puts on tape a warning to future defenses: you can’t just bracket Josh Downs and leave Maye to win it with everyone else. He had already shown the ability to spread the ball around the field and now having another downfield weapon like Green who can separate from his coverage just gives defenses another headache to manage. It was good not only to see the senior back, but able to contribute in the way that he did.

Josh Downs-His stat line in terms of yards caught is paltry-just 32 yards-but he also had two touchdown catches in his first game since Florida A&M. What was a great positive about these scores is where they came-deep in the red zone when it would be difficult for him to get any sort of separation from the defense. Instead he showed the skill that should get him drafted into the NFL. The first score was also Carolina’s first score, you know, back when you were allowed to have hope that the Tar Heels might actually be able to get a big win on this stage:

Red Zone Offense: When Carolina got the ball deep, they scored. The Tar Heels managed to enter the Red Zone three times against Notre Dame, and went three for three. Converting in the Red Zone has been a constant problem for this offense under Phil Longo, and to see them continue to convert anytime they managed to get deep is a positive development going forward.


Mack Brown-The knives were out yesterday after yet another embarrassing showing by the defense, dropping Mack to 0-5 following a bye since he returned to the UNC sidelines. Thanks to the horrid cell phone reception inside Kenan-hey Bubba, maybe you want to invest in a) some cell phone antenna extenders and b) upgraded wifi inside the stadium-I didn’t get a chance to see the reaction until later and whoo boy, were you all upset. I know from a personal standpoint, folks who are long-time Rams Club members that spend the money for access to season tickets were questioning that investment if this is the same thing that’ll happen over and over again, and several folks were not-too-subtly questioning just what sort of culture is inside the program to where they just let such a transparent attack beat them when they had an extra week off to prepare. He didn’t help himself with the comments after the game where he basically praised Notre Dame as the toughest opponent they'll play and seemed to deflect just how ill-prepared they were.

At 71, it was pretty well accepted that this was a short-term hire for the Tar Heels in order to stabilize the wreck of a program that Larry Fedora had created. By that metric, Mack has been a success. He’s brought NFL-level quarterbacks to Chapel Hill, a fun offense, an Orange Bowl appearance, and restored recruiting to where they are a force in the area again. It’s fair to wonder, though, if the Tar Heels can come close to taking the next step with Brown at the helm, because when you have that much talent coming in on defense and it fails to develop, it falls directly on the coaching. The path is still there not only for a winning season, but potentially the final ACC Coastal Division Title-type of season, but when your fan base is that negative after being 3-1 in a transition-type of season, it’s time for the guy in charge to own up that there are still some fundamental flaws in the program.

Gene Chizik-There are real problems on the defense, and let’s just put Gene here instead of singling out every single coach on that side of the ball. The frustrating thing about Saturday is that Notre Dame laid out last year what they were going to do on offense, and didn’t really change it up-because they basically couldn’t. They ran with a backup quarterback who had struggled so far, and were just going to use their big horses up front to run the ball down Carolina’s throat-and there was not a thing the Tar Heels could do to stop it. The only rusher for the Irish who averaged under four yards a carry was...the quarterback, Drew Pyne, and yet it seemed like anytime he needed to make a play with his legs to move the chains he was able to do so easily. The secondary continued to get torched, to the tune of 289 yards and three touchdowns, and the fact that this quarterback found some success early seemed to make Chizik gun-shy about stacking the front forcing Pyne to continue to make plays.

More depressing is the continual use of the same players and not seeing any sort of push to get more youth on the field. The book is out on guys like Tony Grimes and Cam Kelly now, and yet they are still out on the field every play getting chewed up and spit out. There just isn’t any noticeable improvement after two preseason camps and four games with a bye week, and the conversation this week hopefully will be about what major changes they need to make going into ACC season.

UNC’s Fronts-Carolina allowed 5.6 yards per carry rushing on defense, while on offense they only averaged 2.4. The defensive front was always a hair behind being able to grab Pyne, and just couldn’t contain their big Tight End Michael Mayer. Meanwhile the offensive front had trouble buying time for Drake Maye, and couldn’t give any of the backs the space they needed to get some long rushes in. While Pyne was only sacked once, Maye went down three times and had the ball stripped from his hands that ultimately led to the back-breaking drive from the Irish. It was known that in order to have a chance in this game Carolina would need to hold their own in the trenches, but they failed on that one miserably.

Honorable Mentions

I held off on saying something about the officiating to here because it was no where near the cause for Carolina’s loss-they dug their own graves before it became a real issue-but the constant level of a clown show that ACC officiating shows is just beyond belief. The Pass Interference call made on Carolina when the defense had one last gasp of a save in them was about as bad as you could see, the quick trigger on Mack’s unsportsmanlike penalty almost seemed like they knew they had messed up, and the deference that Notre Dame gets in their calls remains baffling for a program where results don’t match their reputation. It’s almost as if the home office is trying to tell the Irish that if they becoming permanent members, that this is the type of treatment they can expect. Again, it was not the reason Carolina lost, not even close, but it’s still bad enough to warrant criticism and it’s amazing that a billion dollar industry like this can’t offer better solutions.

The Tar Heels will have to put this embarrassment behind them quickly, as they open ACC play against Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill next weekend. The game was announced as a 3:30 start, but it’s looking like it might be another hurricane remnant game as Hurricane Ike is predicted to passing over the area around game time. Either way, hopefully the Tar Heels can get right against the struggling Hokies.