You all know the saying about the definition of insanity, and it does feel like a sub-definition could just be “Carolina Football.” For years, we expect something different, and every time the same disappointment ends up washing over us. Yet we still watch, hoping that maybe generational talent will cause the program to rise above the years of mediocrity they give us. Saturday, though, feels like it may be the breaking point for a lot of fans. For the second year in a row, the team is stumbling after a hot start to lower-tier conference programs, and it sure looks like the second generational quarterback in a row is about to leave UNC accomplishing...nothing.
Why don’t we rip through the good before we talk seriously about all of the losers from Saturday night.
Omarion Hampton - Once again our Player of the Game, as Chip Lindsey listened to the fan outcry from last week and rode one of the best backs in college football to the tune of 153 yards on the ground, 41 yards through the air, and three total touchdowns. He has an argument to be the best offensive player on the field for Carolina this season. If you’re looking for good news on the UNC side, it’s that this is just his second year, meaning he can’t yet go to the NFL. Whether he stays in Chapel Hill after this year and with the amount of turnover coming...
Drake Maye - Saturday night is not his fault. Once again no turnovers, once again well over 300 yards despite the emphasis on the run game, and arguably the total should have been significantly higher if not for some horrendous officiating. He was also responsible for three touchdowns. He only needed go to 17-25 to get that 300 yards, and he showed himself a leader after the game by stating he and the players on the field need to be more active in telling the coaches about plays they want to call. The season now has turned into giving him the best looks going into the NFL as possible.
Tychaun Chapman - A spark when the Tar Heels needed it, Chapman sped down the field for the longest kickoff return of the year for Carolina, and then followed that up by catching one of the best dimes that Maye has thrown all year for a 35 yard score where he was wide open. The redshirt freshman is making a play to be on the field more, and with a game against Campbell coming next week, this won’t be the last we’ll see of the speedster.
Gene Chizik - How on Earth was the defense that poor after last week? The regression by this group is horrendous, but more concerning is the fact that there were several times when the group needed to make a big stop, the defense on the field was just not right. The truth is they’ve been exposed. They’ve been exposed as being susceptible to tempo and running, and they’ve been exposed as being front-running that can’t handle the slightest bit of adversity. They’ve also been exposed to overuse as, over the last two games, Cedric Gray and Power Echols have played 168 snaps. At this point in the season, it’s criminal that you can’t trust someone else to give those two guys some rest, and it’s showing that there is just not enough depth development when you have to lean on your stars that much. Regardless of how this season turns out, one has to think this is going to be the last year under Chizik. He managed to improve this squad to start, at least, but they’ve clearly hit the limit of what they can do under him.
Officiating - Carolina deserved to lose the game with the effort they put up on defense, and that the defense couldn’t hang, even with the offense scoring on 100% of the drives, is inexcusable. Still, it’s also inexcusable to continue to accept this level of officiating from the ACC. All we want as fans is consistency, and yet Carolina would continually get called for holding where Georgia Tech would just wrestle guys by the neck and there’d be no flag. A huge pass to Bryson Nesbit was wiped out because a Carolina lineman made a legal block against a much smaller Georgia Tech cornerback, essentially being called for being bigger than the other player. Meanwhile a shady defensive pass interference call was made against the Heels, while Tez Walker was mugged for all to see with no call. The inconsistency is maddening but didn’t cost Carolina the game.
Carolina Football Fandom - The easiest thing to do after another collapse is to call for the coach’s head, as it’s clear now that there is a ceiling for this program under its current leadership. The problem is that this is a very similar mindset to what the fanbase experienced during Mack Brown 1.0. Prior to his first run as head coach, Carolina football was awash in mediocrity with only the occasional rise. They had Lawrence Taylor, for goodness’ sake, and only won one ACC title. Mack came into a decimated program, took his lumps, and built an actual program that had fans seeking the top of the college football mountain. After a stunning loss in 1996 to Virginia (sound familiar?) and then just falling flat to FSU in 1997, Brown read the writing on the wall and took the head coaching job at Texas—a school that valued football above everything else—and within eight years won a national title.
He came back to Chapel Hill with the program again in tatters and has raised fans’ expectations to the point where they feel they should be talked about with the giants of the sport—and yet they once again suffered inexplicable losses. In both tenures, Mack has been able to recruit generational talent, rebuild the recruiting network in-state, get the national voices to pay attention to Carolina, get donors to care enough to at least fund improvements, and get fans excited. Yet the one thing he can’t seemingly do is get the program over the hump, to where they are past these inexplicable losses that seem to always push the program back into mediocrity (at best). In term 1.0 he brought through some of the best defensive players to ever to play at UNC, and had no ACC titles or major bowl wins to show for it. In 2.0, he’s about to see two of the best quarterbacks ever to play at UNC get a Military Bowl win and the final ACC Coastal Title, and that’s it.
It might be time for fans to come to grips with the fact that this is what Carolina will always be. With a stadium a fraction of the size of big football schools, a donor base that still values basketball over football, and a fanbase willing to abandon the team at any moment, it might just be impossible for the school to ever be a serious contender in football. It’s easy to blame Mack for the confounding losses, yet a quick look to the Larry Fedora, Butch Davis, John Bunting, and Carl Torbush eras will find similarly vexing losses. It feels like something beyond what Brown can fix at this point, and while it’s easy to say “change the coach,” the question ultimately becomes “for who?” Carolina Football isn’t a destination job, and likely will be at best a stepping stone to the premier programs of the sport. Mack has done exactly what he needed to do when he was hired—at least make it attractive enough for it to be a stepping stone. The question is can we as fans just have fun with this program as it is and quit pretending it will ever be anything more?
Tom Maginness recovered from a horrid game against Virginia to produce a 50 yard punting average, including one 57 yarder. He had to feel the pressure after last week and the one blocked punt was not his fault...Bryson Nesbit showed up in a big way, and should have been over 100 yards receiving if not for his best play being wiped out by that bogus holding call. The entirety of the UNC tight ends group is just such a tough cover...of course Noah Burnette missed his first one when the graphic splashed across the screen that he was perfect for the year. The miss really didn’t make a difference and, to be frank, Mack probably should have just gone for it instead.
The question about next week’s game against Campbell at noon—just how bad will the atmosphere be at Kenan? The fan base is clearly tired of this and with all the special accomplishments now gone for the season there’s going to be a huge “why bother” aspect. We shall see.