It was a heavy dose of poor as you analyze North Carolina’s performance in their loss against Clemson. While a rollercoaster at times, this game was a steady and methodical beatdown that came at fault of the entire team. In football, there is rarely the ability to pinpoint a loss to one position group. That remained true on Saturday, as it was consistent mediocrity across the board.
If there was a student who was outmatched and liked to ruin their own grades by not turning assignments in, their report card might look something like this article. Bad football metaphor, bad football performance.
Here are our position grades for North Carolina:
Drake Maye was contained in a vast way versus Clemson. Other than a couple of scrambles and deep balls to Tez Walker, it was a struggle for the entire offense on Saturday, and much of that falls on what Drake could (or couldn’t) do. He threw for only 209 yards with one score and one interception.
The Tigers pressure got to Drake Maye and stifled the entire offensive attack. Too many throws were not in the reach of receivers, and the Tar Heels just didn’t move the ball with any sort of rhythm like they typically do.
I wouldn’t hesitate to say this is one of Drake’s worst performances this season, therefore resulting in a tough grade that is very uncharacteristic.
Running Backs: B
Omarion Hampton ran for 178 yards, continuing his unconscious spurt of statistical performances. The blemish, though, was the two fumbles inside the 10-yard line. I give Omarion the benefit of the doubt after the year he has had, but yeah, they hurt the Tar Heels.
One came on the first drive at the seven-yard line, and another came on a 64-yard run where the ball was punched out as his feet crossed the goal line, resulting in a heartbreaking turnover that would have been seven North Carolina points if it weren’t for a few feet.
It’s hard to bash a group that has carried this offense for the most part, and that did again today. The two fumbles really leave a bad taste in your mouth, though, with how much they altered the game.
Wide Receivers: B+
The poor pass game hurt the production from the wide receiver core. Tez Walker made a great sideline grab on a deep ball, which seems routine now. J.J. Jones reeled in a touchdown grab on a beautiful ball from Drake Maye. Other than that, it was a quiet day.
There weren’t any critical drops or mistakes, except poor blocking on a fourth down around midfield in the first half. It’s hard to come up with any more criticism than that, but it was definitely not the performance we know this crew is capable of.
Tight Ends: B
Like the receivers, a quiet day. Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver both had two catches for 29 and 18 yards, respectively. As we saw last week, the tight end group is a crucial part of the offense’s success. When they aren’t involved, you know something might not be clicking. Exhibit A: yesterday versus Clemson.
Offensive Line: C-
It was ugly all day long for this unit. Omarion Hampton struggled to find holes when and where he usually does, and Drake Maye, as we touched on, felt the pressure from the Clemson defense from the get-go. He was sacked four times.
Even when Drake did get the ball off, it was disrupted a large percentage of the time. Then there’s the penalties. The offensive line had a handful of pre-snap penalties that continued to back the Tar Heels up, and there was no sign of any adjustment. Not good.
Defensive Line: B-
Clemson ran for 247 yards on the ground. It was an absolute field day for their backs, but the more frustrating part of that stat is how many of those yards came after contact. The Tigers ran the ball a lot, and there were some spurts where the defensive front held its own. But the inability to make that initial tackle is what burnt the entire Carolina defense on Saturday, and that starts with the defensive line.
The numbers are rough, and the grades are harsh, but the defense was serviceable for the most part of the game. They spent too many snaps on the field trying to cover for the unproductive UNC offense.
While not perfect, this group continues to be the best piece of this North Carolina defense. Kaimon Rucker forced a fumble and recovered another. Cedric Gray had a massive TFL. The trio of Rucker, Echols, and Gray combined for 12 tackles and, per usual, made the most significant plays on the defensive side of the ball.
The reason they aren’t graded higher is because they also take responsibility for Will Shipley and Phil Mafah’s career days. For guys to get into that much open space, it has to go through the linebackers. There was too much of it today.
In a game where they were challenged less, it was a reasonably uneventful day for the secondary compared to usual. The typical issues of missed tackles and getting beat deep had their fair share of presence, but they kept most of Clemson’s pass game in front of them throughout the game.
Alijah Huzzie left the game with an injury, which certainly did not help the cause. Don Chapman got shaken up later, as well, but he seemed to be able to get off under his own power.
Special Teams: A+
Yes! They have arrived. Here’s what we’ve all been waiting for. Punter Tom Maginness had five punts, three landing inside the 20 and one stopping at the 2. Noah Burnette was a perfect 2/2 on XP’s, but he did not attempt a FG.
Clemson ran a fake punt in the first half that was swarmed up by the UNC punt team. It was a giant momentum shifter. After weeks of getting beat, running backward, and killing this team, this unit was a lone true success in a tough loss.
I will always put a lot of what happens on the coaching staff. They did not lose North Carolina this game, but there wasn’t one position group that did, if that is how we want to look at it. When a game is mistake-heavy and poorly managed, I look right at Mack Brown and his assistants, which is a large part of what happened on Saturday.
Clock and timeout usage were disastrous. Decision-making on fourth down was questionable. Worst of all, when a team cannot bounce back from mistakes, bad calls, or tough luck, you wonder what the morale of the coaches is on the sideline.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: when Drake Maye and company don’t steal the show and actually need to rely on elite coaching, it isn’t there. Coaching looks great when Drake makes an off-balance fading touchdown pass. But when nothing is clicking and nothing is changing, this staff cannot pick the team up when they need it most.