UNC fans haven’t had cause to celebrate or castigate special teams in quite a while. Thanks to modern football touchbacks and a reliable Irish punter, nothing exciting ever happens.
It was quite a shock to the system then to see a combination of fireworks and catastrophe, sheer delight and horror all collide in a blender.
The coaching got the job done in the end, but it was against a pretty sorry Pitt team. There are some tendencies that need to get sorted before Carolina steps up to the weightier opponents on its schedule.
Special Teams: C
Alijah Huzzie deserves all the praise Tar Heel Blog has thrown his way this week. He was the stand-out on special teams (as well as defense) that gave UNC a spark when their offense wasn’t quite at the races in the first quarter. His first big punt return for 29 yards put the Heels on the 50-yard line. Drake Maye scampered into the endzone five plays later.
After a Pitt three-and-out, Huzzie did one better to put Carolina up 7, a lead they’d never relinquish...
... though not for lack of trying.
With UNC up 21 in the third quarter, Liam Boyd kicked off to Pitt’s Kenny Johnson. In past seasons, Jonathan Kim would regularly boot the ball nine yards deep into the endzone, making touchbacks a matter of course. Boyd’s was a bit shorter, and Johnson caught it with his back foot right on the front of the goal line.
11 seconds later he was in Carolina’s endzone.
Despite lining up strong on the left side and kicking left of center, Johnson was able to run right through the teeth of Carolina’s coverage and hit pay dirt completely untouched.
In the fourth quarter, Pitt rushed nine on a UNC punt, blocking Ben Kiernan’s kick and recovering it at the Tar Heel 20-yard line. It could have been a real momentum swinger if Pitt back-up quarterback didn’t piss down his leg on the very next play, fumbling on a botched hand-off.
Chip Lindsey did not force feed the run when Pitt was able to stop Omarion Hampton and British Brooks for short gains in the first half. Drake Maye wasn’t as prolific as he was against Minnesota, but he didn’t throw any interceptions.
In the fourth quarter, the offense turtled when they didn’t really need to, but Mack Brown must have had confidence that Gene Chizik and the defense could hold Pitt’s offense once they saw Christian Veilleux was not him.
The defense’s “bend but don’t break” philosophy seems to be working, but it can be frustrating. If Pitt, who couldn’t score a touchdown against West Virginia, can put together an opening drive straight into the endzone, what will the Clemson’s and Duke’s of the world do? The Tar Heel defense needs to impose themselves more. We saw they could do it against South Carolina, so it’s in the realm of possible. Chizik needs to make it a reality.