It’s been clear since last weekend that this Tar Heels football team is playing for 2018. Sure, mathematically they have a chance at a bowl game. It’s also mathematically possible that I could be called to suit up for this team.
I mean, I never played a down, and haven’t gotten paid for playing football, so why not?
Saturday’s game was really a roller coaster until the inevitable crash at the end. So, instead of going sky high, let’s remind ourselves of the ride shall we?
High: The defense comes out motivated
It’s starting to look like the first two games were outliers in terms of the defense for this team. Ever since ODU, the Carolina defense has repeatedly given the offense their chances. Think I’m kdding? Look at what they’ve done going into halftime.
ODU: Seven first half points
Duke: 10 First half points
Georgia Tech: 10 first half points
Notre Dame: 14 first half points
For a team that traditionally has had a high-powered offense, this is what you ask of the other side of the field. The game may have ended ugly, but conditions were just fine in the beginning for Notre Dame to do some serious damage. Instead, Notre Dame had punt, punt, loss of downs to start. That last one was big, as Notre Dame showed no respect at all to the historically weak running defense for Carolina, but the Heels, for the most part, held.
Low: The offense-not so much
First three series:
3 Plays, 9 yards
3 plays, 1 yard
3 plays, -3 yards
Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t take these sustained short series and surrendered a touchdown after that last series. The ineptitude continued:
3 plays, 5 yards
3 plays, 5 yards
7 plays (Hey a first down!), 54 yards...fumble
6 plays, 28 yards
Seven series. All ended with giving the ball back to Notre Dame. Frankly, that by end of the 7th series, that Carolina wasn’t down 28-0 was a miracle, again, thanks to the defense.
High: The first scoring drive
While there was a lot of ineptitude in the first seven drives, the defense kept it a two score game. Thanks to Notre Dame taking the ball to start, if the Heels could get a score, they would amazingly still be in the game.
The drive was set up thanks to Player of the Game Myles Dorn. Notre Dame was chugging along, looking for the kill shot to go up 21-0 before the half when Dorn intercepted the Ian Book pass at the +47 yard line. Chazz Surratt managed to get the ball to the 25, and his scrambling almost produced a spectacular catch from Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the end zone.
He tried again two plays later.
Carolina has a number 1 guy in Ratliff-Williams. This was an amazing catch, and it brought life to Kenan Stadium.
Low: The end of the first half
Amazingly, Carolina was going to get a chance to tie the game before Notre Dame would touch the ball again. The defense held after the touchdown, but the Irish got off a great punt that was downed at the 1 yard line.
Here, Coach Larry Fedora’s aggression got the better of him. The Irish had two timeouts, and the clock was well under 40 seconds, meaning that all Carolina didn’t have to do was give up a safety and they would walk into the locker room with a chance to get the ball at the start of the second half. So, line it up under center and QB sneak, right? Nope.
You really could write a whole article about how many wrong decisions were made on these two plays. The fact is that Notre Dame wasn’t fooled at all, forced an incomplete pass on first down, Surratt then lined up in shotgun again, and proceeded to hand the ball off to Jordan Brown. Brown didn’t get out of the end zone, and what should have been a 14-7 game was now 16-7, and only a penalty on the free kick kept Notre Dame from trying for more.
The trip to the locker room didn’t change this flip in momentum, as Surratt came out and had his third down pass batted down for an interception. Any energy in Kenan was sucked out, especially as a hard rain started to fall in Chapel Hill.
You can read what Fedoora said here. At this point, we don’t need to hammer this any more.
High: The defense still didn’t give up
So, defense, the offense has been inept, and the one chance they had to get this score tied and reward you for your work has turned into a comedy of errors. Now go back out there and keep giving them a chance!
Oh, by the way, keep one of the best rushing attacks in the country from getting a touchdown with them getting the ball on your 16 yeard line. GO GET ‘EM! They did.
The defense held Notre Dame to a field goal after that interception. When everyone in Kenan had given up on this game, they didn’t, and they even didn’t give up after the offense rewarded this effort with another punt. All they did was line up and let Miles Dorn get his second interception of the day.
No matter how the rest of the game turned out, the defense did its job. Yes, Notre Dame was working with a backup quarterback, but time and again the defense gave the offense a chance to stay in this game. You can’t ask anymore out of that side of the ball, and eventually they were going to break.
Low: The final nail in the coffin
Once again the offense couldn’t cash in on a great play from the defense, and you knew it was only a matter of time before the defense was going to break. The Irish took advantage of the weather, stuck the ball on the ground, and in two plays cashed it in for the 26-7 lead.
Pretty much anyone left in Kenan cheering for Carolina headed for the exits after this. You knew they weren’t going to come back from 19 down, and the will of the defense had been broken. The rest of the game was perfunctory, as Notre Dame got one more touchdown, and the sizable Fighting Irish fans got to celebrate a win in Kenan.
That the defense held on as long as they did against a really good Notre Dame is something to shine the spotlight on. There is no shame in the ground they gave up considering the sheer number of chances that Notre Dame had and the rushing attack they brought into Chapel Hill. One hopes that they keep plugging away, because they are going to see some real strong teams coming up in the next few weeks.
The offense is another story. It’s completely possible that they just may not be able to show a great amount of improvement, considering the circumstances. Surratt is going to make a lot more mistakes, and Fedora is likely going to continue to be aggressive, hoping that the mistakes made now turn into lessons for next week. We’ll see what happens against UVA.