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UNC Football vs. Virginia - Three Things Learned

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The maddening saga of the 2018 Tar Heels continues.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It really does say something about this season that UNC can lose by ten in the latest iteration of The South’s Oldest Rivalry and everyone pretty much takes it in stride. That seven-game winning streak against the Wahoos that ended last year seems like an eternity ago. Welcome to the purgatory that is Carolina football.

Here are three things learned from the Tar Heels’ latest defeat.

UNC’s Defense Has Entered The Twilight Zone

Larry Fedora’s squads have never been noted for their defense. The successes of 2015 and 2016 came in spite of their susceptibility on the other side of the ball. Take away the explosive offense that Fedora leans on? Well, it just brings those shortcomings into sharp relief.

This Tar Heel defense is awful. Absolutely awful. For the 5th time this season, they allowed an opponent to crack thirty points. They are surrendering over 34 points per game, almost as bad as the catastrophic sieve that was 2014 (a mark that I firmly believe will never be topped). And, to make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be any one major flaw, just a collection of them.

Yesterday, it was the run that killed UNC. The Heels surrendered 208 yards on the ground on 44 carries. UVA only threw the ball 18 times and still put up 31 points. 112 of those yards came from QB Bryce Perkins who, to be fair, is as elusive and speedy a quarterback as any in D1. But when you allow any quarterback to carry the ball 21 times and average 5.3 yards per carry, to quote Jim Mora: “You ain’t beating anybody.”

UNC’s Offensive Line Is a Problem

While UVA’s run game flourished, Carolina’s withered. 66 total yards on the ground. At one point, Nathan Elliott was seen on the sideline mouthing the words “We can’t run the ball.” A master of the obvious, Mr. Elliott is. But it’s difficult to put the blame on the RB corps for a performance like that. The offensive line was flat-out bullied yesterday and Michael Carter, Antonio Williams, and Company had nothing to work with.

UNC’s O-Line hasn’t given up many sacks this year (just 9 in 7 games), but they have been very poor at opening up holes for the run game. Over and over yesterday we saw backs contacted behind the line of scrimmage or being forced to fight through tackle just to gain a couple yards. With the dearth of talent at quarterback, that just isn’t going to cut it. Without opening up the run, this Carolina offense is dead on arrival.

UNC’s Playmakers Are Being Asked To Do Too Much

Perhaps the most maddening thing about this entire season is the obvious talent on this team that is being not only wasted but nullified. Put it this way: Given an average QB and average O-Line, players like Michael Carter, Anthony Ratliff-Williams, and Dazz Newsome would be big-time impact performers. Given a defensive line that could close up some running holes, players like Myles Dorn and Cole Holcomb would be All-ACC. But in the absence of these things, they are overworked Employees of the Month at a floundering business establishment.

Yesterday was clear indicator of this—Nathan Elliott finished with 271 yards passing and most of those yards came after the catch. Receivers being forced to make plays for a coach and quarterback that can’t set them up for success. Michael Carter somehow managed to average 5+ yards a carry despite the inability of the offense to set up a successful run game. Dorn and Holcomb combined for 22 tackles, 11 of them solo. It’s difficult watching talented young players struggling in a failing (or failed) system. But that’s the reality of playing a lost season of football.