Positives and negatives from UNC's 27-19 win over N.C. State
Wins over Middle Tennessee and Boston College were nice, but I didn’t sense that they made the fan base jump up and down with joy. This latest win was different. Here are some positives and negatives, mostly positives, from UNC’s 27-19 win over N.C. State:
The rivalry win – Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. The 1-5 start meant that all of the postseason goals (short of making a mid-tier bowl) are gone. Really the only remaining game to really get excited about on the back half of the schedule was winning in Raleigh for the first time since 2005, and UNC just accomplished that.
As much as the coaches talked about how this was just another game, the fact is the N.C. State game seems to be the only time they take the trouble to decorate the locker room in the opponent’s colors. And it will probably be the only time Larry Fedora gets the Gatorade bath. And that the players celebrate on the opposing team’s logo (more on that below).
Afterward, Fedora acknowledged how important it have bragging rights in the state.
“Believe me, this team and this university and all of our fans take a tremendous amount of pride in that,” Fedora said. “As far as I know, it’s always been the Tar Heel State and always will be.”
The run game – Usually 152 yards in a game isn’t something to go crazy about, but it was 18 more yards than UNC had gained before. Most importantly, the run game contributed to the win – 67 of those yards came in the fourth quarter.
That included a 14-yard touchdown run by T.J. Logan with 11:19 remaining that gave the Tar Heels some breathing room, and a 10-yard run by A.J. Blue on third-and-8 that let UNC run out another two minutes at the end of the game.
The four-RB rotation of Logan, Blue, Romar Morris and Khris Francis gained 93 yards on 17 carries, an average of 5.5 yards a run.
True freshmen – Logan had 49 yards on six touches and scored his first career touchdown, receiver Ryan Switzer threw a 59-yard touchdown pass, Bug Howard had a game-high 72 receiving yards and cornerback Brian Walker recorded his first career interception. Not bad in the most hostile environment they’ll face all season.
Defensive communication – After allowing 13 pass plays of more than 25 yards in the first six games, UNC has only allowed one in the last two weeks – the final pass against N.C. State, which the Tar Heels basically gave the Wolfpack because it was 24 yards short of the end zone.
Eventually, the Tar Heels frustrated N.C. State so much that started Brandon Mitchell was pulled midway through the fourth quarter.
The missed assignments and miscommunications that plagued the defense early on haven’t been evident during the two-game win streak.
“We’ve been communicating more, talking on the field about what we needed to do,” said Scott, who had the first INT. “And once we figured it out what we’re doing we’re just having fun with it.”
The two-QB system – Neither quarterback had amazing stats (though Marquise Williams led the team in rushing for the third time in four games). But after the offense went for minus-14 yards and an interception on the first two drives under Bryn Renner, Williams came in and directed a 74-yard touchdown drive to turn momentum.
It was the best example yet of how a different look can affect a defense, and it certainly justified taking some of the reps away from Renner the past three weeks.
“Coach said there was going to be some adversity,” Williams said. “I had to pick the guys up. Let them know, ‘Believe in me, believe in the offense and what we’re doing.’”
Having two trusted QBs also came in handy in the third quarter, when both Renner (shoulder popped out) and Williams (stinger) had to leave momentarily.
The celebration – After the final play, the defense ran over to the N.C. State logo. Tim Scott and Tre Boston stomped on it and Tim Jackson slapped it (and there could have been others I didn’t see).
It was classless and unnecessary. If you don’t think so, ask yourself – how would you feel if N.C. State players stomped on the NC logo at Kenan? Or what if someone at N.C. State really took offense on Saturday and did something back, and it escalated from there, and now your star defensive players are in the middle of something and now they have to miss a game?
I had no problem with what Eric Ebron said after the game, or even the “Whose state? Our state!” chant as the team went to the locker room. But I think showing off in the middle of the field, while the losing team is right there, is asking for trouble.
Even Scott acknowledged afterward that he could see why N.C. State took it the wrong way. At the very least, UNC can’t complain if Duke does something at Kenan on Nov. 30.
The kicking game – Actually, Tommy Hibbard was great, knocking four of his eight punts inside the 20 (with just one touchback). But missing an extra point for the second straight week – one that could have made it a two-score game in the fourth quarter – is inexcusable.
It’s also not a good sign that Thomas Moore missed a 42-yard field goal, keeping his season long at 39 yards (though he is 8-8 from inside 40). His 46-yard attempt against Miami was blocked and returned for a TD, a key play in a four-point loss (though the coaches blamed that one on how long the snap took).
I have no idea where UNC is placing that field goal line, but it should be inside the 25, because the Tar Heels haven’t shown they can make a kick longer than that.