UNC-GT: The Good and the Bad

Knight had a solid performance

Despite numerous mental and physical mistakes, the North Carolina Tar Heels had a chance to knock off Georgia Tech on Saturday. But the Heels ultimately couldn't overcome their blunders, and dropped to 1-3 after losing, 21-13, before a crowd of 57,000 at Kenan Stadium.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's loss in its Atlantic Coast Conference opener.

GOOD

Dexter Reid – As always, Reid had a quality game. Because of the team's issues on defense, he has been forced to become the team's primary run stopper, not a good sign considering he is a free safety. He is the unit's top player and never takes a play off. It's never a surprise to see the defense's smartest player make either the initial hit or be the one to finally bring down a ball carrier.

Kevin Knight – Nobody on defense played a great game, and certainly the secondary will gets its due wrath from John Bunting, but Knight did have a solid performance. He challenged Tech's receivers all day and usually got the better end of the deal. He played the run relatively well, but his strength is pass defense, and he should score out pretty well in this one.

Tight ends – Despite Bobby Blizzard's fumble, the tight ends played well, all things considered. Blizzard had three receptions for 72 yards, and was impressive eluding Techsters on his 60-yard catch and run before losing the ball at the two. Hilton had a pair of receptions for 30 yards. It would only make sense for the Heels to use this pair more often down the road. They are big targets that catch the ball properly and shed tacklers with regularity.

Still had a chance – Even though Carolina made enough mistakes to last a month of games, it still had a chance to win. Consider: if Blizzard doesn't fumble at the two-yard-line the Heels likely score a touchdown. That would have given them 20 points for the game. If Derrick Johnson doesn't run into the kicker, Tech has no choice but to keep three points instead of taking them off the board and scoring a touchdown a few plays later. Take away four points from G.T. and UNC wins 20-17. Perhaps things would have gone differently had these two errors not taken place, but it doesn't change the fact that the Tar Heels can play extremely poorly against a quality opponent and almost win. Imagine the results when the Heels don't litter the field with an array of careless mistakes.

Jacque Lewis – Lewis finished with 51 yards on 13 carries (3.9 per carry average) but still had a nice game. He missed a key block, but overall, was a positive. He hits the hole well, has excellent balance, and plays with tremendous determination to get that extra yard. It's too bad he didn't carry the ball more.

Temporary seating – Okay, Kenan was still a bit under capacity, and way too many fans left early, but the 1,500 temporary seats look good and should be permanent. In fact, they ought to make it 3,000 for next year. This would be a nice trial run to see if building something permanent is sensible at this time.

BAD

Fundamentals – Fundamentally, Carolina has major issues defensively. Not that they aren't being taught the proper way to execute their schemes, it's just that the players don't appear to either be getting it or aren't ready yet to consistently perform to the staff's desired level.

Offensively, they are also making some rather simple errors. Had the Heels played cleaner football, thus far they would likely have two more wins, which is an indication that in time this should be a quality team, with assumed improvement.

The Tar Heels are not a quality tackling team. Saturday's loss to Tech wasn't a one-time thing. It has been a reoccurring problem each week, even in the team's lone victory (at Syracuse). There were too many missed tackles in the backfield that would have stalled Tech drives and too many that allowed Tech's receivers to convert numerous third-down situations. In fact, the Jackets were 11-17 on third down. The defensive backs played too soft (it was noted in this space after the Miami loss they were playing too soft, and it hurt them then as well), and often allowed Tech to catch a 7-yard pass when all they needed was six yards for the first down. Most of Carolina's eight penalties were crucial. None more than the running into the kicker by Johnson. That literally gave Tech four points. Perhaps Bunting would have kicked a field goal with less than five minutes left on fourth and five at Tech's 22 instead of going for it. It would have cut Tech's lead to 17-16, and the atmosphere would have likely been different.

The bottom line is that they made too many glaring mistakes at key moments in the game. As this continues, folks will question the coaching staff, and rightfully so. Most UNC fans and observers are confident Bunting is the right man for the job, but if these fundamental problems persist, faith in him may begin to wane.

Michael Waddell – Waddell's gained a basic pass after his mediocre-to-poor performance against Texas. Although Tech doesn't have a Roy Williams, they do have an excellent corps of receivers, but if Waddell is an NFL-caliber player, he should not have been beaten as frequently as he was. In fact, he was off his game so much Bunting benched him. His interception was the first by a UNC cornerback in a regular season game since Carl Tobush was coach.

Secondary – Although Reid and Knight played well, they weren't great. The unit as a whole was awful at times, especially in key situations. It could be the scheme and not the players, or it could be a combination of both. Why did Tech routinely complete seven-yard passes when they need six yards? The DBs also have trouble tackling, which has been evident in each of the four games. Derrick Johnson's blown tackle on third-and-seven with 4:25 left after a UNC timeout is the perfect example. To be fair to Johnson, his mates blew many tackles as well.

Play calling – No aspect of analyzing a football game is more difficult than critiquing the play-calling. Hindsight is 20-20 vision, so one must put him/herself in the coach's position at the time a call was made. And for the most part, Gary Tranquill and Bunting do a fine job, but in Saturday's case, there were some questionable decisions.
---Why did Lewis carry the ball just 13 times, including only four attempts in the second half? He gained 51 yards for the game (9 for 41 in the first half), but with his ability to turn two-yard gains into eight-yard bursts, it would have made sense to use him more, especially if one considers UNC's defense was wearing down and struggled on third down. Tech converted on nine third-down situations and one fourth down in the second half. Their lone score in the final half also came on third down, so, Tech was 10-13 on third downs in the second half, plus the fourth-down conversion.
---Sam Aiken had three receptions for 35 yards. One catch was for 30, the other two combined for five yards. No matter how well he is covered UNC must find ways to get him the ball, especially if he is an NFL-caliber receiver.
---Too many designed runs for Darian Durant. He shouldn't be confused athletically with Ronald Curry and shouldn't run as often either. The QB keeper called on third-and-five at Tech's 22 late in the game made little sense and didn't work!
---There have been too many pass plays this season that require Durant to throw wide. He's had little success throwing toward the sidelines or long (note the interceptions against Texas, a couple against Miami, and some near misses on Saturday). UNC should use the tight ends over the middle more often, or even a bit wide. Durant did hit them going wide a few times on Saturday, but few other passes not toward the middle of the field have been successful.
---How about throwing to the tailbacks sometimes. With Willie Parker's speed (remember TD runs at Syracuse and Maryland) it makes sense to get him the ball in the open field a couple of times a game.

Yards & points – The Tar Heels have managed to gain a lot of yards, although it too often appears as if the offense is terrible for two possessions and lethal for one. But they frequently self-destruct when going well (Blizzard's fumble followed an 11-yard reception by Hilton and a 10-yard run by Madison Hedgecock). After four games, UNC has just six TDs and one FG in the red zone. In fact, they hadn't even tried a field goal in the red zone until Orner's 39-yarder (snapped from the 22) on Saturday. Other ACC teams HEADING INTO THE WEEKEND: Georgia Tech 14-14 (13 TDs, 1 FG), Duke 7-8 (4 TDs, 3 FGs), Maryland 13-15 (10 TDs, 3 FGs), Clemson 14-17 (10 TDs, 4 FGs), N.C. State 24-30 (21 TDs, 3 FGs), FSU 20-25 (16 TDs, 4 FGs), Virginia 15-19 (15 TDs, 0 FGs), Wake Forest 13-20 (13 TDs, 2 FGs). UNC is 5-8 with 5 TDs and no FGs.

Non-offensive point production – N.C. State's Lamont Reid already has four touchdowns this year. He has returned two kickoffs, one punt and one interception for scores. Although State hasn't played the level of competition UNC has, that's still impressive. UNC is one of two ACC teams (Georgia Tech) to not have any points from its defense or special teams (exempting field goals) thus far. In fact, in Bunting's 17 games as head coach, UNC has just three TDs from the defense and special teams, and two were in last season's opener at Oklahoma and the other was Reid's interception return against Virginia last fall. The Heels need to take more chances. They have just one blocked kick (PAT, FG or punt) in Bunting's 17 games, and that was a blocked field goal by Waddell last year.

Blue on blue – It just doesn't look good. The blue pants with the white jerseys are okay sometimes, but the white-on-white looks best on the road and blue-on-white looks best at home.

0-3 at home – With two of the games lost because of fundamental and silly mistakes, this isn't a good thing.

This year/last year – The Heels have started out 1-3 in both of Bunting's seasons, but one has to believe this year's 1-3 is far more discouraging than last year's. And, considering Carolina's youth, defensive questions, and the increased strength of the ACC plus next week's game at Arizona State, it's difficult to imagine this team reaching a bowl game.

Fans – Many UNC fans care a great deal about the football program and show support, either at Kenan or on the road, on a regular basis. But too many do not, and many of them unfortunately attend games. What on earth did 25,000 UNC "football" fans have to do that took them away from Kenan with five minutes left in the game even though the Heels were down by ONE touchdown? These are the same people that will complain about the lack of talent at UNC. Yet when top-rated recruits see them leave so early, their lack of passion and concern, and then witness 104,000 Tennessee fans show up for a game against lowly Rutgers, or 71,000 Arkansas (comparable program to UNC) fans show up for South Florida – and stay to the end, it's pretty obvious what is more impressive to 17-year-old athletes.

Considering how frustrated many fans must have been after 55 minutes of Carolina's dismal performance, it is somewhat understandable why some wanted to get the heck out of there. But, like it or not, the fans are a huge part of the program and need to show support for the team, especially when trailing by a single touchdown.

When Bunting speaks about changing the culture, he is mainly talking about the fans without directly indicting them as a whole. That so many fans left when it was anyone's game is nothing short of a disgrace and a real embarrassment for UNC football. The sad thing is, this lack of passion will negatively affect the program's image. Perhaps it would be better if these fair-weather fans didn't attend at all! If you expect the players to give 100 percent for 60 minutes, you should too.

Never has UNC football appeared so unimportant than the mass exodus that took place on Saturday on ABC. Imagine how awful it would have looked on ESPN or FSN if the game went into overtime. There were just 15,000 fans in the stadium when Tech had the ball on 3rd-and-four with 3:23 left. That truly is pathetic!

Band – At some point, the band may get it, if they choose to. Bunting has spoken to them about changing their approach, and the constant criticism from fans is something likely not lost on them either. They should play snippets of various fight songs after ALL first downs and quality plays on defense. They also need to play something other than basketball music during timeouts. This is football folks. The team and atmosphere needs the band to be a part of the event as they are a part of the program. Also - and this absolutely makes no sense - but why do they stop and face the student body as a unit and play "Take On Me" by 1980's one-hit wonder Aha right before the start of the second half? Is this their idea of starting a new tradition? To be fair, the song works well at basketball games, but not football. And, not ONE member of the student body was seen by these eyes dancing or even paying attention. It was truly a sad moment in Kenan's history. Don't blame the band members. Blame those in charge.

Game day organization – The cheerleaders had fans chanting "Tar …. Heels" when UNC had the ball again. Actually, it started early in a time out. When will someone tell them this is a major no-no? This should be saved for when the Heels are on defense. Also, the ram mascot was shooting T-shirts into the stands during the game when G.T. was driving, just like in the Texas and Miami games. Leave this for timeouts, not during the game.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels travel to Tempe to take on red hot Arizona State, 65-24 winners over Stanford on Saturday. Game time is set for 10 p.m. EST and will not be televised.


Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.

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