UNC-ASU: The Good & The Bad

Despite giving up a school record 657 yards, the North Carolina Tar Heels put up some impressive numbers of their own and took advantage of Arizona State's numerous mistakes to defeat the Pac-10 team, 38-35, before a crowd of 42,128 at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.

Here is a look at the good and the bad from UNC's second win in five games.

GOOD

Perseverance – The Tar Heels simply don't quit. The effort against Georgia Tech was questioned by some, but the simple fact is this club doesn't let up. They are fighters and resemble their coach. This was a tremendous character-building win.

Stamina – Credit strength and conditioning coach Jeff Connors for UNC's superior conditioning to ASU's in the fourth quarter. The Heels' defense stepped up and made some plays while ASU's didn't. The fresher, better-conditioned team won.

Darian Durant – Durant had another so-so performance in the first quarter and a half. He fumbled twice (not snaps, but conventionally), although both were recovered by UNC offensive linemen (Jupiter Wilson & Jason Brown). He also threw an interception – and was picked again in the second half, which was his only real mistake over the game's final 35 minutes.

Durant set a school record by throwing for 417 yards while completing 25 of 40 passes. But his numbers don't tell the entire story. His decision-making was exceptional, especially when it came to determining when to and when not to run. He also did an excellent job avoiding sacks. His five touchdown passes were also a school record.

Chesley Borders – Borders had the best game of his career, hauling in nine passes for 192 yards and a UNC record four TDs. Most of his catches were well defended, but he used his strength to fend off defenders, including the game-winning TD reception. After a slow start to his senior campaign, this might be what gets him going to complement Sam Aiken and provide the Heels with a formidable tandem.

Big plays – Durant had TD passes of 31, 29, 65 and 74 yards, plus he hooked up with Bobby Blizzard for a 54-yard gain that led to UNC's first score. Those receptions alone totaled 253 yards. If this becomes a regular thing for the Heels, they should have a chance to overcome obvious defensive woes most every week.

Quick drivesCarolina's last three scores averaged 1:41 per possession, proving this bunch can explode and score in bunches. Two of those TDs answered ASU touchdowns.

Dexter Reid – Reid had another excellent game sticking Sun Devils all over the field as he was in on 12 tackles, and also was part of some solid coverages. The leader of the defense, Reid is one of the nation's top defensive backs.

Michael Waddell – Waddell had a horrible first half, as ASU's Shaun McDonald had six receptions for 124 yards, most of which at the expense of Waddell's poor coverage. The Ellerbe senior performed much better in the decisive second half, however, as McDonald had just a pair of receptions despite being thrown to numerous times. Too often ASU QB Andrew Walter threw long because of Waddell's coverage, which included a crucial break up in the fourth quarter and the game-saving interception as it appeared ASU was driving for a TD that would have put them up 35-24. Five plays later Durant connected with Pollock to put UNC back on top. Waddell's improved play earns him a spot in the good for a change.

Turnover ratio – Carolina entered the game last in the ACC in turnover ratio at -8. After forcing the Devils into five giveaways (three fumbles and two interceptions) and coughing it up just twice itself, that number was reduced to -5.

Topher Roberts – UNC's kickoff specialist had five touchbacks in his seven kickoffs. The two balls ASU returned went for a combined 56 yards. Considering UNC's poor kick coverage thus far, Roberts' leg will be a quiet key for the remainder of the season.

T.O.P. – This may be a bit deceiving considering that ASU had its way with UNC's defense, but Carolina had the ball for 33:03 to the Sun Devils' 26:57. Dirk Koetter's club, however, ran 80 plays to UNC's 74. Attribute this to their fast-paced offense and 45 pass attempts. But nevertheless, UNC had the ball for six more minutes.

UNC fans – The 2,500 or so fans that showed up wore lots of blue and made a ton of noise. On a few occasions their chants of "Tar ….. Heels" forced Arizona State fans to respond with "ASU, ASU…" A safe bet says these aren't the fans that leave early regardless of the score!

Good win – The Tar Heels needed a win. And to go a step further, they needed a character win, and that is exactly what this was. There is no camouflaging the many negatives from this game, but a win is a win. And a win at a solid Pac-10 program is a very nice win. This could be a season-saver.

BAD

Pass defense – ASU quarterback Andrew Walter completed 27 of 45 passes for 474 yards, which was good for the fourth most prolific passing day in ASU history. Walter was rarely challenged as UNC applied little pressure. The linebacker blitzes didn't work and the coverage for the most part was suspect at best. Throwing the ball looked so easy that one has to wonder why ASU didn't pass every play. Although the Heels had a pair of interceptions, they still weren't aggressive enough.

Run defense – After having some success (save for a trio of runs totaling 44 yards), UNC limited ASU to 58 yards on 15 attempts in the first half. In the second half, even considering UNC's strength and conditioning, they allowed 157 yards on 20 attempts, bringing ASU's total to 215 yards on 35 rushes. Considering the Sun Devils' are primarily a passing team, this is a disturbing stat.

Overall defense – For the game, Arizona State amassed 657 yards, the most ever against the Tar Heels. They had 34 first downs and averaged 8.2 yards per play. The entire defense - coaches included - deserves blame for this performance.

Penalties – UNC was flagged 12 times for 76 yards. The yardage total would have been higher had ASU accepted a few more of the penalties. The Tar Heels were called for an alarming six false starts, which is simply unacceptable.

Sacks allowed – Durant lost 39 yards while being sacked six times on the night. The total would have been significantly higher had he not pulled a Houdini a few times. The pocket quickly closed regularly, forcing many of Durant's passes to be while he was out of the pocket. The offensive line must have quicker feet, pick up defensive changes, and the backs must lay some leather to blitzers more consistently.

Conventional ground attack – There is absolutely no imagination to UNC's offensive approach, especially in the running game. No misdirection, and very little trickery. On first down, the Heels are entirely too predictable. UNC began 13 of its 18 possessions on the ground. Twice Durant went to a knee to close out each half, but the other 11 times UNC offensive coordinator opted to give the ball to either Jocques Lewis or Willie Parker in between the tackles. In fact, of the 20 conventional handoffs UNC ran for the game, 11 came on first down. Eight of Lewis' 15 carries and three of Parker's five attempts were on first down.

No wonder the running stats were so poor. More than half of Carolina's carries came on first down, when ASU expected a simple running play. It's hard to gauge the rushing performance when the defense knows what's coming.

Top tacklers – Five of UNC's top seven tacklers were defensive backs in Tempe.

Overall tacklers – UNC had 21 different players record tackles, which can be seen as positive and negative. Positive because 19 of the players did so on defense as Bunting continues to give a lot of players game action. The negative is that five games into the season and UNC is still looking for consistency and a rotation that works on defense.

Punting – John Laffterty punted the ball eight times for 274 yards for an average of 34.3 yards per kick. ASU's punter booted the ball three times for an average of 47.3 yards per punt. None of Lafferty's punts ended up inside the 20 while two of Tim Parker's did.

Dubious records – Five games into the season and UNC has already tied or set school records in three ugly departments: most turnovers in a game (9), most points ever allowed at home (52), and most yards allowed (657).

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels return home - where they are 0-3 on the season – to face rival and unbeaten N.C. State at noon. The game will be televised regionally by JP Sports.


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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