Heels’ Offense Sputters, Implodes
Wake Forest did a good job of pressuring T.J Yates, sacking the freshman signal-caller four times. The Tar Heels were able to get very little going on the ground, netting only 77 yards rushing on the day. While Yates completed a high percentage of passes (78%) and had an average day in terms of total yards (236) his two costly errant throws marred his performance. “Those two picks killed us,” Yates said.
The Tar Heel offense sputtered for three quarters, but scored quickly in the fourth quarter on a 78- yard drive, culminating in a T.J. Yates’ touchdown pass to Bobby Rome. After the Deacons answered to run the score to 30-10, the Heels were on the march again – down to Wake’s 26-yard line - when Yates’ threw his second interception of the game, which was returned for a Deacon touchdown that ran the score to 37-10.
“They are a very opportunistic team,” Yates added.
Yates was a little too quick to take all the blame for the loss – while the interceptions didn’t help the Tar Heel effort, special teams play had a great deal to do with the loss.
Special Teams Snafus Sink Heels
Among several special teams miscues, the Tar Heels gave up their first kick return for a touchdown of the season, a 98-yard second quarter return by Kevin Marion. Marion nearly repeated the same feat in the fourth quarter, tripping up at the 19-yard line. That return set up a touchdown run by Wake Forrest tailback Josh Adams that ended what was left of UNC’s hopes.
After holding the Deacons on their first series of the second half, a Tar Heel inadvertently touched the ensuing punt, and the Deacons covered the ball on their own 22-yard line, setting up another Sam Swank field goal to put Wake Forest up 20-3.
To add to UNC’s special teams woes, the Tar Heels had a couple of penalties on kick returns. Asked to explain North Carolina’s special teams mistakes, head coach Butch Davis put it bluntly -- “Like a lot of things, too many freshmen,” he said. Davis stated that with so many true and red-shirt freshmen forced into special teams duties, it overtaxes the unit.
The two-week layoff appeared to leave some rust on the Tar Heels.
Pre-snap penalties, particularly of the false start variety, plagued North Carolina in the first half. “The linebackers move the defense, they time it perfectly; they’re a very well-coached team,” senior center Scott Lenahan explained.
There were snap-count issues at times, and in general the offense appeared out-of-sync. While slow starts have been the norm for UNC this year, the first-half play was unusually sloppy. The early mistakes made by the Tar Heels helped put them in a 17-3 hole with only 13:34 left to play in the first half. “Mental errors keep killing us,” wide receiver Hakeen Nicks said.
In the first half, not much separated the two teams statistically except for the Tar Heel miscues, including the first interception toss by Yates on the very first play of the game, resulting in the Deacons’ first score, a Sam Swank field goal. “Just a missed read of the linebacker on my part,” Yates said.
“Wake Forest plays disciplined defense, made a lot of plays, and capitalized on all their opportunities,” Yates added. “I thought we were well-prepared: Wake Forest played a hell of a game, and we didn’t.”
While the score does not reflect it, the Tar Heel defense played well enough to win -- had it not been for mistakes on offense and special teams. The UNC defense sacked Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner four times, held Wake Forest to 269 yards of total offense, and limited the Deacons to 13 first downs – five less than the Tar Heels.
While there is clearly a lot of work left to be done on defense, the unit was too often called upon to defend a short field. The UNC defense gave up only one double-digit play scoring drive.
The move of Quan Sturdivant to middle linebacker has been a key piece in the improvement of the Tar Heel defense. He had eight tackles, tied for most with defensive end E.J. Wilson, who arguably played his best game of the season.
Richie Rich Moves to Defense
The Monday of the bye week, the North Carolina coaches approached Richie Rich, who had played tailback for most of two seasons, and made the decision to move him to nickel cornerback. “I appreciate the coaching staff for giving me the opportunity,” Rich said, adding that he is beginning to enjoy playing defense and anticipates the move is permanent.
Davis Takes the Heat
“I personally take responsibility for that,” Davis said following the game. Davis went on to credit Wake Forest saying, “They are not going to give you anything, anything you get you’re going to have to earn.”