UNC-NCSU: The Good & the Bad

UNC-NCSU: The Good & the Bad

The North Carolina Tar Heels continued their disappointing season by falling to arch rival N.C. State, 34-17, before a sellout crowd of 60,250 at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

Here is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's fourth loss in six games.

GOOD

Kevin Knight – Knight did a terrific job defending the pass all afternoon. He was in on five tackles and his play at the corner helped put UNC in position to win. In fact State, known for its big plays, didn't complete a pass for longer than 30 yards. Knight, a senior, is UNC's second best defender.

Dexter Reid – What else is new? Easily Carolina's best player, Reid was in on 14 tackles, 10 of which were solo. Some of his hits nearly registered on the Richter scale. For a team that has been frighteningly inconsistent, Reid's play has been anything but that. Is there a better free safety in the nation?

Darian Durant / first half – Durant's numbers have often been more impressive than his actual performances, but on Saturday, he played better in the first half than his numbers suggested. He completed just 10 of 23 passes in the initial two periods, but five passes were clearly dropped, and some of the completions were gorgeous tosses, usually over the middle, which is his strength. He also had a sweet 19-yard run. His wide passes - both short and long - have improved in recent weeks.

Play Calling / first half – The Heels showed some rare imagination with an end around, a few shovel passes, and with a lack of predictability. In doing so, they kept N.C. State's defense on its toes, and entertained Carolina fans, many of who have been critical of UNC's creativity.

Tackling / first half – The Heels did a fine job. They were well-prepared, met ball carriers aggressively, and made some nice helmet hits. The Heels played with a lot of intensity and it showed. The Heels were clearly ready and focused.

Defensive stretch – After State went 80 yards for a TD on its first possession of the contest, Carolina held the Wolfpack to just 124 yards and eight first downs for the remainder of the first half. State's drives between that score and halftime were 14, 13, 7, 26, 52 (missed field goal), and 3 yards. Good job by the staff for having the Heels prepared.

Fake punt – This was a terrific and gutsy call. It came in the second quarter with the Heels ahead 10-7 with less than two minutes before intermission. UNC didn't score on the possession, but did run three more plays before punting. The extra time meant State got the ball with just 23 seconds remaining. The play certainly worked better than Carolina's fake punt in 2000, when Carl Torbush had punter John Lafferty fake a punt well inside their own territory. The play was snuffed out by the Wolfpack, and it led to a key touchdown.

BAD

Run defense – Carolina's run defense was solid but unspectacular in the first half. But it was downright terrible in the second half, as State ran the ball 29 times for 176 yards. Last week Arizona State ran 20 times for 157 yards in the final two quarters, meaning UNC has surrendered 333 yards on 49 carries in second half of the last two games. What was really apparent on Saturday is that it isn't just the defensive line getting pounded.

A major reason the Heels aren't stopping the run, especially wide, is because there is precious little lateral pursuit by the linebackers. They don't run well laterally and aren't able to close in on tailbacks on sweeps like last year's unit could. One reason the Heels haven't defended the pass well is because their DBs have been too concerned about the run.

Darian Durant / second half – Durant has yet to put together two quality halves in the same game. His second-half performance against State was not good at all. UNC had momentum after State scored to cut the margin to 17-13 because Michael Waddell blocked NCSU's extra point and Doug Justice ran some 50 yards before being tackled. The yards only mattered because it excited the home crowd and helped reel the momentum back UNC's way. Yet two plays later, Durant's fumble, which was recovered by State at UNC's four-yard-line, gave it right back to the Wolfpack. And the TD State scored on its next play took the air out of the Heels, even though they were down just 20-17. If this were a rare occasion for Durant one could let it slide, but it isn't. As much as Durant can move the team – albeit inconsistently - and strike for some big plays, he also hurts the offense and derails drives, sometimes before they even get started, like in Saturday's key fumble. He also fumbled the center exchange later in the quarter when it was second-and-one after a State penalty, essentially nullifying the advantage of the penalty. He recovered for no gain.

Not to be nit-picky, because Durant's passing yards and TDs are understood, but so are his other, perhaps more important numbers. He has thrown eight interceptions to go with 12 TD passes. He has also fumbled 11 times, of which five have been recovered by the opposition. Equally alarming is that four interceptions have come in the red zone and four of the recovered fumbles have either come in the red zone or inside UNC's own 25-yard-line.

Durant also holds on to the ball too often, taking sacks instead getting rid of the ball constructively. In fairness, some of the sacks happen so quickly he has no opportunity to get out of the "pocket" area where getting rid of the ball won't be flagged for grounding. He's been sacked 11 times in the last two weeks and 20 times this season.

Some may ask if it makes sense to continually put a QB in the game who moves the team some, but continually makes elementary mistakes and gives an already poor defense very short fields to defend or stalls tremendous drives that end with no points. Consider that for a team averaging nearly 400 yards a game, UNC has just 17 touchdowns and EIGHT field goal attempts (seven made), and three of those were outside of 50 yards and two others were for 49 and 47 yards. Something isn't right.

Was Bunting being frank when he praised C.J. Stephens (first on the depth chart less than two weeks before the opener) all summer and even said in early September he had to find a way to get the junior QB on the field? If so, why hasn't Stephens had any quality snaps, if nothing else to give Durant a rest and allow him to see the opposing defense on the field for a series or two, especially considering the struggles he has had? If not, then why did Bunting say that? The Heels have made many changes at other positions when players made mistakes. Despite the good Durant brings to the field, he brings a lot of bad, too. Thirteen of the team's 18 turnovers are on his shoulders, and more would be if not for some alert offensive lineman in recent weeks. Perhaps the question should be asked, is Stephens really that bad?

Tackling / second half – The Tar Heels' poor tackling resurfaced in the second half. Bunting says it's a mentality, which it understandably is. But it has to be something else as well. Durant's fumble that quickly led to State taking the lead for good certainly played a key role in UNC's dip in its mental state. But this program is being built partly on mental toughness, and for the Heels to struggle so much tackling in difficult situations (it often happens when the offense isn't moving the ball or turning it over) means the staff has a lot of work to do in this area. And to be quite frank, it could also be that they are either not being taught well to tackle or are just poor learners. After six games and almost three months of practices, that's certain a reasonable explanation for some of their troubles.

Play calling / second half – After UNC's first drive of the second half when they went 78 yards for a touchdown to take a 17-7 lead, the imaginative play calling went out the window. Wouldn't play calling also be a mentality? Not just because it is a mental thing by definition, but doesn't it also show an attitude? UNC had just 43 total yards after that possession. What mental state should UNC fans surmise offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill was in for the rest of the game?

Punting – Once again UNC's punting game did little to contribute to the field position battle. John Lafferty punted six times for an average of 33.3 yards. His punts went distances of 30, 34, 26, 41, 34, and 35 yards.

Home – So much for home field advantage. The Tar Heels are now an unimaginable 0-4 at home. And considering the only remaining home games are Maryland and Clemson, it's certain conceivable they could go 0-6 at home this year. Even Mack Brown's pair of 1-10 teams won a home game each.

UP NEXT

The Tar Heels travel to Charlottesville, Va. to take on the red-hot Cavaliers, winners of five consecutive games. The game is set for a noon kickoff and will be televised regionally by JP Sports. It will also be available nationally on ESPN Game Plan.


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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