It was a game in which the Tar Heels could do little right and the Wolfpack could do little wrong.
The Tar Heels looked like a completely different team than they have all year – they came out flat and stayed flat the entire game.
“We just didn’t come to play today,” said defensive end E.J. Wilson. “They outplayed us, they wanted it more, and they earned it, so that’s all there is to say about it.”
Well, actually there is more to say about it.
WE DIDN’T SEE THIS ONE COMING
This was the biggest margin of victory for the Wolfpack since 1989. The players themselves seemed as baffled as anyone else.
“We felt like we had a good practice this week – Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we felt like we had a good practice,” running back Shaun Draughn said. “I guess it was just the way we came out … I felt like we came out ready to play, but I guess they put more emphasis on trying to get the ball and ... they did it.”
Wilson added, “I felt like we had a pretty good week of practice, I felt like we were pretty focused, pretty intense, and guys knew what they were supposed to do, so it was a total shock how we came out and played today - how flat we were …I mean it was a total disappointment today."
Head coach Butch Davis didn’t share that sense of surprise – he knew exactly where to lay the fault: turnovers. “Six turnovers … you can almost totally disregard, really, the other stats,” Davis said.
TURNOVERS SET THE TABLE
The Tar Heels were fortunate to be down only one score, 10-3, at the end of the first half after losing the turnover battle 3-0 in the first stanza. Two Shaun Draughn fumbles and a late T.J. Yates interception wasted field position and gave N.C. State opportunities to score. The first fumble resulted in a missed field goal attempt by Josh Czajkowski. A second Draughn fumble led to a successful second-chance field goal – the first attempt was a miss, but a delay of game penalty gave Czajkowski a second chance.
That’s the way the whole game went.
The Tar Heels would ultimately turn the ball over six times, the most since the Virginia Tech game in 2006. “The things we did today during the course of the game give you absolutely no chance to win the ball game," Davis said. "There will never be a football game ever played that you can lose a turnover ratio as dramatically poorly as we did today and give yourself any chance to win."
OFFENSE SPUTTERS, DEFENSE FALLS FLAT, BLITZ BACKFIRES
A lot of attention will be paid to the quarterback change, as T.J. Yates played poorly in his first start since being injured early in the year. It’s true - it was an awful offensive performance, but the Tar Heels have suffered offensive doldrums several times this year and this was especially so today (203 total yards, 3-of-11 on third-down conversions - which makes them 4-of-22 the past two weeks), but the UNC defense was inexplicably flat.
North Carolina doesn’t often get aggressive with blitz packages, and actually gets criticized for often only rushing four players. Now maybe we know why - a first quarter blitz led to a N.C. State 55-yard pass completion from Russell Wilson to Jarvis Williams, which was aided by poor coverage in the secondary. Another blitz in the third quarter resulted in a 24-yard completion.
But blitz or no blitz, busted coverage in the secondary was a problem all game long, and the Tar Heels had no answer for anything N.C. State tried on the day. One 11-play drive which resulted in a fourth-quarter field goal consisted completely of rushing plays.
“Giving up big plays in the secondary, balls being thrown deep not contested, guys being open, all of those things contributed to how we played today,” Davis said.
WILSON RIPS THE HEELS
While many phases of the N.C. State team clicked, none was more impressive than red-shirt freshman signal-caller Russell Wilson. Wilson showed tremendous poise, accuracy, and decision-making all game long. Wilson’s ability to keep plays going was critical to the Wolfpack victory. He ended up by completing 17-of-28 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
“We didn’t get enough rush up front, we let him step out a little bit, the defensive backs probably lost their man … so I blame the d-line because if we had got him, he wouldn’t have had a chance to throw the ball,” defensive lineman Marvin Austin said following the game.
Wilson also connected on big plays, two pass completions of over 50 yards.
“It’s a complete problem when a quarterback can extend plays," Davis said. "Michael Vick was one of those guys, may not be the greatest thrower in the world, may not be the best operator, but plays are never over."
With the Coastal Division title now out of reach, the Tar Heels will be playing for bowl position next week in Durham.