In my preview for the game between North Carolina (5 & 3 ~ 2-2 in the ACC) and Duke (6 & 2 ~ 3-1 in the ACC) I said that the Tar Heels had no excuse not to be motivated for this match up. Somehow, someway, for the first forty five minutes, UNC football was truly not motivated. And to use the name of a movie most know, this was a lot like “Back to the Future” as Carolina looked close to replaying the Louisville game, where for the first half they could not stay on the field with the opponent, the third quarter was so-so and in the fourth they gave it all they had… but came up short. Now fast forward to Durham, where the final score was Duke 33 UNC 30.
Going into this game I was worried that if given time the Blue Devils wide outs could do damage to the Heels’ D, which they did, for a total of 275 yards. But I never thought that a team like Duke, ranked 104th in the country, would run for 235 yards against a Carolina squad that was 14th in the country in run D, allowing less than 100 yards per game. In all Duke’s three headed monster in the back field, composed by Josh Snead (99 yds on 15 carries), Jela Duncan (75 yds on 22 carries) and Juwan Thompson (64 yds on 11 carries), pounded the front seven almost every time they touched the ball. In his presser after the game one of the first question head coach Larry Fedora was asked was about his squad’s inability to stop the run…
“That’s a good question,” Fedora said. “From my standpoint, I don’t know. Where I’m standing, obviously we got somebody out of position or out of a gap or either we just can’t get off a block.”
“They just ran it right at us,” he continued. “They didn’t do anything special. They ran the split zone and ran the power and they just ran it right at us. We just didn’t do a very good job.”
So, while most will remember the hectic/frantic/call it what you will fourth quarter, the one that was fun to watch, especially if you are a Carolina fan. The one where the Tar Heels outscored the Blue Devils 21 to 3 in the first 11 and a half minutes of it. The same one that was sparked by Duke’s head coach mistake of faking a punt on 4th and 1, giving UNC great field position and hope. The one quarter where QB Bryn Renner (19 of 32 for 198 yds and 2 TD) did most of his damage on the night, going 8 of 13 for 28 yards in the first half. The truth of the matter, and I am not discovering hot water here, a game is four quarters long and this particular one was lost in the first forty five minutes, that just not resembled what this UNC football team had done in the last month, and not in the last drive of the game.
As I said in my preview of this game, the last thing that coach Fedora and his squad wanted to have is a rival, who had not beaten them in a long time, be close enough to do so late in the game. That is just what happened, as Duke took over with about 3 and a half minutes to go from their own 13. And, with a good pass here, a nice catch there, a this and a that and UNC found itself defending a fourth and 2 with 13 seconds to go in the game. To use another movie line… “the rest is history” as Duke scored on yet again another pass, one that is now being called “The Catch” in Durham. A catch that sent the Blue Devils sprinting to get the coveted prize, the Victory Bell, as soon as the game was one. A catch that had the fans pouring on to the field with the final whistle. And a history that started in 1988, the last time Duke had beaten UNC at home, then again since 1994, the last time the Blue Devils were bowl eligible. Finally since 2003, the last time they had defeated Carolina.
For me the line that I have used for this team and will keep using is… work in progress, because, even with the many strides forward that they have done under a new regime and new systems, they are still far away from being complete. They are a long way from being what I thin the coaching staff wants them to be. But on the flip side they have shown that they can be good, and have been so, and that they will improve with time.
One player who is not a work in progress, but keep progressing each game is tail back Giovani Bernard, who with his 143 yards tonight passes the 2,000 yds mark for his career, getting to 2,045, which puts him 11th all-time in that category. If he keeps up his 132.5 yards per game tallies he will certainly keep moving up the ladder in the last part of the season. The tail back not only runs well, but he finds the end zone quite frequently as well, having 12 touchdowns this season (in just six games) and 26 in his career at UNC.
While this might just be something that no one will care about, since UNC lost the game, it was nice to see that the Heels only had three penalties in this game. On the other hand, one did really hurt, as a roughing the passer wiped out an interception and great return inside Duke’s red zone. With the ball back the Blue Devils scored a touchdown on that possession, which made it minimum a 10 point swing, which is enormous when you look at the final score of the game. By all means, I am not blaming that one play on the loss, but as I keep saying in most of my posts about the games momentum is crucial and that sure would have a been a momentum changer.
I have not checked out the UNC web boards, I usually wait a day or so after a loss, but I am pretty sure that there will be at least a couple of threads about inserting Marquis Williams for Renner as the starting quarterback. And while I would be totally opposed to that move, you have to wonder how Williams was the leading passer through three quarters, 39 yards on one pass to Renner’s 36 on close to twenty throws. Then again, after this game there is plenty to wonder, is there not? The one that I will think about the most is how, against a sub par defense, did UNC manage nothing but field goals in the first three quarters.
Unfortunately for the coaching staff and the players their time to wonder about this loss is a lot more limited than mine, as they have to prepare for another rival, this time at home, as the N.C. State Wolfpack will be in Kenan (kick off at 12:30 p.m. EST ~ ESPN3) this coming Saturday. As an old head coach that I know used to say: “it was a tough loss, but do not let that one tough loss become two by dwelling on it too much”, and that is exactly what this team has to do in preparing for their next game.
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