As I said in my preview of the North Carolina (3-5, 2-3) vs N.C. State (3-5, 0-5 ACC) game, it was a lot more than just sixty minutes of playing time. It was for the bragging right of which school owns the state, it was for which program can show its recruits why they picked the right university, and most of all, it was for one squad to keep its hopes alive for the post season.
Head coach Larry Fedora summed up pretty well after the game…
“As far as I know, it’s always been the Tar Heel State and always will be,” said UNC coach Fedora.
Well, in what wasn’t a pretty game, which rarely happens when two teams that have almost twice as many losses (9) as they have wins (5), for the second year in a row the Tar Heels pronounced that it’s their state, beating the Wolfpack by the final of 27 to 19.
Let me say that with about half the first quarter gone I never thought the final score would be what it was as N.C. State, thanks to a huge mistake by quarterback Bryn Renner (15-22 124 yds INT ~ 3 carries 5 yds TD) in the first drive and a slip up by tight end Eric Ebron in the second one, was up by the score of 10-0, as well as having all the momentum in the game.
Then, and once again I will eat crow, back up quarterback Marquise Williams (8-15 for 92 yds & TD ~ 17 carries 51 yds) came on the gridiron. With that move North Carolina seemed quicker on the field, both in their plays as well as in between them. With the change under center it felt that the Wolfpack was put, no pun intended, on its heels. On a side note, fellow colleague Kegan Lowe wrote a great piece about two quarterbacks better than one, make sure to check it out.
If there were whispers about a quarterback controversy before this match up, those sounds might just have turned into a screams or yells after what the sophomore dual threat QB did in this rivalry game. His first drive was close to 3/4 of the field which ended with a two yard pass to sophomore wide out Quinshad Davis (2 catches 61 yds 2 TDs). And while that not be anything out of the ordinary, the way it was executed just felt like it broke NC State’s morale with each play the second year QB made.
With that drive it felt like the Tar Heels had gained back some of the momentum in the game, and when the Wolfpack decided to fake punt in their next drive, which UNC easily stopped, North Carolina had taken control of the game. Soon after, when Renner scored on a one yard run, they also had taken the lead.
I spoke about Ryan Switzer (1 catch 5 yds) being someone I would see stepping up in this game, and while he was so close to catching a long pass that was just inches out of his outstretched hands in the second half, the freshman threw a heck of a pass to Davis for the receiver’s second score of the game. However, one wide receiver I did not speak about in my preview, but had a good game, was Bug Howard (5 catches 72 yds), who came out with several key catches during the game.
The other freshman I was looking to do well in this one was T.J. Logan, and he too did not disappoint, as the running back scored his first touchdown and carried five times for 43 yards. Not a huge output, but with Williams on the field for a lot longer than any other game, the QB had the most rushing yards, 51 on 17 carries. Together the duo worked well, keeping NC State guessing for the most part.
In all Carolina had 38 rushing attempts and 38 passing ones, with the aerial game gaining 275 and the ground and pound having 152. In other words, there was enough mix of both to keep the Wolfpack from only playing the pass.
Of course, when we speak about UNC offense, once again we have to talk about Eric Ebron who had a carrier high nine catches for 70 yards, who might have had a miscue at the beginning, but for the rest of the game had another excellent out put. The junior broke his own single season school record for both catches (44) and receiving yds (669) by a Carolina tight end.
If there is something that the offense has to worry about going forward is… the coaching staff needs to keep its key players safer. Yes, I know that football is a tough sport, and injuries will happen. However when both quarterbacks needed help getting off the field due to injuries, twice for Williams, and the same happened to Eric Ebron, something needs to be looked at. If North Carolina wants to achieve getting to six wins, or as I been calling it “thrive for five”, they can ill afford to see any of these players out of commission.
The other thing that I did not like much about the offense was that on third and long, meaning over five yards, Renner would always come in, almost telling the Pack’s D that it would be a throw, for the most part UNC did just that, throw. I can understand it when it was third and over ten yards, but several times I thought that leaving Williams in the game would have kept the opponent’s defense honest and could have helped get the first down.
Finally for the offensive side of the ball, once again the penalty monster reared its ugly game. Just like against Miami a few weeks back the Tar Heels went from a third and 1 to a third and a mile due to penalties. Several nice runs and first downs were called back due to holding. And while a few of the yellow hankies could have been iffy, getting eight of the called (for 80 yards) is really not what this team needs.
On the defensive side the Tar Heels avoided having the Pack get big plays against the, while the leader of the defense, Kareem Martin (eight tackles/three for losses), rose to the occasion and made sure the rest of the unit did as well. It felt that every time the defensive unit did something good versus the run his name was being called. Also on this side of the ball a very good game by linebacker junior Travis Hughes had ten tackles
On the aerial side North Carolina had two interceptions, as well as break up eight passes, including a trio by safety senior Tre Boston, who also made 10 tackles. Senior corner Jabari Price also delivered 10 tackles, including one for a loss and a broken up pass, but his best work might have been on special teams where he down two punts deep inside N.C. State territory.
In the first part of the season it can easily been said that the D was a liability. In the last two games, as well for most of the Miami one, it has seemed to be an asset for coach Fedora. They still have much improvement to do, but it is night and day from how they were back in September.
Overall the defense felt, especially as the game went on, that it was up to them to keep this game theirs. I wrote at the end of the first half that after special teams put the Wolfpack several times deep into their own territory (inside the 10) and the defense held them there, it could come back to bite the Tar Heels that the offense, with a short field, was never able to go down and score.
Also to be noted, the kicking game for the Tar Heels is way off of late. Missing a pretty easy field goal in this one, as well as several in the games before, and then an extra point missed that would have put Carolina up by nine and not eight points. Against this squad those four points might not have meant much, but with each game counting like an elimination one, this squad can ill afford to leave anything on the field.
As I began this post with, this was not pretty. In some aspects it was ugly. But then again, it was a rivalry game where both teams truly needed a win. And being a rivalry game, there was tension before, during, and after the game, as NC State found Carolina going to mid field and yelling “Who’s State? Our State!” while jumping up and down on the Wolfpack’s logo rude to say the least.
Now, for North Carolina, and I can’t believe I am saying this, comes a trap game, as Virginia (3-5, 0-5) will be their next opponent in the friendly confine of Kenan Stadium.