Posted: 8:00 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, 2013
By Doc Kennedy
We have maintained that there have been a number of things about the UNC football team that can't be explained by the numbers, and that trend continued today as senior quarterback Bryn Renner, who seemed out of rhythm and seemed to struggle most of the day, threw for a career-high 366 yards and 3 touchdowns against a single interception. On the other hand, there are a plethora of key numbers that tell the tale in UNC's futile effort against East Carolina:
So, let's get on with it, the Good, Bad, and mostly Ugly Report for ECU:
Thomas Moore: The junior placekicker made all four extra points and is a perfect 61 for 61 in his career. He also added a chip-shot field goal to remain perfect on the season in that area as well.
Young receivers: Freshman Bug Howard made two grabs one for a touchdown, and fellow freshman Ryan Switzer also had two catches and a nifty punt return. Reserve junior receiver Nic Platt also had a fantastic touchdown reception.
Offensive line: It is time to come to grips with just how bad this unit is. There was hope that with an All-American candidate in left tackle James Hurst and an experienced veteran in center Russell Bodine, the rest of the line would come along without being a liability. That is clearly not the case. For the second consecutive week, a penalty on the O-line took a touchdown off the scoreboard as freshman Caleb Peterson cost the Heels this time with that one and another back-breaking penalty early. This line simply cannot open holes for the running backs nor can they protect Renner like last year, when the O-line had three NFL-drafted players plus Hurst and Bodine.
Defensive front: It is time to come to grips with just how bad this bunch is as well. Other than Kareem Martin, there has been a lack of consistent play from the D-line and linebackers. We knew going into this season that this group would be thin due to injury and attrition but ECU routinely blew these guys up and off the ball. When they can't stuff the run and can't pressure the quarterback, it makes for a long day on the defensive side of the ball
Rushing offense: Carolina had only 67 rushing yards on 32 attempts, for a paltry 2.1 yards per carry. Granted Romar Morris was out for this game, limiting what UNC can do on the perimeter, but that is simply a sad number. Then when the Heels cannot run the ball, the offensive balance gets out of kilter, resulting in numbers like today with 48 passes versus 32 runs.
Penalties: Let this stat soak in for a minute - UNC had 94 penalty yards and only 67 net rushing yards. Moreover, these aren't the 5-yard false start penalties (although those can be back-breakers). No, Carolina's penalties this year keep drives alive and take points off the board. Four of UNC's 9 penalties were personal foul calls, and that is simply unacceptable. Plus as Adam Lucas notes, in UNC's three losses this year, the Tar Heels have 206 penalty yards and 267 rushing yards.
Tackling: Wow, UNC has seemed to revert to the Everett Withers days when poor tackling was the order of the day. Carolina's arm tackling and weak attempts at wrapping people up result in numerous yards after contact and are simply killing the Heels when they desperately need something - anything - to go right on defense.
Lack of intensity: If there is one word that would seem to define Larry Fedora, it is "intense". Over his first season, and even the first three games of this season, Fedora's tenure was characterized by the Tar Heels playing hard and not giving up, resulting in a few comeback wins and some games where UNC lost but made a game of it (see Louisville). Therefore it seems odd to see UNC so flat and lackadaisical against an in-state rival. I understand you can't get a team sky-high against all 12 teams on the schedule, but this is one where it needed to happen and didn't.
It is not quite time to hit the panic button yet, although the safety cover is open and the captain's missile key has been inserted. This is still a team that, for the first half against Georgia Tech, looked like they had things figured out on both sides of the ball. And UNC was missing injured playmakers Romar Morris and Sean Tapley against ECU. Plus as badly as UNC played, let's give the Pirates credit for a fantastic game plan and for coming to Chapel Hill ready to play. But let's be real as well - it is hard to imagine ECU playing much better and UNC playing much worse, particularly on defense. Up next for Carolina will be a somewhat offensively-challenged Virginia Tech team, but whose defense held ECU to 10 points in Greenville. We can only hope that this serves as a wake-up call for Carolina, who can redeem the last two weeks with wins against VT and Miami. Otherwise, this may be the beginning of a slippery slope to a place where no one thought the Tar Heels would be when the season began.