Worst Things First
So I’ll jump right in. Saturday was bad. Saturday was really bad. In their first sold out home game of the season, the Tar Heels took the field unprepared and unmotivated against an in-state opponent hungry for victory.
And as if losing in your own dojo to a school down the road more facetiously known as “Easy-U” isn’t embarrassing enough, it’s how incredibly lopsided the entire affair was from the opening kick that made the whole experience downright humiliating.
Saturday’s game wasn’t just bad, it was historically so. Here are some numbers to prove it:
603: The number of yards put up by the ECU offense on Saturday, the second most ever by an opponent in Kenan Stadium.
332: The average yards per game for ECU coming into Saturday’s matchup. The Pirates had over 300 yards in the first half.
55: Points scored by ECU, the most that the Tar Heels have ever allowed against an in-state opponent. The Heels hadn’t given up that many points to an in-state foe since allowing 44 points to Duke in 2006.
186: Rushing yards for ECU tailback Vintavious Cooper, his new career-high.
37: Missed assignments by Carolina defenders.
2: The number of punts forced by the UNC defense.
9: The number of penalties the Heels committed, totaling 94 yards of backtracking. Nine is also the number of defenders Carolina had on the field for one play in the second quarter.
101: The number of plays run by ECU, the most ever by a UNC opponent.
What’s worse, it’s difficult to know where to point the finger. “Porous” doesn’t begin to describe the Carolina defense, and despite putting up 31 points the Fed-spread looked anything but efficient.
Of course, problems on one side of the ball feed into those on the other side. At least part of the explanation for why the Heels have allowed so many points is their style of play. When your offensive system is designed to score the ball quickly and often, you conversely give your opponent more possessions. When you struggle to move the ball, you essentially leave the defense out to dry.
This being said, the defense sealed its own fate with terrible tackling, missed assignments, and a general listlessness. Poor play all around led senior tailback A.J. Blue to call out his team after the game for a lack of focus and preparedness. Blue talked about a pervasive sense of complacency and how Carolina took ECU too lightly.
I’ll give A.J. that. Saturday surely had all the makings of a trap game, featuring a traditionally mediocre opponent and coming on the eve of ACC play. Perhaps UNC simply overlooked ECU. My only question would be why the Heels didn’t seem to show any sense of urgency, even after being smacked in the mouth. If being manhandled on their own turf for an entire opening quarter of football isn’t enough to wake them up, what is?
Whatever their issues, the Tar Heels will have to find some sort of resolution if they wish to avoid a 1-5 start. As Larry Fedora said in his press conference immediately following the game: “You find out about yourself when things are bad. Right now they’re bad.” With Virginia Tech and Miami on the horizon, let’s hope they find out sooner rather than later.