Let’s discuss what happened in the first half Saturday at the Papa John’s Pizza Palace in Louisville.

Either the Tar Heels were still hung over from their disappointing loss last week at Wake Forest (which by the way got waxed by Florida State 52-0 earlier Saturday) and hurting by not having Gio B. and J. Boyd on the team plane to Kentucky.
Or defensive coaches Dan Disch and Vic Koenning out-schemed themselves by attacking the explosive Cardinals so hard that the Tar Heels ran right by the Louisville blockers, runners and receivers and let them build up a 36-7 lead at halftime.

“We made some adjustments and simplified some things,” head coach Larry Fedora said after the game, not going any further in his explanation. He could have meant that his defenders were less aggressive, contained their respective areas and knocked anybody down who came by. Who knows about such coach speak anyway?


Fedora did allow what was obvious to anyone watching — that energy, effort, passion and execution were lacking and that he asked everyone in uniform to play as hard as he possibly could on every down in the second half. Of course, he added, that’s what they should have been doing on every play in the first half.

To Fedora’s credit, his team did not throw in the towel, got some early momentum in the third quarter and turned the game around so dramatically that the Louisville players who had swaggered through the first 30 minutes spent the last few anxiously watching the clock while Carolina scored touchdowns, blocked kicks and forced fumbles to crawl within one TD of the greatest comeback in UNC history.
Everything is still not settled in Fedora’s first year of the fast-break offense and attacking 4-2-5 defense. And it probably won’t be through much of the season. But the team that hung its collective head leaving Winston-Salem last week had no reason to do so boarding the plane home this week. And my guess is East Carolina will be worse off for it when the Tar Heels take the field again this Saturday.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater entered the game completing 82 percent of his passes and improved that number by hitting 23 of 28, including three touchdowns in the first half when the uncontested Cardinals scored on all six of their possessions to send the third-largest crowd in Louisville history out for more pizza and beer.
But by game’s end, Bridgewater was the second-best quarterback on the field, with Carolina’s Bryn Renner connecting for five TDs and more total yards as the Tar Heels made linguini of the Louisville defense to win the second half 27-3.
With Giovanni Bernard (bad knee) and Jheranie Boyd (bad foot) not making the trip, the Tar Heels made full-fledged stars of freshman Romar Morris, who caught TD passes, ran the ball like a bullet and blocked a punt when Carolina had to have it; and walk-on weak-side linebacker Tommy Heffernan, who looks like a long-haired hippie from the 70s but played more like Clay Matthews on this day with 12 tackles.
Morris, in fact, was so brilliant with the ball after he caught it that Tar Heel Sports Network play-by-play man Jones Angell was yelling, “Go, Romar, Go!” on his 50-yard TD scamper with Renner’s short pass. Angell may have coined a phrase that will be echoing off the pines at Kenan for years to come. “Go, Romar, Go!”

It was great to see whatever Fedora and his staff said and/or did at halftime work to the point where a contested two-point conversion could have brought Carolina within three points. And despite a bad snap from center and a false start on the very last drive, it still came down to UNC’s final, fourth-down play. At halftime, the game was so lost that viewers and listeners must have turned off their devices by hordes and most of the home crowd was still having a slice and a Coke when someone said, “Holy, pepperoni, we could blow this one!”

After Erik Highsmith stretched but could not hold Renner’s last pass, and the Louisville players who won 39-34 looked like they had lost, the outcome completed an upside down day in the week that Notre Dame left the Big East for the ACC. Louisville’s victory was the third Big East-ACC game that went the way of the Irish’s old league while they beat Michigan State of the Big Ten, the conference that wouldn’t take them without their football team. What all that means, only the leprechaun knows, but here’s a suggestion for Carolina if we’re changing the natural order of things anyway.
Beginning next week against the Purple Pirates of Greenville, play the second half first. The Tar Heels have outscored their first three opponents 61-10 after halftime. With that kind of head start, even the pizza delivery guy won’t be late.