Our record says 2-4, and our statistics are roughly at where a 2-4 team should be (50th nationally on defense, 84th on offense). However, I can point to three plays this season–one in each game–that could have made us 5-1 if they played out differently.
All we had to do was not fumble.
- Fourth Quarter, about 10 minutes left. UNC is driving to score against the Pirates, game tied at 31. Hakeem Nicks catches a pass and runs to a first down at the 34. but he fumbles the ball, and ECU recovers. If he holds on to that ball, the continuing drive would have almost certainly led to a score. if UNC scores a touchdown or a field goal, ECU’s final drive is to go for the tie. UNC’s defense holds its own in the red zone, as they have the entire second half, and hold on to win. TheTar Heels are now 2-0.
- Fourth Quarter, eight minutes left. UNC is driving, down 22-14 to UVa. Yates completes a pass on 2nd and 4 to Zack Pianalto who gets a first down inside the 35. But the ball comes clean out on a fumble, and UVa. recovers. If he holds onto that ball, UNC would have gotten themselves at least in field goal range. Yate’s touchdown pass to Quinn with less than two minutes left gives UNC a 23-22 win. The Tar Heels are now 3-0, 1-0 in the ACC.
- Third Quarter, three minutes left. UNC is at the 5 yard line. It’s second and goal, the Heels are down 10-3, and they looked poised to tie the game. They hand the ball off to Ryan Houston, who is stopped at the 5 yard line comes flying out of his arms into the endzone. If he does nothing else but hold on to the ball, or even the Heels outhustle the Tech defense to the loose ball, UNC is almost assured of points in that drive. With a score, Yates doesn’t throw that interception to Xavier Adibi, and Carolina hangs on for a close victory on the heels of a great defensive performance. The Tar Heels are now 4-1, 2-0 in the ACC.
Other plays which could have turned the tide:
T.J. Yates’ botched snap: If he finishes the 2nd down play on the final drive, UNC gets a first down and continues running down the clock; UNC, not ECU, gets the game-winning FG as time expires.
Chris Long’s interception: That was a freak play, that required unbelievable athleticism on the part of long. Without the INT, the score remains 19-14, and UNC’s last-minute TD wins the game.
Eddie Royal’s reverse: on Virginia Tech’s very first play from scrimmage, their offense caught the Heels defense red-handed in overpursuit, running the reverse for 50-plus yards down the right sidelines to set up their only offensive touchdown of the day. Without that play, it’s the Hokies coming from behind the entire game.
One final statistic: in these games, UNC’s turnover margin was -5 (7 giveaways, 2 takeaways).
In each of these games we were one, or at the most two, plays away from victory. With those victories, UNC would be 5-1, 3-0 in the ACC, and 1st place in the Coastal division.
Now, the vast majority of these players have less than 300 collegiate plays from scrimmage under their belts, so they have a lot to learn. The Tar Heels have played their hearts out all season, and have improved some facet of their play in every game. The mere fact they were competing in all of these games shows that strides that Carolina has made in 2007. Also there are many, many other areas in which the Tar Heels need to improve. However, this exercise shows how much the outcome of a game, or even a season, can change with one play, especially turnovers. At some point in the next few years (or even this year), The Heels will be making those kinds of plays instead of giving them to opponents.
We’ll need a lot of stickum for when Spurrier and the #7th ranked Gamecocks come to Chapel Hill on Saturday.