In the last 48 hours, UNC fans have, er, what’s a delicate way to put this…LOST THEIR FREAKING MINDS over UNC’s loss to Virginia on Saturday. Most on the message have been asking a lot of questions, all circling around the same theme: WHO’S TO BLAME?!?
Most of the blame has been put on the coaches. Everett Withers for the prevent defense that allowed the tying touchdown, John Shoop for not putting the game away when he had the chance and Butch Davis for kneeling with 47 seconds to play in a tie game.
Some of this criticism is justified. The type of offense that teams tend to run in a 2-minute drill has usually been the type that UNC’s defense has been weakest in defending, dating all the way back to the Rutgers game. It strikes me as odd, to say the least, that our top wide receiver Hakeem Nicks only touched the ball once in the first half. And it’s particularly baffling to kneel when UNC did given that, just last week, UNC was able to gain 46 yards in 30 seconds against Notre Dame in a very similar situation to end the first half. Adding to the unrest is that the fans, myself included, so desperately wanted to win THIS game, to shed the demons of Charlottesville in the George Welsh era. (Let it be known that before Welsh, UVa football was flat-out bad. One winning season in the previous 29 years bad. Since 1983, when the streak started, the Cavs have had 22 winning seasons out of 25. This, more than anything else, is why we haven’t won at UVa in 14 tries.)
But what’s so frustrating about this game is also one of the biggest positives that fans should take away from it: the Heels played, to put it kindly, average football yet were still in control of this game for 58 minutes. We now have a true running game with the combination of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston. The goal for the defense coming into this game was to contain the running game, and they did just that. And on Saturday we were able to maintain control for most of the game, even though we never led by more that 7 points.
I still doubt that our receiving corps is an issue. We still have two great, experienced receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster. The most obvious difference on offense without Brandon Tate is that, coupled with the injury to T.J. Yates, the Heels no longer have the deep passing threat they had earlier in the year. However, our new found running game should give the ability to run playfakes and get receivers more open downfield, so the margin for error is greater if John Shoop were inclined to make Cam throw deep.
One type of offensive play that was strangely absent was the one-step drop throw to Nicks that has been so effective for the last season and a half. I understand if the Heels tried to give the ball to Nicks in those situations, and VIrginia were to anticipate and stop the play. However, thaty never seemed to try the play with Nicks. The few times they ran the play, it would often be to Cooter Arnold or Greg Little, neither of whom are very experienced at the WR position.
As for the defense, understand the the soft zone coverage has been Everett Withers’ defense of choice all season, regardless of circumstance. That is why, through seven games of the season, the Heels haven’t put that much pressure on opposing QBs and given up more passing yardage than most fans are comfortable with. That is also the reason why UNC had the most interceptions and the highest turnover margin in the nation through six games. It has been effective for us in 93% of game situations. However, for the two minute drill this type of defense plays right into the offense’s hands. (It almost makes you wonder why teams don’t play the 2-minute offense against us for the entire game.) The Heels were bailed out by well-timed turnovers that ended the chances for Miami and Notre Dame to score in the final seconds. Not so in this game. While it is true that the Heels need to change their 2-minute defense, for the rest of the game it’s been working justfinethankyouverymuch.
Finally, the issue of turnovers. Give credit where credit is due: the Cavaliers made sure to take caare of the ball, never really put themselves at risk, and really took away one of the strengths of our defense. in a way, our offense has looked good partly because defense and special teams can usually account for at least one touchdoen per game the first half of the season. The Cavs took care of the ball, we didn’t. The -5 turnover margin in the two losses are what cost this team more than anything else, and the +13 margin in five victories tended to hide flaws that have been present all season, but are only truly discussed in the past 72 hours.
(photo from IC)
I think it’s important to keep things in perspective. Let me make this clear: I am disappointed in this loss, as I am in any loss. I am disappointed in the playcalling, especially in the last two minutes and overtime. And I am especially disappointed that this game extended a road losing streak and pretty much put UNC out of the Coastal division race.
However, this team has been a success this season, and will be a success no matter what. UNC is 5-2 through seven games, and the first time in 11 years that we could say that. The Heels were ranked for consecutive weeks in the regular season for the first time since 1997. With the possible exception of 2001, this is by far our best team since the Mack Brown era. In August anything 7-5 or better would have been considered a rousing success, and the Heels are going to accomplish that barring a total collapse.
The team is not going to fret over this game. They are going to take the lessons from this game and work this week with extra motivation. Most importantly, they are going to move on and look forward to BC this Saturday. I strongly that we, the fans, do the same.