UNC got mugged by the Wolfpack Saturday.
I could write about linebacker Mark Paschal’s excellent game, or the fact that QB TJ Yates showed a sign or two of returning to the form he was in before an injury forced him to sit out for most of the season, but that would be gilding the 41-10 turd that was today’s game.
Coach Butch Davis, still steaming after the Heels managed to find a way to turn over the ball for a sixth time with almost no time left, said it best in his postgame comments: “Six turnovers – you can almost totally disregard any of the other stats. Once you get past the turnovers, there are other things that certainly contributed to today’s loss – giving up big plays in the secondary, balls being thrown deep and not being contested, guys being open – all of those things contributed to the way that we played today.”
Davis answered questions about starting Yates over backup Cameron Sexton who, for the most part, played the part of steady hand and maintained the team’s positive momentum after Yates’ injury.
“You can’t look in the rearview mirror,” Davis opined. “How do you know? We feel that both of those guys are pretty good quarterbacks. They have both had some pretty good success. Was T.J. nervous coming back for the first time? Conceivably, maybe so.”
Yeah, could be.
But Yates wasn’t the only problem. The Heels surprising 7-4 season was a result of good play from all quarters: badass duo Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate were as excellent as expected, Sexton was much better than anticipated, and kept the team chugging after the loss of Yates, who had been playing well, Safety Trimane Goddard made huge interceptions on a regular basis, the defense forced turnovers, special teams blocked punts, the running game was better than anyone had a right to imagine… And today, with the exception of Paschal’s ferocious defense, just about every functional part of the team broke down. Compare, for instance, UNC’s two fumbles in the game’s first five minutes, to NC State’s two touchdowns in less than a minute in the third quarter.
This is the kind of game that probably isn’t worth analyzing. Flush it (twice), open a window, and move on.
So where does that leave the Heels? Today’s loss followed an in-conference loss against Maryland last week, ending UNC’s hopes for an ACC Coastal title. (Even worse, despite a mediocre 5-6 season, State ran the table in North Carolina, beating Duke, Wake Forest and East Carolina in the same season for the first time since 1986. After the game, Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien called his team the best in the state, “without any question.”)
But the Heels have far eclipsed last year’s 4-8 record. They also have a coach who seems to be righting the ship, and getting hard, smart play from stars and role players alike. Yates will be back next year, and while the team will lose Goddard, Paschal and Tate – already out for the season with an injury – next year, Nicks, receiver Greg Little, backs Sean Draughn and Ryan Houston will all likely return.
A confidence building performance by Yates in the season finale wouldn’t hurt. Lucky for the Heels, they close the season against Duke.