Don’t let the fact that Carolina lost their season opener by a touchdown—that they were one almost-recovered onside kick away from getting the ball back with a minute and some to go and a short field with which to work—fool you. This game was not even close, and we can thank some combination of Cal’s own offensive ineptitude and a relatively stout performance from Carolina’s defense for the Golden Bears only putting up twenty-four points on Saturday.
Somehow Larry Fedora’s football team shattered our already low expectations this weekend. Somehow the team, which started near the basement of the preseason ACC polls, looked even worse than we thought they might be. Somehow it’s looking like the team I predicted would repeat last season’s 3–9 effort may struggle to hit that three-win mark.
With an offense that mustered a single first-half first down and looked all but lost in Berkeley on Saturday, you might not be wrong in presuming that Carolina’s next-to-last ranking in the ACC Coastal preseason poll had them a bit too high.
They were abominable on the ground, worse in the air, committed over one hundred yards in penalties, and were a stunningly bad four of seventeen on third down. The Tar Heels were, in a word, terrible.
Of course, there is the element of the season kicking off with thirteen players being suspended (suspended more games for selling their own property than Urban Meyer was for covering up domestic assault, but that’s another story for another time). And those arguments are valid, as sitting that many players would hamstring any team’s prospects on the field, especially when one of them might have been your starting quarterback.
There were a few highlights. Carolina’s aforementioned defense held Cal’s to a paltry 279 yards, and Anthony Ratliff-Williams hauled in a touchdown catch that will be shown on repeat when he someday makes his way through the NFL draft process.
And yet despite a disastrous first half, the completely neutered offensive attack, and Nathan Elliott’s four interceptions (one of which went for six), Carolina found themselves one onside kick away from potentially driving for the game-tying score. But then they committed an early-blocking penalty on the kick and were forced to rekick, only to have Cal recover and take a few knees, capping a forgettable afternoon that might be the first of a forgettable fall.
But it’s only week one, and the message for the optimists and the pessimists remains the same.
It’s a long season ahead.
Take that as you will.
The Score: Cal 24–17
The Hero: LOL
The Highlight: Carolina went 3–3 on fourth downs, so there’s that.
The Goat: The entire offense.
The Record: 0-1