• N.C. States loss to UNC was easier to understand, and predict, than earlier ACC losses to Wake Forest or Syracuse.
On the personnel front, State had no margin for error when the season began on the offensive line and at safety. The Wolfpack has been without its left tackle (senior Rob Crisp) since the third game and its free safety (senior Jarvis Byrd) since the second half of the Wake loss.
Throw in the season-ending injury to receiver Bryan Underwood (broken collarbone) and the Wolfpack is running uphill, on ice, in slippers. A 3-9 record and winless ACC season, the schools first since 1959, is suddenly a realistic scenario for first-year coach Dave Doeren.
The injuries dont excuse Doerens overzealous fake punt call in the first quarter Saturday, or the inability to exploit what is undeniably a weak UNC defense, but its the reality of where the State program is.
One play to consider, if you think otherwise. Rashard Smith, who hasnt been 100 percent since he sprained his right knee against Wake Forest on Oct. 5, had a seam on a 23-yard punt return in the third quarter. If hes healthy, Smith probably takes the punt to the house, which as weve seen in this series has a way of deciding the game (UNC led 21-19 at the time of the play).
Instead, he was tripped up at the UNC 49 and Brandon Mitchell threw an interception two plays later.
• The win puts North Carolina (3-5) back on track for a bowl game. The Tar Heels run defense is still an unqualified disaster (Mitchell ran for 105 yards, Shadrach Thornton added 90), but of the next three opponents, Pitt is the only one that likely can exploit UNCs weakness for a win.
The Heels need to win three of four to get back to a bowl game. Thats at least a realistic opportunity, which says a lot for Larry Fedora after a 1-5 start.