They played a football game in a windy downpour on Saturday, and one team handled it, and the other team didn’t. That’s how you see a final score that says: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 3. For the Tar Heels, it was a performance as bad as the conditions.
Let’s get to it. Some thoughts on the day after …
The defense played relatively well, given the circumstances.
People on the UNC side might argue no good came from Saturday and, well, that’s arguable. But the defense, despite allowing 34 points, played about as well as could be expected. The Tar Heels held the Hokies to an average of 3.2 yards per play and 264 yards.
The problem for the defense is that it faced terrible field position throughout the majority of the game. Virginia Tech had 16 drives. Its average starting field position: its own 46-yard line. Not one of Virginia Tech’s scoring drives went longer than 41 yards.
Three of the Hokies’ four touchdown drives began inside the UNC 30-yard line – one of those drives began inside the Tar Heels’ 5, after UNC failed to execute a punt. The scoreboard suggests the defense couldn’t keep up. The reality is it never had much of a chance given the poor field position it faced.
Nick Weiler made a field goal.
If not for Weiler’s 28-yard field goal in the second quarter, the Tar Heels would have been shut out for the first time since a 13-0 loss against N.C. State in 2011. And so UNC avoided that dubious dishonor, at least.
THE BAD AND THE UGLY
Just about everything about the offense.
I’m combining the “the bad” and “the ugly” this week because there wasn’t much separating either one on Saturday, and the extremes were so that if it wasn’t for terrible for UNC, then it pretty much was terrible, if that makes sense.
Let the numbers do the talking about the offense:
▪ 131 yards, the Tar Heels’ fewest since 1999.
▪ 2.1 yards per play, UNC’s the fewest through at least the 2008 season.
▪ Three points, UNC’s fewest in Larry Fedora’s five seasons as head coach.
▪ More turnovers (four) than points.
▪ Quarterback Mitch Trubisky: 13-for-33 for 58 yards and two interceptions.
Very bad. Very ugly.
Trubisky and his teammates, and Fedora, went out of their way not to blame the weather on Saturday. They played through a steady, hard rain. Winds remained constant around 20 mph. It was nasty. But they knew Virginia Tech also had to play in it.
That said, downplaying the effect of the weather would be ignoring the havoc it wreaked on both teams. The Tar Heels simply couldn’t run their offense in the conditions on Saturday. They couldn’t execute even the most basic parts of it.
Elijah Hood’s absence certainly didn’t help. He’s UNC’s best power runner, and one of the best in the ACC. Without Hood, and in a rainy, windy mess on the outskirts of Hurricane Matthew, UNC just never got anything going offensively. No rhythm. No real hope.
The Tar Heels’ longest drive on Saturday: 41 yards. It ended in a turnover on downs with the game already out of reach late in the third quarter. Eleven of UNC’s 15 drives spanned 20 yards or less. It was abysmal. And yet, in those conditions, it’s fair to ask what are the real takeaways?
Virginia Tech, which fumbled seven times, did what it needed to do. UNC, meanwhile, essentially did nothing offensively. The Tar Heels finished with eight first downs. They punted, or attempted to punt, seven times, committed four turnovers and were 0-for-4 on fourth down.
To make matters worse, UNC’s defensive front endured more injuries. Dajuan Drennon, who made his season debut, left the game with an apparent injury. So, too, did defensive tackle Aaron Crawford.
UNC hasn’t had to respond to this kind of loss – just a complete and total failure – since the 2014 season, when it endured at least a couple of defeats like this one (at East Carolina, at Miami). UNC’s older players can remember those days. The freshmen and sophomores can’t. For this team, overall, it’s new ground: How does it respond from something like this? The Tar Heels play at Miami next weekend. It’s another critical game in this season-defining four-game stretch for UNC.