North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said he couldn’t explain what went wrong in the first half of their 28-21 loss to N.C. State.
Neither could anybody else.
N.C. State and UNC put on two totally opposite performances in the first half of Friday’s game.
The Wolfpack (6-6, 3-5 ACC) scored the game’s first three touchdowns in only four possessions. The Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3), on the other hand, did not. Four of its first five possessions ended in punts. The other possession ended in a fumble.
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“I don’t know how to explain it,” Fedora said. “That was disappointing.”
Fedora said that the Tar Heels needed to simply make ordinary plays, and they didn’t do that.
“We dropped too many balls, and that puts us off the field on third downs,” he said.
The Wolfpack won the time of possession battle in the first half, by more than five minutes.
The poor play from the Tar Heels happened from the start. And N.C. State took advantage each time. After UNC punted the ball from N.C. State’s 40-yard-line on its first possession, the Wolfpack drove the ball back down field.
From their own 43-yard-line, N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley threw a backwards pass to Jaylen Samuels, who was in the flat, and Samuels threw it 57 yards to a wide open Stephen Louis for a touchdown.
“The corner bit up and the receiver ran past him,” UNC sophomore linebacker Andre Smith said. “We knew that they were going to try to do trick plays, within the first 10 to 15 plays. (But) when they did, the corner bit up and they threw it deep.”
Things didn’t get much better after that for the Tar Heels.
On the first play of UNC’s second possession, junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky received the snap at Carolina’s own 31-yard-line and tried to hand off the ball. He fumbled and N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb recovered the football.
“I was pulling the ball, but I didn’t have a good grip on it, so that’s my fault,” he said. “We’ve just got to have a better mesh in the backfield and I’ve got to take care of the football.”
Four plays later, N.C. State’s Matthew Dayes punched it in for a 1-yard touchdown.
From there, the momentum swung in N.C. State’s favor. The Wolfpack went on to force another punt, then scored again a few plays later, this time on an 18-yard rush from Dayes.
Dayes finished the game with 104 yards on 26 carries and scored two touchdowns.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” UNC junior defensive tackle Nazair Jones said. “We saw the game coming.”
He said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik told the defense when each play would come and how they would do it.
“But we still failed to execute, so that’s on us,” Jones said.
The Tar Heels were able to take advantage of a fumble by sophomore running back Nyheim Hines fumble, which gave the Tar Heels the football in Wolfpack territory. The Tar Heels scored five plays later to bring them within two touchdowns at halftime.
But the early hole proved too much for the Tar Heels. The closest they got in the second half was within seven points. Friday was an especially difficult loss for the players.
The Tar Heels lost to both Duke and N.C. State this season, something seniors Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan said they didn’t want to happen.
A win over the Wolfpack and a Virginia Tech loss to Virginia on Saturday would have given the Tar Heels the Coastal Division title.
Instead, the Hokies clinched the Coastal division regardless of the outcome of their game against the Cavaliers.
“We didn’t have to do anything super human today,” Fedora said. “We just needed to execute and play football and we didn’t do that.”