There have been some low points for North Carolina this season, some moments – several of them, in fact – when the Tar Heels faced questions about where they were headed and which direction their season would take.
There were those questions after the first two games – a pair of uninspired victories against Liberty and San Diego State. Certainly, there were those questions after the 70-41 loss at East Carolina, and after the 50-35 loss at Clemson, which wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
And here we are again, now, after UNC’s 47-20 defeat at Miami. It wasn’t just that the Tar Heels lost on Saturday. No, it was the way they lost – in completely humiliating, humbling fashion – and that they offered that kind of performance after having seemed to turn the season around.
“It’s pretty tough,” Ryan Switzer, the sophomore receiver, said outside the locker room on Saturday. “Riding a two-game win streak. Really felt like we’d come down here and be competitive and win.
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“But a couple of things didn’t go our way early and got off to another slow start and couldn’t come back from it.”
The final score, as bad as it is, doesn’t even do the game justice. UNC trailed 44-6 midway through the third quarter and, at that point, the Tar Heels were without an offensive touchdown. The defense played poorly, again, but the most striking disappointing was UNC’s offense.
The Tar Heels have usually been able to put up some points. Even in those lopsided losses against ECU and Clemson, UNC had moments where it played well offensively. Not against Miami, though. The first half, especially, was a brutal display of offensive inefficiency, and UNC had 57 yards at halftime.
Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, said it was a “very poor” performance. That was obvious enough.
Less obvious, though, were the reasons for the innumerable breakdowns. Marquise Williams, the junior quarterback, seemed less than full strength and struggled to elude pressure. Fedora said Williams was “100 percent,” and Williams dismissed questions about his health, too. He was sacked six times.
The running game, again, was nonexistent. And with Williams under constant pressure, the passing game never got going, either. Miami’s defense is among the best in the ACC, but, even so, the Tar Heels have had success against good defenses – Virginia, Notre Dame – this season.
“It was very disappointing,” Fedora said. “I don’t think we played well anywhere – up front, anywhere. Quarterback, running back, receivers. You know, we made a few plays there in the third and fourth quarter, but we still – it was way too inconsistent to be effective as an offense.”
The question now is, now what? Where do the Tar Heels go from here?
They entered the Miami game hoping they could still win the ACC’s Coastal Division. And a victory in South Florida would have indeed made the Tar Heels a legitimate contender to win that division.
Such a one-sided loss, though, has the opposite effect. It makes you wonder whether UNC can rebound – again – and win two of its final three games to become bowl eligible. All of the Tar Heels’ remaining games – against Pitt, at Duke and against N.C. State – are winnable.
But they’re all losable, too, especially if the Tar Heels play like they did on Saturday. Fedora on Saturday said he liked that his team didn’t quit – that it didn’t completely give up in the second half on Saturday. And there is something to be said for that.
How many times, though, can Fedora ask his players to respond before they simply can’t?
“We’ve got to figure out how they whipped us and what happened,” Switzer said. “Because we’ve got three winnable games down the road that we can win, and we need to win. So we’ve got to figure out the problem and address it.”