Days after North Carolina’s first game, an 33-24 defeat against Georgia, Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora walked in for his usual Monday news conference and said that the sun had come up. All of his team’s goals were still alive, he said then.
And what were those goals? Back on Sept. 5, Fedora answered the question like this:
“The goals are to win the state championship, win the Coastal Division, win the ACC championship and win our last game. That’s it.”
After a 28-21 loss against N.C. State on Friday, one of those goals is still possible. UNC can still win its final game. The other three – winning the Coastal Division and the ACC, winning the mythical state championship – are all out of reach.
With the loss against the Wolfpack, the Tar Heels finished the regular season 8-4. They failed to accomplish three of their four goals, and still need a victory in a bowl game to accomplish the one goal that remains possible.
A quick look back at UNC’s regular season:
Mitch Trubisky had one of the best seasons for any quarterback in school history.
Here are Trubisky’s final numbers for the regular season: 3,468 yards passing, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 68.9 percent of his passes. No quarterback in school history has ever thrown for more yards in a single season, and entering a bowl game Trubisky is tied with Bryn Renner for most touchdown passes in a single season. The hype surrounding Trubisky was justified.
Ryan Switzer became UNC’s single-season receptions leader.
Like Trubisky, Switzer turned in one of the best seasons in school history for someone at his position – and it was arguably the best season ever for a UNC receiver. Switzer will enter a bowl game with 91 receptions (a school record) for 1,027 yards and five touchdowns. Three times this season, he has caught at least 13 passes. No other player in school history has more than one game with at least 11 catches.
The dramatic comebacks against Pittsburgh and Florida State.
UNC in back-to-back weeks completed two of the most memorable and dramatic comeback victories in school history. There was the 37-36 victory against Pittsburgh, when Trubisky threw the winning touchdown pass to Bug Howard in the final seconds. And then the next week, when Nick Weiler made a 54-yard field goal to beat Florida State as time expired. Those victories were emblematic of a never-say-die belief that served the Tar Heels well the past couple of years.
The not-so good
The late-season fade.
After a 48-20 victory against Georgia Tech on Nov. 5, the Tar Heels were 7-2 overall, 5-1 in the ACC and still alive in the ACC’s Coastal Division race. And then … what happened? UNC lost in lackadaisical fashion on a Thursday night at Duke, before starting slowly in a 28-21 defeat against N.C. State on Friday. The offense uncharacteristically sputtered for long stretches of both games, while the defense at times reverted back to how it played in September, especially against the run. The momentum UNC built in the middle of the season evaporated, quickly, in mid-to-late November.
The offense took a step back.
Despite Trubisky’s individual success, UNC’s offense wasn’t as good as it was last year. The Tar Heels last season led the nation in yards per play (7.28) and are 15th nationally this season (6.77). Last season UNC was 18th in average yards per game, this season it’s 47th. The success of the rushing offense, or lack thereof, was the big difference. UNC ranks 97th in rushing offense this season. Last year, it was 18th nationally.
The defense never quite got over the hump.
It seemed like it had, in the middle of the season. But during UNC’s final two ACC games, two losses against rivals, the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the run. Duke ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns during its 28-27 victory against the Tar Heels. And N.C. State ran for 259 yards on Friday.
The Tar Heels finished the season with one interception.
And it was nearly zero. The lone interception came in the second-to-last regular-season game, against The Citadel. After intercepting 17 passes last season, how does something like that happen?
The look ahead
The Tar Heels now will wait to learn where they’ll be headed for a bowl game. The destination could be the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. It could be the Pinstripe Bowl in New York City. It could be somewhere else. The Tar Heels’ postseason fate is unclear.