North Carolina had plenty of chances to secure a win on Saturday night against Virginia Tech. But the Tar Heels made too many mistakes, and ultimately lost 22-19 after a game-winning, 98-yard touchdown drive by the Hokies.
Here are the position-by-position grades for UNC’s performance.
The quarterbacks — freshman Cade Fortin and junior Nathan Elliott — weren’t perfect, and they missed a couple of big touchdown throws that could have opened up the game. But they took better care of the football. They combined to throw 21-33 for 244 yards and one touchdown. Fortin, who started his first game of the season, did a good job of throwing the ball down field, something UNC hasn’t done much of all season.
The bad news is Fortin was knocked out of the game in the first half.
Running backs: B-
The Tar Heels (1-4, 1-2 ACC) ran for 235 yards as a team, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Sophomore tailback Michael Carter had a career-high 168 yards on 18 carries. Had it not been for the running backs, UNC would not have been as successful offensively. However, players at that position had two key turnovers against the Hokies (4-2, 3-0). Junior tailback Antonio Williams fumbled on UNC’s first possession, and Carter fumbled at the goal line on UNC’s next to last possession of the game.
Offensive line: C
The offensive line opened a few holes for the running backs and allowed them to run for 235 yards. They allowed three sacks, but Fortin and Elliott often had time to get the ball off. The offensive line’s biggest mistakes were a couple of bad snaps and crucial penalties that stalled drives, and called back touchdowns. That can’t happen.
The receivers were fairly quiet for most of the game. Junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams had the lone touchdown in the third quarter.
The biggest play from a receiver came from junior tight end Carl Tucker in the fourth quarter. On a third-and-long from deep inside UNC’s territory, Elliott found an open Tucker, who raced down field for an 80-yard gain. The reception almost won the game for UNC, had it not fumbled near the end zone four plays later.
Defensive line: A-
The defensive line got constant pressure on the quarterback. It helped having senior defensive end Malik Carney back from suspension. Carney and junior defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge had two sacks each. UNC also had nine tackles for loss. There were times, however, when UNC allowed Virginia Tech quarterback Ryan Willis to get out of the pocket and run free.
For the most part, the linebackers played well. Senior linebacker Cole Holcomb was second on the team with nine tackles, and junior linebacker Jonathan Smith had five tackles. But Willis broke the pocket and ran free too often. The biggest play happened on 4th and 12, on Virginia Tech’s final possession.
Defensive backs: A
The defensive backs didn’t allow much on Saturday, and they also came up with two takeaways. Senior safety J.K. Britt led the team with 10 tackles and had an interception. Junior cornerback Patrice Rene also had an interception. Junior safety Myles Dorn, who had five tackles and one pass breakup, also played well. He was playing in his first game since Week One against California.
Special teams: C+
Senior kicker Freeman Jones made four field goals, but he also missed two. One of the misses was from 32 yards out. Those were missed points that could have helped UNC at the end of the game.
UNC had a much better game plan against Virginia Tech than it did against Miami. And the decision to start the true freshman Fortin at quarterback over Elliott seemed to be the right decision. But after leading for nearly the entire second half, and having a chance to put away the game, UNC did not finish strong. The Tar Heels, up 19-14, gave up the ball on a fumble near the goal line late in the fourth quarter. The Hokies, down by 5, then scored on a 98-yard drive and end up with the 22-19 win. And that will ultimately fall on the coaching.