North Carolina fell to 1-6 on the season with its 31-21 loss to Virginia on Saturday at Scott Stadium.
This loss was different than UNC’s previous two losses against Syracuse and Virginia Tech. In those games, the Tar Heels should have won. They led late but gave up the lead.
The Tar Heels never led in this game though. After the Cavaliers took a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, the Tar Heels never got within three points.
Here are five observations from the game:
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
1. UNC couldn’t contain Bryce Perkins
Junior quarterback Bryce Perkins did it all for Virginia.
Every time the Tar Heels got close to bringing him down, Perkins found a way to wiggle free or avoid the defender and run for the first down. At times he made it look easy as he coasted for first down after first down.
“He can really run,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “There were times there when he got out on the edge, and we have some guys that can run, and he outran them.”
Perkins finished with 112 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. With Perkins being a threat to run, it helped his passing game too, Fedora said.
“You have to worry about caging and containing him in a pass rush,” Fedora said. “You’re really not trying to get sacks as much as you are trying not to let him get out.
“He’s a good football player. He really is.”
Perkins passed for 217 yards, three touchdowns and had one interception. Perkins’ four total touchdowns are tied for the most he has had in a game this season. He had two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns on Sept. 1 against Richmond.
2. Running game struggled
UNC’s running game had been its strongest asset on offense. UNC came into the game averaging 5.08 yards per carry, which was ranked 31st out of 130 teams in the country. But on Saturday, UVA stifled UNC’s running game.
The Tar Heels averaged only three yards per carry. UNC sophomore running back Michael Carter had eight carries for 42 yards. Junior running back Antonio Williams had seven carries for 21 yards and Jordon Brown had four carries for seven yards.
Wide receiver Dazz Newsome and junior quarterback Nathan Elliott also had rushes that went for negative yards.
As a team, UNC had 66 rushing yards on 22 rushing attempts. That was a season-low. Prior to that, its season-low in rushing yards was 161 yards against East Carolina on Sept. 8.
Fedora said the Tar Heels have to be able to run in order to be successful. He credited Virginia’s defense.
“They did a nice job of moving the front, changing the front, twisting, bringing backers, getting safeties down in the box,” Fedora said. “They did a nice job with it, and the only time we were able to dictate that is when we had our tempo going.”
3. Third down conversions
UNC was 4-for-14 on third down situations on Saturday. Many of its drives were three-and-outs, and it quickly gave the ball back to its opponent.
Fedora said the running game was one of the reasons UNC wasn’t efficient on third downs.
“I don’t know what our first-down efficiency was, but I don’t think it was very good,” he said. “The drives that we had were successful, where we would pick up first downs and get our tempo going, we looked like an offense. Other than that, the majority of the time we were in third and long situations, because we weren’t efficient on first downs.”
Third down conversions has been a problem for UNC all season though. Entering the game, UNC was 31.6 percent on third down conversions. That ranks 125th out of 130 teams in the country.
“You know it’s first down, if you don’t get that first positive play it’s hard to build tempo, and we want to build tempo,” Elliott said. “If you don’t get a positive play, then you’re sitting in second and long and you’re trying to go fast, but there’s a little more thought process involved, or you’ll be in a third and long. It really comes out of being efficient on the first down.”
Turnovers had been the Achilles’ heel for the Tar Heels this season. It was why UNC lost so badly in its first few games.
UNC had four turnovers against California on Sept. 1, an embarrassing 24-17 defeat. UNC had six turnovers against Miami on Sept. 27.
Since that 47-10 loss to Miami though, Elliott had been turnover-free. And as a result, the Tar Heels found themselves in some close games with their opponents.
But late in the third quarter, with UNC down 24-14, Virginia linebacker Chris Peace sacked Elliott, who fumbled. The Cavaliers recovered the football and later scored. The Cavaliers went up 31-14 early in the fourth quarter and the Tar Heels couldn’t climb back.
5. UNC’s bowl chances
UNC has now lost four straight, and any hopes of making it to a bowl game are likely gone. UNC would have to win six games to be bowl eligible, and with four games remaining on the schedule and only one win, becoming bowl eligible is now mathematically impossible.
There still is a chance UNC could add a 12th game to its season.
UNC’s game against UCF on Sept. 15 was canceled because of Hurricane Florence. If UNC adds a 12th game, that means it would have to end the season beating Georgia Tech, Duke, Western Carolina, N.C. State, and whichever team it scheduled to make a bowl game.
Also, if UNC adds a 12th game, the players who were initially suspended for four games for selling team-issued sneakers in January, will have to sit out another game after the 12th game is announced.
Those players were suspended for 30 percent of the season.
Fedora said after the game that he was unsure about a 12th game.