It was a long week last week for North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and his team, a week that ended with the Tar Heels' 56-28 victory on Saturday against James Madison. Some thoughts on the day after about UNC's victory, which went mostly as expected:
-Mitch Trubisky and the passing offense develop some good juju.
Or mojo. Or momentum. Whatever you might call it. Trubisky, the junior quarterback, played well the week before during a victory at Illinois, but on Saturday he capitalized on just about every opportunity he had to make a play and he was on target, especially, on his longer throws. That's important because those kinds of throws are an integral part of the Tar Heels' offense, and it was a part that was missing, at times, during the first two weeks. Now, you have to take into account the competition. James Madison couldn't compete defensively with UNC. Even so, Trubisky's line is impressive regardless of the competition: 24-for-27, 432 yards, three touchdowns. Two of those came on passes of at least 71 yards. Trubisky set a single-game school record for consecutive pass completions (18) and now has the school record for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (156).
THE NOT-SO GOOD
-The UNC defense allowed nearly 500 yards against a lower-division opponent.
James Madison is a good Football Championship Subdivision team, but it's an FCS team nonetheless – one limited to 63 scholarships, with players who were considered too small or too slow, or both, to play at a higher level. And yet the Dukes gained 495 yards on Saturday, and averaged nearly 6 yards per play. Injuries haven't helped UNC's defensive cause. The Tar Heels on Saturday were without starting defensive tackle Naz Jones, and injuries have ravaged the defensive end spot opposite Mikey Bart. UNC coach Larry Fedora joked that he might ask me to start playing defensive end – and at least I'm healthy (though perhaps not in football shape). Through three games the Tar Heels have not played particularly well defensively, especially against the run, and they have to get better, and healthier, in a hurry.
-Penalties, penalties, penalties.
UNC committed 10 penalties for 110 yards on Saturday. Fedora can live with some of them. Some of them, he can understand. But not the ones that come after a play is over, that are the result of a lack of discipline and/or intelligence. The Tar Heels committed four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for 60 yards, and Fedora afterward described those as “unacceptable.” After the Dukes' first two touchdowns, sophomore defensive tackle Jalen Dalton committed unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that moved the ensuing kickoff up 15 yards, ruining any chance UNC might have had for a return that could have established good field position for the offense. UNC pulled away, gradually, on Saturday and the game wasn't in doubt in the fourth quarter. But it was in some respects a sloppy victory, both because of the defensive lapses and especially because of the penalties.