At times on Saturday, North Carolina’s 33-24 defeat against Georgia provided the kind of situations, and breakdowns, that keep Larry Fedora up at night, worrying. A look back at the good, the not-so good and the ugly for UNC on Saturday night:
The Tar Heels were right there.
Again. The argument isn’t quite as strong as it was a year ago when UNC began the season with a turnover-laden defeat against South Carolina, but nonetheless it’s arguable that for the second consecutive year, UNC began the season by losing a game it should have won.
Last year UNC committed three turnovers that led to a 17-13 loss against South Carolina. This year the Tar Heels led Georgia 24-14 late in the third quarter before unraveling during a critical sequence in which the Bulldogs scored a touchdown, forced a safety and turned the momentum for good.
UNC had its chances, at least.
When it ran, UNC found success.
T.J. Logan gained 80 yards on six carries, an average of 13.3 yards per carry. Elijah Hood gained 76 yards on 10 carries, an average of 7.6 yards per carry. Overall the Tar Heels averaged 8.4 yards per carry – yet they only attempted 19 runs (more on that later).
THE NOT-SO GOOD
The run defense.
There’s a reason why the run defense provided a constant source of questions and speculation in the preseason: it struggled to slow down better running teams last season – and faltered especially at the end of last season. And it was clear Georgia would provide a good indication of where things stood at the start of this season.
So where do things stand now, after UNC surrendered 289 yards rushing on Saturday night? Nick Chubb, the Georgia running back coming off of a serious knee injury, ran for 222 yards on 32 carries and put the game away with a 55-yard touchdown run with 3½ minutes to play.
UNC’s passing offense.
Maybe it was first-game jitters. Maybe it was play-calling. Maybe, most of all, it was just Georgia’s defense. Whatever the cause, the Tar Heels rarely appeared in sync in the passing game on Saturday night, and Mitch Trubisky never looked particularly comfortable in his first college start.
He completed 24 of his 40 attempts for 156 yards. The good news: He didn’t throw an interception. The bad: He missed several throws downfield, and also didn’t take advantage of running opportunities when he had a chance to turn broken plays into positives.
UNC committed 13 of them for 101 yards. Nine of those penalties, for 75 yards, came in the second half. The Tar Heels committed four penalties – two pass interferences, an ineligible man downfield, an unsportsmanlike conduct – during that decisive stretch late in the third quarter when the game turned.
Some of the calls were controversial and questionable. The ineligible man downfield call certainly was.
The point is this, though: To win a game like this the Tar Heels needed to be as close to perfect as possible. They’re not good enough, as Larry Fedora said, to overcome repeated mistakes.
As much as anything else, penalties led to UNC’s demise on Saturday night.
The play-calling, in moments.
Here’s a troubling stat for the Tar Heels: They gained more yards rushing than passing but passed about twice as often as they ran. Why?
When they had opportunities, Logan and Hood – and especially Logan – made the most of them on Saturday. Both players had runs of at least 32 yards.
UNC’s longest passing play, meanwhile, went for 23 yards. Trubisky attempted several deep passes downfield that didn’t connect for a variety of reasons: some were overthrown, some underthrown – some simply well-defended.
At times on Saturday, it seemed like UNC forgot about its running game. One of those times came late in the second quarter, with the Tar Heels trailing 14-7. They had a first-and-goal from the 5-yard-line with 30 seconds left in the half.
Not a lot of time, but UNC still had one timeout. It called three consecutive passes, all incomplete, and then settled for a field goal. It was somewhat reminiscent of UNC’s decision to pass late in the South Carolina game last year, instead of giving the ball to Hood in a short-yardage situation.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tar Heels had their chances – and had a double-digit, third-quarter lead – before penalties and other mistakes caught up to the them, ruining their chance to close out what could have been their most significant season-opening victory in more than 20 years. This was an opportunity lost for UNC.