When it comes to the game that North Carolina football played yesterday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium against 19th ranked Louisville there are so many words that could describe it. Unfortunately the one that will always remain is “loss” as the Tar Heels did just that, ending up on the wrong side of a 39 to 34 final score. And while the game was a tale of two halves, with head coach Larry Fedora’s squad mounting a great come back in the fourth quarter, that same team put itself into a 36 to 7 hole to begin with. If you did not know better in the first thirty minutes Carolina executed on the field like a Football Championship Subdivision program coming to play an SEC team for its yearly beat down.
The first quarter was not half over and the Cardinals had two scores, or better said, two very easy scores, while it seemed that junior quarterback Bryn Renner’s only completion was at a Louisville defender. In less than four minutes UNC had allowed its opponent to get into the end zone twice while looking like they had no idea of what they were doing on either side of the ball. None. Zero. For most of the first half the word “embarrassing” came to mind watching the guys donning the carolina blue. Yes, some cuss words did come to mind as well, but I try to keep this blog “PG” so those are not going to be talked about. When embarrassing did not come to mind other words like “ugly” or “unbelievable” did. In other words it was one of those halves you want to forget, but will never.
While there is a new defense in place for the Heels giving up close to 10 yards per play in the first half was just hard to stomach. Especially after coming off a tough loss to Wake where the defensive line only gave up two yards per carry. Each time Teddy Bridgewater, who ended up with 279 yards on 23 for 28 passing and three TDs for the game, went back to pass he had a ton of time. And when he did get some pressure the UNC D could not wrap him up. One of those misses resulted in the L’Ville QB hitting a wide open receiver for a touchdown. And when L’Ville decided to run the holes that were made seemed big enough to allow the whole marching band to go through them.
It felt like the team from Chapel Hill had no drive, no determination, no desire, no nothing! On the field they could not do anything and off the field they seemed just as lost. It was like the close loss to in state and ACC foe Wake Forest had stunned them so badly that the team still hadn’t snapped out of it. Even the commentators on the television stated that North Carolina was risking to make one loss turn into two. The first part of that game was definitely not how I envisioned it going, not by a long shot, and I have to say as the two teams headed to the locker room my mind drifted to another game between these two programs, the one that was played in 2005. It was Louisville’s first year in the Big East and they came out strong at home versus Carolina, heading into halftime by the score of 38 to 7 and then cruised to a final of 69 to 14. For those that remember that game it was over and done almost before it began. And it was not a pretty site for the John Bunting led team on either side of the ball.
However, as the third quarter played itself out, with just one score by the Heels, I figured that the game would end with the home team winning in a comfortable way, but not a land slide like seven years before. When the final fifteen minutes played out the word that came to mind, and out of my mouth several times, was “unreal” as the squad that for the first half seemed to do nothing right began to do everything correctly.
It began with Louisville getting a field goal and then kicking off to North Carolina. In that ensuing drive it was the first time in this game UNC was playing the way that coach Fedora had told everyone that would listen how the offense would be, fast and furious, as the Tar Heels got their first score of the quarter driving down 65 yards in about a minute and a half. Then the defense came to light, first stopping L’Ville’s offense and then blocking a punt, setting up Bryn Renner, who went 26 for 41 for 363 yards and five touchdowns and an interception, and company on the opponent’s five yard line. A pass from the junior quarterback to sophomore tight end Eric Ebron for his second TD of the game, who I said in my preview would be targeted by Renner, and now the Heels trail by 11 points, 39 to 28.
Once again the Heels D takes a stand and the Cardinals are made to punt once again. Thanks to a roughing the passer call and a few nice passes by Renner Carolina finds itself on the fifty yard line with first and 10. However they would not need all four downs as the next pass from the junior gunslinger to Romar Morris would go all the way to the endzone. Down five points coach Fedora decides to go for two, but the Heels would come up short in the attempt. But there was still plenty of magic, as Carolina would recover the ball on the insuing kickoff after it was fumbled, placing themselves close to the red zone and with close to 4:30 left on the clock.
In about nine minutes this team, that looked dead in the water for 30 minutes, so-so for another fifteen, was now one good drive away from taking the lead. On the first play pass interference placed the ball inside the L’Ville’s 10 yard line, a run for a loss, a catch by Erik Highsmith, a false start and a run for positive yards put the ball on the four yard line. After a time out the Heels descended on the field for their fourth down play, a pass to Erik Highsmith that went incomplete.
I will let all of you decide if this was or was not pass interference. Not that it matters in the end, the refs said it wasn’t and that is the end of the argument. And I will add to this that I almost never blame the refs for losing a game and will not start now. As far as I am concerned this game was lost by UNC in the first half and not by what could have been a bad call late in the game
The question that comes to mind after this game, or better said after this two halves of a game, is: which North Carolina football team is the real one? Is it the lethargic, no drive, one that played wandered the field against Louisville at the beginning. Or is it the get up and go, motivated, with nothing to lose attitude that took control of the gridiron against a Top 25 opponent in the last quarter? Maybe, even if this can be labeled a cop out, both are the team that is UNC this season, with the one that we saw first what they can be when not focused and the other what they can achieve when properly executing what they have been taught by the coaching staff. So the question might not be which is the real team, but instead which one will show up each and every game from here until the end of the season.
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