Sometimes, the best thing about a football season is that one game doesn’t determine the outcome of the entire campaign. After the crushing loss to South Carolina, the Heels still have at least 11 football games to play and lots of time to improve. This game is in the past, and the next opponent on the schedule is the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee. UNC has to move on from the last game, learn from its mistakes, and go out and give it their all next week in Chapel Hill. Here are some takeaways from the Battle of the Carolinas, and how to improve for next week.
The defense really hasn’t gotten better
All offseason, the concern for this Tar Heel team was the defense. UNC has a young linebacking core, weak secondary, and a thin defensive line. Put those three together and opposing offenses end up getting 406 yards, like the Gamecocks did. The biggest concern is in the secondary, where cornerbacks Jabari Price and Tim Scott’s poor defense led to USC’s longest plays. On South Carolina’s first pass attempt, Scott got beat and Shaq Roland rolled in for a 65 yard touchdown. On Mike Davis’s 75 yard run, Jabari Price had an easy shot at a tackle, but instead completely whiffed, leading to the long run. These two are the Heels starting cornerbacks. They are upperclassmen now, expected to be leaders on and off the field. Major breakdowns and missed tackles have to end from these two and the entire defense. It just goes to show you, just because an upperclassmen is returning doesn’t mean he is going to be any better than he was before. So far, Scott, Price, and really the whole defense have shown no signs of improvement from last season.
Adjustments for Middle Tennessee
The good news is that the Blue Raider’s offense isn’t quite as dynamic or potent as the USC group, so that will at the very least help the Heels. Also, the Heels have an extra weekend to watch film and learn from their mistakes, so hopefully the combination of more practice and a lower quality opponent will combine for some sort of defensive success for the Heels. Also, it is important to mention the defensive bright spots from the South Carolina game. Travis Hughes tied for a team high in tackles with eight, and former walk-on Jeff Schoettmer pitched in seven tackles in defeat. Also, Norkeithus Otis recorded the Heel’s only sack in the game, along with 5 tackles. UNC can hope that these three continue their strong play into the next game.
Offense can do more
The Tar Heel offense gained 293 yards, 99 on the ground, in defeat on Thursday, a pedestrian effort for such a high volume offense. Romar Morris led running backs with 69 yards, and Quinshad Davis and Eric Ebron led the receivers, with both averaging around 10 yards per catch. There is nothing really to complain about here; the offense played well enough to stay in the game, but didn’t put up many points and struggled to find rhythm. One important note is that the Heels went 3-4 on fourth downs, a very lucky percentage and one certain to come down. This means that some the Tar Heel drives were extended by aggressive play calling and luck, giving the indication that UNC’s offense could have struggled a lot more without those conversions. The Heels wont always go 3-4, so they have to get a lot better on third downs to try and extend drives in a more sustainable way. 7-19 on third downs leaves plenty of room for improvement.
Adjustments for Middle Tennessee
Once again, Middle Tennessee is not a top ten team in the country. Their defense doesn’t feature the consensus #1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and won’t have the advantage of 80,000 screaming fans. The Tar Heel offense will do better against the Blue Raiders, and might reach somewhere around 40 points by the games end. I think the biggest adjustment that needs to be made is getting Bryn Renner more easy passes early to try and establish some good rhythm and sustain a long drive. The Heels have plenty of weapons on the outside, so all Renner has to do is have time to feed them. Look for North Carolina to make the appropriate adjustments and improve for next week against Middle Tennessee.
The good news for UNC is that they don’t play in the SEC, and don’t have to face that caliber of a team again this season. Middle Tennessee may not be as talented as the Gamecocks, but they are no pushover, either. Last season, the Blue Raiders upset ACC contender Georgia Tech on the road. This is a dangerous game, and the Heels cannot afford to start this season 0-2. North Carolina has to make some big adjustments and improve a lot, especially in the secondary, but still should take care of business and pull out a “W” at home against Mid Tennessee.