The North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Liberty Flames on Saturday night to improve to 1-0 on the season. The Tar Heels didn’t play as well as many expected they would, but the still emerged victorious and can now focus their efforts on beating a much tougher opponent in San Diego State next week.
After reflecting on the game and going back and watching the game again, here are some things that stood out to me from the Tar Heel’s perspective. I won’t focus on the quarterbacks as I’m saving that for a piece later in the week, but everything else about the Tar Heel’s performance from week one is on the table.
- UNC started off really fast with an eight play, 61 yard drive that took 2 minutes and 11 seconds of game time. The key to that drive was the tempo of the offense and the easy throws for Marquise Williams. Liberty wasn’t ready for North Carolina’s speed right out of the gate, but once they adjusted to the speed and tempo of UNC, they were much more successful on defense.
- Tim Scott is expected to be a leader on the Tar Heel defense in 2014, but he was placed in a tough situation in game one when he was forced to move back to cornerback with UNC’s two starting cornerbacks out to injury. The good news is that the secondary should be much improved in week two with Scott going back to safety and the two corners returning. The bad news was that Scott got beat multiple times by the wide receiver and nearly gave up a few big plays. He was good helping the Tar Heel run defense and his forced fumble was a huge play in the first quarter, but Scott is a much better safety than he is a corner.
- Two big issues that I saw from UNC’s performance against Liberty: Pressure and penalties.
Pressure: As a team on Saturday, the Tar Heels recorded three tackles for loss, one sack and two QB hurries. That isn’t going to cut it against better quarterbacks. If you give them all day to throw, the Tar Heel secondary will be carved up no matter how good it is.
Norkeithus Otis is a big part of the Tar Heel pass rush, and he didn’t play much on Saturday. Otis went into the locker room sometime during the first half and finished with just one QB hurry. We know Otis can do big things for the Carolina defense, but because of injury or for whatever reason, he didn’t show up on Saturday. UNC needs more from him.
Penalties: UNC had 10 penalties for 60 yards on Saturday, compared to two flags thrown against Liberty. That continues a concerning trend for the Tar Heels of continuously getting flagged often. With younger teams, you expect more disciplinary issues, so the issue is somewhat understandable in game one. To that point, many of the flags came against the offensive line which was breaking in multiple new starters. But, Coach Fedora has to nip that trend in the bud and not let penalties hurt the Tar Heels later on in the season in a more meaningful situation. Speaking of Coach Fedora…
Coach Fedora Corner
In a new segment on Keeping It Heel, we will analyze the decisions of Coach Fedora and see if he made the right choices in his game management. We will do our best to look at his decisions based on the thought process and not based on the results. Let’s take a look at our first and only scenario from the Liberty game…
Time: Approximately 8:00 minutes left in the second quarter
Score: UNC up 14-7
Down and distance: 2nd and 10, ball on the Liberty 27
Josh Woodrum pass incomplete to Darrin Peterson, Liberty gets flagged for offensive holding (10 yard penalty.) UNC declines, the Flames convert the 3rd and 10 for a first down.
Should Coach Fedora have taken the penalty?
I wish I could have found reliable and free data for how often a team gets a first down on third and 10 vs. second and 20, but I couldn’t. So instead of tackling this problem analytically, I will have to do so without the benefit of numbers and I apologize.
If UNC accepts the penalty, Liberty is standing on their 17 yard line on second down with 20 yards to go. It seems to me like that would be a better choice and it would help the return game and Ryan Switzer with the punter closer to his own end zone. However, I don’t think you can fault Coach Fedora for wanting a third and 10. Even though the offense converted, I think the decision to decline the penalty was fine.
- The momentum of the game changed in the third quarter with yet another good Tommy Hibbard punt. A Mitch Trubisky-led drive had stalled out at the UNC 46 yard line, and Hibbard punted the ball well and Liberty was forced to start the drive from their own 11 yard line. The Carolina defense forced a three and out, and on the ensuing UNC offensive drive, the Tar Heels stared with the ball at the Liberty 40. Marquise Williams threw two quick passes to Mack Hollins and the Tar Heel’s big third quarter run was on.
Credit Hibbard with the punt, the defense with the three and out and Switzer for the nine yard punt return in swinging the momentum of the game, which had been trending in Liberty’s favor, towards UNC’s side.
- I haven’t decided yet what I think about the Tar Heel running back rotation. One school of thought would say that you should rotation running backs in and out to keep them all fresh. The other school would say to stick with one or two running backs and ride them more so they can get in rhythm and rack up yards. I’m not sure which is the better idea.
I can tell you that Elijah Hood looked good running the ball, as did T.J. Logan and Charles Brunson, who ended up leading the team in rushing. If you include Brunson in the running back equation (he is just a sophomore…), you get a really crowded picture.
#UNC had seven players with more than four rushes and none with with more than nine. Not sure if all that depth is good or bad…
— Keeping It Heel (@KeepingItHeel) August 31, 2014
I will be keeping a close eye on how Coach Fedora handles the running backs and to see if he starts riding one or two more than the others as the season goes on.
- Defense carded a “meh” grade from me. I liked how the defense created six turnovers, but counting on turnovers to bail your defense out all season long is a bad gameplan. Also, the Heel’s probably won’t go 4-4 on recovering the opposing team’s fumbles again considering how unlikely it is.
The run defense was better than the pass, which is good considering the secondary was depleted with suspensions. The worst stretch was at the end of the first half, when Liberty started a drive at their own 27 yard line with 5:03 left in the second quarter. The Flames had 37 yards on six rushes on that drive. I suspect that the Tar Heel defense might have been a little worn out at the end of the half, and that could have factored into the poor showing on that drive. Overall, I think the defense will be better next week overall with the players returning. I do want to see more pressure and tackles for loss next week from the Heels.
Let us know what you thought about the Tar Heel’s performance in the comments below!