Could you have asked for much more from this team on Saturday? Facing the defending national champions, who had picked up right where they had left off a year ago, the Tar Heels played their most complete game of the 2019 season and took the No. 1 team in the country 60 minutes, falling 21-20 in a classic. Let’s take a look at what we learned about the Tar Heels from the near upset on Saturday.
The Offense is Still Struggling to Find It’s Identity
When Mack Brown took the job at North Carolina, his goal was to have an offense similar to the ones that Lincoln Riley has put together at Oklahoma. Through five games, though, this 2019 Tar Heel offense is still struggling to move the ball consistently and lacks a true offensive identity. Quarterback Sam Howell continues to make plays, but the fact that he holds on to the ball too long at times still has the staff hesitant to turn this into a full air-raid. The running game has had some moments, but hasn’t been consistent, in part because of the constant rotation with Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. While it’s great to be balanced, this unit need to find an identity that they can lean on in crucial moments. In all honesty, this offense needs to be more pass oriented with Howell showing that he has what it takes to move this offense when he needs to. We knew the road to being a lethal offense again was going to be a multi-year one, but the first step is finding an identity. That has to be the goal for the offense over the next few weeks.
This Secondary Has Some Promising Young Talent
The secondary looked to be in a tough spot entering Saturday’s game, with an already struggling unit lacking it’s best playmaker, Myles Wolfolk. That meant true freshman Cam’Ron Kelly got the start at strong safety and the staff also made the decision to start fellow true freshman Storm Duck over Greg Ross Jr. at one of the corner spots. With two true freshman starters, there was reason for concern, but for the most part, the two held their own against a loaded receiving corps and game-changing quarterback. Don Chapman, another true freshman who saw his first action of on the defensive side of the football, made a couple of promising plays and held his own as well. The young talent in this secondary is extremely encouraging; now they just have to do something this unit has struggled to do over the past few seasons: stay healthy.
Missed Opportunities Cost the Tar Heels A Major Upset
Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera loves to focus on those missed opportunities, much to the frustration of their fanbase. However, for the Tar Heels on Saturday, missed opportunities were a big part of why the Tar Heels weren’t able to pull off the upset. Whether it was the 4th & 1 play where Javonte Williams was stopped short that eventually led to the Clemson touchdown drive to take the lead or the back-to-back 3rd & 9 conversions that helped Clemson continue drives, the Tar Heels had their chances that they just couldn’t capitalize on. The good news is, the team continues to have these types of chances late in games. Now it’s about turning those opportunities into wins, something that isn’t as easy as we thought earlier this season.
Right Choice to Go For the Win, Not the Right Play Call
The debate of whether the coaching staff made the right decision to go for the win is one that will be hotly contested for the bulk of the next week, but at the end of the day we can all agree that it was the wrong play call regardless. Against the No. 1 team in the country with them on the ropes, it makes sense why the Tar Heels wanted to win the game in regulation, but running a speed option against a team as athletic as Clemson is was a bad choice. I would have liked to see a rollout play to the right that gets the Clemson linebackers on the move against quicker receivers or a lob throw to Beau Corrales, who proved against South Carolina he has the ability to climb the ladder and make a play on the football. Unfortunately, we will be left to wonder what could have been.
The Program Continues to Show Signs of Progress
After last week’s loss to Appalachian State, many were wondering just how far ahead of schedule this rebuild was. Saturday showed that this Tar Heel team has the right tools to compete earlier than originally expected when the hire was originally made. This team needs to add players that fit the systems better and also acquire some depth, especially defensively, but Saturday showed why Mack Brown’s return to Chapel Hill was the right move for this program back in November.