The Tar Heels concluded their 2021 season on Thursday afternoon and in perfect representation of season as a whole, it finished in disappointment with an embarrassing 38-21 loss to a South Carolina team that was one of the worst offensive teams in the country entering the game. Here are our biggest takeaways from the loss that rounds out a WINLESS season away from Chapel Hill.
This is Further Proof That Staff Changes Need to Be Made
The Tar Heels decided not to make any staff changes at the conclusion of the regular season, but after Thursday’s loss, it’s hard not to feel like something simply must be done to change the direction that this program is heading right now. It starts with Jay Bateman, who’s position group and defensive unit as a whole was exploited in arguably their worst performance since he took the job in 2019. With that, questions must be asked of the rest of the defensive staff, which simply didn’t appear to have their guys ready for this. Offensive line coach Stacey Searls still should be under heavy fire as well after a shearly disappointing season that saw his group take a major step back despite being as experienced as they have ever been under his direction. Mack Brown’s window in his second go-round here in Chapel Hill is a limited one and one that closes a little bit more day by day, so making tough decisions like these are part of what has to be done.
Safeties Might Be as Big of a Concern as Offensive Line This Offseason
This might have seemed a little ludicrous heading into the season, but this unit was coming off of its worst performance of the season against NC State and this game might have been even worse. Two huge mistakes from the defensive backfield as a whole led to the two early 60+ yard scores from the Gamecocks and the day only got worse with rough performances from both Cam’Ron Kelly and Giovanni Biggers. Losing Ja’Qurious Conley definitely hurt this group, but even with him in there this unit lacked consistency. This is the second straight season where this secondary has been one of the major hindrances of this Tar Heel defense and the team needs to find answers here. The answers may already be the roster, but the Tar Heels can really run that risk with where this defense is at right now. This team needs to go into the transfer portal and find some veteran help at safety this offseason, preferably at free safety.
Guys Like British Brooks and Bryson Nesbit Deserved More Run
The Tar Heel offense struggled once again in this one, something that was a major issue for the team on the road, but part of it was that guys who made impacts didn’t play nearly as much as they needed to. That starts with running back British Brooks, who got the team on the board on Thursday with the 63-yard touchdown run with 13:11 left to go in the second quarter. Following that big carry that was a spark for this previously dormant offense, Brooks had just one carry despite the big play and the success that he had in the final two games of the regular season. With him set to return next year and looking as if he could be a major factor in the running back rotation, it is unacceptable unless he was banged up on that touchdown run. Nesbit is another guy who thrived when he was on the field, catching both of his targets for 29 yards, but he played just 12 snaps. These guys should have played bigger roles in this game and it’s not really clear why they didn’t.
Sam Howell Laid It All on the Line and, Damn It, He Deserved Better
Howell did not have to play in this game on Thursday with it seeming as if he will be heading to the NFL this offseason, but this was a chance to send him out the way that he deserves with how great of a player that he was. Instead, the team failed him once again to step up around him and dropped a player that threw a touchdown in every start of his career to 20-17. There is no doubt that Howell is the greatest quarterback in program history and the individual records that he holds show that, but this team had enough talent around him and simply didn’t get the job done for a guy who simply laid it all on the line in every game that he played in and deserved so much more.
It’s Time to Be a Little Worried About the Programs Direction
With how successful the team has been on the recruiting trail, this one may seem a little bit crazy, but this the way this program finished the season should have you concerned. The talent is there that this staff has brought in, but outside of a select few, there aren’t many of those guys that are better than when they came to campus, primarily defensively. That reflects on the staff and it needs to be addressed immediately, especially with that limited window that we talked about above. The problem is, Mack Brown has waited to this point without changes and it’s hard to feel confident that he will actually make changes moving forward. If this same staff is back, there is reason to believe that it could be another uphill battle in 2022.