Gut-wrenching. Heartbreaking. Devastating. So many ways you can phrase what happened in Tallahassee on Saturday night to the Tar Heels. After being stunned out of the gate in the first half by the Florida State Seminoles, the Tar Heels roared back to have a final drive that could have won or tied the game before dropping the final three passes of the game to fall to the Seminoles 31-28 in their first game as a top five team since 1997. Let’s take a look at what we learned about this team in Saturday’s night soul crushing loss.
Tar Heels Weren’t Ready For the Stage
As we mentioned above, the Tar Heels put themselves in a bad spot in the first half, looking shell shocked from the word go. From the blocked punt on the first fourth down of the game to the late touchdown drive to close out the first half, the Tar Heels just couldn’t get any momentum going in their favor. Florida State hit multiple big plays early in the game and the pick six thrown by Sam Howell that gave the Seminoles a 23-0 lead late in the second quarter showed just how rattled this team was by the situation. Mack Brown did a great job of settling his team down in the second half, but as we expected they could be, the Tar Heels weren’t quite ready for the stage they were put on Saturday night.
Defense Has Some Glaring Concerns
While the unit was able to settle things down a bit in the second half, there are still some very real concerns with this Tar Heel defense right now. The Tar Heel secondary had some major struggles on Saturday night, both in the run game and in coverage, especially in the first half. The group let up some big pass plays in the first half because they were caught with their eyes in the backfield, which left the middle of the field open for a good portion of the evening. Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis was not only able to bother the Tar Heels through the air with some big plays, but on the ground, as well. The secondary hasn;’t been helped out by the constant blitzing the Tar Heel defense has been doing all season long, which has been reflective of the inconsistent ability of the defensive line to get pressure by themselves. Mobile quarterbacks have always been problematic for Tar Heel defenses in the past and this year seems to be no different, as the Tar Heels struggled to bring down the sophomore quarterback, who ran for 107 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday night. This unit has shown some promise at different times this season, but as the last two weeks have shown, there is still some work to be done.
Special Teams Has Even More Concerns
One of the biggest goals that Mack Brown had heading into this 2020 season was to improve on special teams after an up-and-down 2019 season for the unit. Through the first four games of the season, the unit has had their struggles and Saturday night was a culmination of those struggles. It started in the first quarter when the Tar Heels saw two punts blocked due to poor protection up front and showed up yet again in the third quarter on a missed field goal in the third quarter from Grayson Atkins that ended up being the difference in the game. Even the return units have struggled to give the Tar Heel offense any help so far this season and neither group returns a single kick on Saturday night once again. After being such a strength under Larry Fedora, the Tar Heel special teams have become a rollercoaster in the first year and a half under Mack Brown. If the Tar Heels want to be able to win more close games like this one, it’s important to get the special teams unit in a position where they can execute on a more regular basis. That will continue to be a big task for this staff going forward this season and into next.
Drops Are Killing the Tar Heels
The Tar Heels had this game on their fingertips three times in the final three plays of the game and just couldn’t find a way to come down with the football. Beau Corrales’ drop on second down was a tough one to swallow, especially when you combine it with the fact that he was clearly held on the play, but the 3rd and 4th down drops were even more disappointing. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, this wasn’t just a problem that suddenly appeared on Saturday night. As Bryan Ives of the ACC Network graciously pointed via his Twitter account following the game, the Tar Heels have dropped six of their 32 3rd or 4th down targets this season. We saw this become a problem late last season and this seems to be an issue for the Tar Heels once again early this year.
Florida State is Like Texas For Roy, Mack Just Can’t Beat Them
The Tar Heels head coach entered Saturday night’s meeting with his alma mater 0-9 all time against them in his illustrious career and once again fell short in this one. The Seminoles have always been that one team that Mack just can’t seem to beat, comparing well to the struggles that head basketball coach Roy Williams has seen against the Texas Longhorns. The good news for Mack is that the Seminoles are not a team the Tar Heels see often with them playing on separate sides of the conference, but it means he won’t get many more opportunities to wipe that zero out of the win column, which you know he wants to do.
This Loss Hurts, But A Special Season Could Still Be in the Cards
The loss drops the Tar Heels to 3-1 on the season and in conference play, but the good news is, they still control their own destiny. All of the team ahead of you in the standings still lie ahead on your schedule with the exception of Clemson and as you showed in the second half and especially last week against Virginia Tech, you have the offensive firepower necessary to win out. The key for this Tar Heel team is to put this loss behind them, learn from it and make the adjustments needed to beat an NC State team that will enter 4-1 and will likely be ranked. It’s a bit cliché, but we will find out what this Tar Heel team is really made of next Saturday afternoon in their rivalry meeting with the Wolfpack.