The Tar Heels came into Saturday with the hopes of giving Mack Brown his first ever win over the Florida State Seminoles and continuing their climb back into the race for the ACC Coastal. Instead, the team was dominated in embarrassing fashion once again in a game that rivaled the Georgia Tech game for the most disappointing game of the season. The team simply looked shell shocked when Florida State responded after being down 10-0 and could never regain their footing, falling to a struggling 1-4 Seminoles team 35-25 to basically eliminate themselves from ACC Coastal contention and putting this in the conversation for one of the most disappointing seasons in program history. Here are our takeaways from the loss in Kenan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
This Team Continues to Look Unprepared
The Tar Heels have looked unprepared for each of the two road environments that they faced out of the gate this season and on Saturday, those struggles carried over into this game at home. As mentioned above, the Tar Heels raced out to a 10-0 lead, dishing out the first punch, but when Florida State punched back, they simply had no response. This was a concerning issue overall, but the fact that it is coming against teams like the Georgia Tech and Florida State teams that they have lost to this season heightens the uneasiness. The team simply has to be better in these games against lesser opponents and games where they have lofty expectations from the local and national media. The bulk of that responsibility has to fall on the coaching staff as well.
The Defense’s Issues with Stopping Running Quarterbacks Isn’t Going Away
Jay Bateman’s defenses have had major issues with running quarterbacks so far in his time in Chapel Hill and that was no different on Saturday afternoon. The Tar Heel defense looked out of place all day, especially following the first drive of the game and they simply weren’t able to make any sort of adjustments. After getting exposed last year by Jordan Travis, the Tar Heels defense had no answer once again for the legs of Travis as he ran for 121 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. The thought was that with some more athletic players that fit the system better playing bigger roles this season, this wouldn’t be nearly the issue that it was a year ago but somehow it may be a bigger issue this year than in the first two seasons. The frustrating part is that there doesn’t appear to be any major adjustments being made by this coaching staff to try and eliminate these issues either.
Lack of Consistent Passing Game Threats Is Limiting This Offense
Saturday was another tough day for the receivers outside of Josh Downs. Downs finished the game with nine catches for 121 yards and a touchdown in another productive night for him. The Tar Heels other pass-catching options combined for just eight catches and 82 yards on 17 targets. Downs breakout has been fun to watch this season, but this offense is in desperate need of other options to emerge, especially at outside receiver. Both Emery Simmons and Antoine Green were extremely quiet again on Saturday, combining to catch just two passes for 14 yards for the second consecutive week. Khafre Brown once again saw some significant snaps and really struggled again, dropping another important pass and failing to make a play on the ball despite fighting to get position on the interception thrown by Sam Howell in the second quarter. Those guys simply have to be better going forward throughout the rest of the season and it may also be time to start working in some of the younger options here to see if you can find some solutions. Phil Longo may also need to adjust going forward to try to incorporate more of a dink-and-dunk element to the offensive scheme until they can find these answers to this question mark.
Defensive Line Isn’t Ready to Be a Consistent Unit Yet
Last week was a very positive one for a Tar Heel defensive line unit that simply dominated up front, but as they showed on Saturday, they are not ready to provide the consistent push that they need to just yet. After registering five sacks and nine tackles for loss a week ago, the Tar Heels failed to come up with a single sack in this one and recorded just two tackles for loss against one of the nation’s worst offensive line units in the country. The struggles of the veteran members of the front four, such as the Fox brothers and Raymond Vohasek, are frustrating and need to be solved if this group wants to be able to provide any sort of steady pressure going forward, which this defense desperately needs. If they could do that and the younger players like Myles Murphy and Kaimon Rucker could add some consistency to their flashes, this defense could finally become a unit that could be relied on to at least be solid week in and week out.
Coaching Staff Basically Quit on the Game
There are a lot of different reasons to be displeased with the coaching staff right now, but the biggest issue on Saturday might have been the fact that they basically quit on the game. With 12:46 to go in the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels had a 4th & Goal from the FSU 5 with the score sitting at 35-17. Common sense would seem to tell you that you kick the field goal and make it a two possession game, but for some reason, the staff decided to go for it, turning the football over on downs on an incompletion. The Tar Heel defense would come up with a stop on the next drive and get the offense the football back for a drive where they drove down and scored a touchdown. Had they elected to kick the field goal like they should have, it could have been a one possession game with all three timeouts remaining. It’s hard not to feel the coaching staff threw this game away with that head-scratching move.