For the second time in five days, the Tar Heels clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit before halftime on Thursday night to tie the game in the fourth quarter. After completing the comeback a week ago against Wake Forest, the Tar Heel fell short on their comeback attempt in this one against the Pittsburgh Panthers, losing 30-23 in overtime, the second straight overtime loss to the Panthers. Here is a look at our biggest takeaways from last night’s game.
Missed Opportunities Kill the Comeback
The Tar Heels had plenty of opportunities to win this one in regulation and simply failed to capitalize. It started on the first drive of the second half when Sam Howell didn’t see a wide open Josh Downs on 3rd & 6, instead opting for a completion of five to D.J. Jones that left them short of the sticks. On the 4th down play that followed, Howell kept the ball and came up short when he could have pitched it to Ty Chandler for the first down. The Tar Heels would respond with a touchdown drive on their next drive, but the 2-point conversion play was a chance to cut the lead to eight, but they came up short on a rather confusing play call. The toughest opportunities that went awry to deal with were the one in the final two minutes. The Tar Heels had 1st & Goal from the Pittsburgh 2, but a bad snap by Brin Anderson wasted that down and eventually led to the crucial false start on the following play. The Tar Heels would of course tie it and Kenny Pickett got the ball back with 0:57 to go. On the first play of the ensuing Pittsburgh drive, Pickett threw a duck that Cam’Ron Kelly just couldn’t hang on to, one that would have put the Tar Heels on the edge of field goal range. They had their chances on Thursday night but they were just unable to cash in this time.
Penalties May Have Killed It Even More and Are a Major Issue
The Tar Heels have had a major issue with penalties over the past month and it was one of the biggest issues in Thursday night’s loss to the Panthers on Friday night. The Tar Heels finished the night with twelve total penalties for 105 yards, the fourth straight game that the Tar Heels have had double digit penalties and over 100 penalty yards. These penalties issues have grown more and more frustrating week by week and last night it definitely hit its peak because it was such a big factor in the seven point overtime loss to the Panthers. The Tar Heel defense took three more defensive penalties that resulted in first downs and on the offensive side of the football, the Tar Heels took seven total penalties, including an extremely untimely false start penalty on Joshua Ezeudu that put the Tar Heels in 2nd & Goal from the Pitt 7 instead of from the Pitt 2 and was a big part of the difference between the Tar Heels scoring a touchdown to take the lead late in the 4th quarter and instead having to kick the field goal to tie the game. There is no denying that these penalties are a major concern right now and it is crucial for the Tar Heels to find a way to limit them in two weeks against NC State if they want to avoid going winless on the road this season.
Defense Deserves Credit For Stepping Up in 2nd Half
After receiving a ton of well-deserved criticism in the past few weeks, the Tar Heel defense showed great reselove after looking like they might be headed toward another rough showing after a brutal first quarter where they allowed 17 points and 199 yards of total offense to the Panthers. The second half was the best half that they have played all season, as they allowed just 104 yards of total offense and created an important turnover off of Kenny Pickett in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heel defensive front was pushed around in that first quarter, but they won the line of scrimmage throughout the rest of the night, finishing the night with four sacks, the most sacks that the Tar Heels have had in a game since the dominant defensive line performance against the Duke Blue Devils. That pressure forced Pickett into some tough throws and held him to just 102 passing yards in that second half. The best part of this defensive performance, though, was the run defense that allowed just 95 rushing yards all night long, including just two in the second half. This group looked really good all night long, but unfortunately there is simply a lack of consistency to every aspect of this team, meaning that this performance is not guaranteed to carry over to the final two weeks of the season.
Slow Starts Offensively on the Road Are Still Lingering
The Tar Heels struggled with slow starts in each of the first two games of the season on the offensive side of the football. In the third road game of the season against Notre Dame, though, the offense started pretty quickly, leaving some to wonder if those issues were behind them. Instead, those issues resurfaced with what Mack Brown called the offense's worst half of the season. The Tar Heels had 120 yards of total offense, 76 of which came on the deep passing play to Antoine Green that got the Tar Heels on the board, and allowed five sacks in what may have been the worst half of football from the offensive line this season, which is really saying something with the way they have played for the majority of the season. The Tar Heels have to find a way to solve this issue going into that game in two weeks and avoid having to come back from an early deficit on the road again, something they have been tasked with doing in every road affair so far this year.
Kicking the Field Goal Was The Right Decision, As Was Taking The Ball First
There have been a lot of people questioning the decision by the coaching staff to kick the field goal on the team’s final offensive drive of the game and play defense first in overtime. Even though hindsight might tell you differently, both were the right decisions. No one could have predicted the monsoon that followed when the Tar Heels got the football in overtime, a possession that if the skies don’t up, may have gone much differently. There was no way that the Tar Heels should have gone for the touchdown on that final drive of regulation, even if Mack Brown said in the postgame that they should have. Even with Ty Chandler’s crazy one handed catch standing, the Tar Heels still had a 4th & Goal from the Pitt 3 and with what they had shown earlier in the game, there shouldn’t have been much confidence that anything they did in that situation would have worked. The Tar Heels also had all of the momentum going in their favor with how good of a second half they had played and everything pointed to that being able to carry over into the overtime period. As hard as it is to admit, the coaching staff made the right decision.