The Tar Heels had the chance to go 4-0 for the first time since 1997 on Saturday at home with one of the best home crowds of the Mack Brown era in attendance. Despite a fast start, the Tar Heel defense simply crumbled against one of the nation’s more troubled offenses in an embarrassing beatdown that left many fans stunned. Let’s take a look at who is trending up and down as the Tar Heels hope to turn the page on this ugly one.
The offensive line as a whole struggled yesterday, but two guys seemed to be the biggest issues for the group on Saturday. Montilus had a rough outing, allowing two important sacks and four total pressures. This is the second consecutive game where he has struggled in pass protection and you have to wonder how much longer this can continue before they have to start looking at him as nothing more than a rotational player up front.
Montilus may have allowed the most sacks, but the most pressure allowed came off the edge at right tackle. For the second straight game in which he has been active, Rolland allowed five total pressures and graded out as the team’s worst run and pass blocking offensive lineman. There were some rumors that the team was considering a swap of William Barnes and Rolland at right guard and right tackle and this performance could spark more of a conversation about that this week.
Remember when this defensive line was supposed to be one of the strengths of this 2022 team? That unit proved once again on Saturday that that notion could not have been more wrong. They were absolutely dominated from start to finish by the Notre Dame offensive line that had been struggling out of the gate to begin the season. The unit was a big part of the reason why the Irish ran for 287 yards and 5.6 yards per carry. The group also failed to provide any sort of consistent pressure, registering just five of the team’s twelve pressures and failing to sack Drew Pyne. The veterans of this unit simply are not getting it done and I will keep saying it until it happens; it’s time to start playing the young guys to see if you can find any solution.
⇩Interior Defensive Line
The biggest issue for this defensive front is on the interior, where Myles Murphy and Raymond Vohasek were simply overwhelmed by the interior of that Notre Dame offensive line. The Tar Heels allowed 129 yards on 22 carries and gave up eight first downs and two touchdowns on runs inside the tackles. To the staff’s credit, they attempted to find a solution by rotating in Kevin Hester Jr. and Travis Shaw, but it is important for them to be able to find some solution in the middle for a unit that is once again struggling to stop the run.
This was definitely the worst day of the season for the Tar Heel linebackers. Both Power Echols and Cedric Gray struggled to fill gaps all day and were picked on religiously in the middle of the field in coverage. It’s hard to be too mad at these guys with the fact that the other two units on this defense are putting them in bad spots, but they have to take better angles to the football and tackle better moving forward.
This wasn’t really based on his performance on Saturday but rather his actions towards his own teammates. Following a late hit call on him on the first play of the 4th quarter, he got into a back and forth with linebacker Noah Taylor which he concluded with a punch. He was removed from the game after that and did not play another snap and rightfully so.
The tight ends were a major part of the offense’s success in the first three games of the season, so it’s no surprise that on a day where they struggled, the offense did, as well. After combining for 359 yards and four touchdowns in those first three games, the trio of Kamari Morales, Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver combined for just three catches totaling 30 yards on eight targets. This unit has proved how valuable it can be early in the season and it’s a group that simply has to be involved for this offense to function at its best.
⇩Defensive Coaching Staff
Saturday was one of the worst defensive performances in recent memory for the Tar Heels and the defensive coaching staff deserves plenty of blame. The same issues that plagued this team a year ago are back and have seemingly gotten worse, which point firmly to coaching. The bigger concern is the culture on that side, which doesn’t look good after back-to-back games where teammates have come to blows on the sideline. Mack Brown made what felt like the right move to fire Jay Bateman following last season, but the question has to be asked if Bateman was really the biggest issue with this defensive coaching staff.
Maye was the biggest shining light for the Tar Heels on Saturday as he put together another strong performance behind an offensive line that was having it fits with Notre Dame’s defensive front. Despite the offensive lull in the middle of the game, he still made some big throws down the field in the fourth quarter to try to keep the Tar Heels hope of a comeback alive. Maye finished with 301 yards through the air and five more passing touchdowns on the way to being named ACC Rookie of the Week. He has now thrown for at least 280 yards and two touchdowns in each of his first four starts and remains atop the nation in touchdown passes with 16.
Green made his return to the Tar Heel lineup on Saturday after missing the first three games recovering from a collarbone injury. He welcomed himself back in a big way by catching three of his seven targets for 150 yards and two long touchdown plays of 80 and 64 yards. He dropped another deep ball earlier in the game that would be a momentum shifter in the second quarter, but it was still a very promising return to the field for the super senior.
Downs also made his return to the field on Saturday after missing the last two games with an injury and picked up right where he left off. Despite finishing the day with 32 yards receiving on five catches, he made two huge touchdown grabs, including going over a defender to haul in the first one. This may not have been the most productive performance of his career, but he made the plays when it mattered and showed why it was so important for the team to get him back on the field.
It pains me to have to put a man that has done so much for this program on here as someone trending down, but it is hard not to after hearing that postgame press conference. His comments felt shockingly similar to the ones that we heard from Larry Fedora back in 2018, lined with denial while heaping praise upon an opponent that many felt the Tar Heels were superior to coming in. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see him calling players out by names or anything of that nature, but I want to see more accountability and more visible displeasure with a situation that is growing more frustrating by the day rather than a silver lining after one of the more frustrating losses of the season.