The Tar Heels entered Saturday’s game with a chance to make a statement about their hopes to win the ACC Coastal. In one of the wildest games in college football history, the Tar Heels would drop a second straight heartbreaker against Virginia Tech 43-41 in six overtimes. As tough as it is, let’s look at the stock report after the tough loss in Blacksburg.
⇧ Dazz Newsome
You could tell that Saturday meant more to Newsome. If you somehow didn’t pick up on it from the broadcast, both Newsome’s father and brother played football at Virginia Tech. Many may remember that the Hokies told Newsome during the 2017 recruiting that he was “not a take”, so that seemed to serve as extra motivation for him as he led the Tar Heels with nine catches for 112 yards and two tocuhdowns in what was a career performance for him.
⇧ Sam Howell
The Tar Heels true freshman gunslinger was counted on plenty on Saturday and put together another strong performance. Howell tied the school record for touchdown passes in a game with five and those also broke the freshman record for touchdown passes in a season and brought him within ten touchdowns of the school record held by Mitch Trubisky. Howell is putting together an amazing freshman season and is one of the main reasons to still believe this team can win the ACC Coastal.
⇧ Chazz Surratt
Surratt was one of the lone bright spots on this Tar Heel defense on Saturday. It may not have been a perfect performance from him, but he racked up 17 total tackles, including 2.0 tackles for loss and another sack. Surratt did miss a few tackles once again, but he continues to progress at a steady rate as he has become on of the stars of Jay Bateman’s defense.
⇧ Garrett Walston
Entering the game, Tar Heel tight ends had caught just eight passes in the first six games of the season. Walston caught four passes alone on Saturday for 29 yards and was a nice safety valve for Howell all day. Walston also looked good in run blocking situations, doing a great job opening up the edge for a couple of nice runs early. Walston is beginning to look like a complete tight end and could be a huge weapon for the Tar Heels going forward in 2019 and eventually in 2020.
⇩ Phil Longo
The offensive play caller for the Tar Heels had a rough outing on Saturday against a struggling Hokies defense. The Tar Heels had success on the ground early, but never really stuck with the ground game for a consistent stretch despite the success. The early plan was to attack the Hokies secondary that was without starting safety Reggie Floyd, but Virginia Tech’s secondary responded well and Longo still kept trying to beat the team deep. The final drive of regulation was an extremely confusing one, as he chose to call three run plays with :38 on the clock after failing to run the football most of the day. The two play calls in the 5th and 6th overtimes were also questionable, especially the run with Michael Carter in overtime number five.
⇩ Interior Offensive Line
After taking a step in the right direction against Clemson and Georgia Tech, the Tar Heels offensive line was dominated by Virginia Tech, primarily the interior guys. Ed Montilus had his worst game of his young career, as he had trouble all day against Hokies defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt, eventually leading to Joshua Ezeudu taking over late in the game. After a great performance against Georgia Tech, Brian Anderson had some trouble on Saturday, as did Marcus McKethan. The interior defensive line for Virginia Tech finished with 4.5 of the teams 5 sacks on Saturday.
We knew all of the injuries would eventually catch up to this unit and they did on Saturday. The Tar Heels may not have allowed a gaudy number of passing yards through the air, but the Hokies did average 11.2 yards per attempt and 16.9 yards per completion, both of which were season highs for an opposing offense against the Heels defense. Virginia Tech took advantage of a unit that is beat up and young and unfortunately, until Morrison and/or Wolfolk return, there’s not much the Heels can do about it.
⇩ Run Defense
For what feels like the first time all season, the Tar Heels were absolutely dominated by a team on the ground. The Hokies ran for 254 yards on Saturday, easily the most rushing yards this 2019 team has allowed all season. Third-string quarterback Quincy Patterson had a huge day after entering the game in the game in the third quarter, as the Tar Heels just couldn’t find a way to slow him or running back Deshawn McClease down, especially on the edges. Missed tackles were a big part of the issue early in the game, but as the game wore on, it became more about missed gap assignments than anything. The team will have to bounce back next week, especially with another quarterback that can cause issues with his legs.
⇩ Noah Ruggles
Mack Brown told the broadcasting crew that each week, the kicking competition comes down to pregame warm ups. To this point, Ruggles has been the placekicker for every kick this season, but after Saturday, there has to be some legitimate concern. Ruggles has been good from close range, connecting on all six of his field goals from inside of 30 yards. Beyond that, Ruggles has hit just four of 10, including both misses in the third and fourth overtime period.
The bye week gave a few key players to rest up injuries, but the Tar Heels saw two more major starters go down and be hindered by injuries on Saturday. Jason Strowbridge suffered a leg injury, possibly a reaggravation of that ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup against Wake Forest. The good news was, he did return. Starting wide receiver Dyami Brown, the Tar Heels leading receiver entering the day came up limping after his biggest catch of the day and wasn’t on the field much after that. The extent of the injuries didn’t seem too severe, but there still has to be a little bit of concern for two of the Tar Heels top players on each side of the football.
⇩ ACC Coastal Title Chances
According to the ESPN FPI, the Tar Heels entered Saturday with the best chance to win the ACC Coastal with a 33.9% chance. While this is trending down, the good news is that it is not trending as badly in the wrong direction as you may be thinking it is. The FPI rankings that were released shortly after the game concluded on Saturday still give the Tar Heels around a 30% chance to still making it back to Charlotte. The Tar Heels get favorite Virginia at in two weeks and have yet to lose to Pittsburgh since the Panthers moved into the ACC. The Tar Heels also draw Duke at home this Saturday and the game at North Carolina State doesn’t look nearly as daunting as it one did. This loss certainly hurt the Tar Heels chances of winning the ACC Coastal, but it far from eliminated them from contention.
⇩ Bowl Chances
The teams bowl chances, like their ACC Coastal chances, took a slight blow with the loss, but nothing drastic. The Tar Heels will now need to win three of their final five to make a bowl game, but the ESPN FPI predicts that not to be an issue, taking the Tar Heels to win out the rest of the way. The margin for error is certainly a bit thinner and the FPI is far from a guarantee, but this loss should not have Tar Heel fans overly concerned about missing the postseason.