Mack Brown has often said since returning to Chapel Hill, that his team doesn’t handle success very well, that was once again evident last night in Virginia as the 1-4 Cavaliers upset #15 UNC, 44-41. Virginia entered the game beat up in multiple spots among the roster, and still managed to have their way with a Carolina defense searching for consistency. The loss ruined a career performance from Sam Howell, who went 23-28 for 443 yards, and 4 touchdowns. Dyami Brown continued his dominance against the old rival catching 11 passes, for 240 yards and three scores. The same things that have plagued this team under Mack Brown were prevalent in the defeat, as Carolina had multiple special teams errors, untimely penalties, and a defense that couldn’t make plays when needed. But like always when you lose in football, that usually means you lost the line of scrimmage, which Carolina most certainly did last night in Charlottesville:
The offensive numbers look great for the Tar Heels, who amassed 536 yards on just 61 plays, and scored 41 points, but those numbers are misleading. Entering the game, you knew that Virginia was going to be physical up front, but after dominating the State defensive line a week ago, you thought this group had it figured out. They didn’t. Sam Howell, despite having a career day through the air, hardly ever had a clean pocket to throw from, and was taken down 5 times. For a NFL scout, Howell’s stock may have risen because he displayed the ability to stand and deliver in a dirty pocket, but that discussion is for another time. In the run game, Carolina was held to its worst rushing total of the season, 93 yards, on 33 rushes. Now part of that was because Carolina got down three possessions, and had to start throwing. Another part was that Phil Longo completely abandoned the run game, when the game was still up in the air. Nonetheless, Virginia was able to live in the backfield, registering 5 sacks, and 7 tackles for loss. The inconsistency of this group has cost Carolina multiple games already, and may eventually cost Stacey Searles his job in Chapel Hill.
For a number of different reasons, Jay Bateman has switched to a 2 man defensive front, and the results haven’t been pretty. Carolina isn’t getting any penetration with their front, and when they do blitz, they aren't leaving guys on an island in the back, allowing big plays in the passing game. Last night, Virginia simply lined up, and moved the Tar Heels wherever they wanted to, whenever they wanted to. The Cavaliers rushed it 51 times for 210 yards, simply demoralizing a defense that was exhausted in the first half. They recorded 3 sacks of Brennan Armstrong, but he was able to shred the Tar Heels to the tune of 208 yards, on just 12 completions. Tomari Fox continued his impressive play this season, recording 10 tackles, including one for a loss. Raymond Vohasek had his best game in terms of the stat sheet, recording 7 tackles, but Carolina needs more from them in other departments. Last year, Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge were able to fill the gaps, and allow Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel to find the football, and make plays. That isn’t happening right now, and until it starts happening, this defense will continue to struggle to stop opposing offenses.