Following an emotional last-second come-from-behind win against the Duke Blue Devils last Saturday night, this Tar Heel team faced their most important test of the 2019 season when they welcomed in the Virginia Cavaliers. In another game that came down to the final possession, the Tar Heels would fall to the veteran Cavaliers 38-31. Let’s take a look at what we learned about this team on Saturday night in the loss.
Third Quarter Defense Lost the Tar Heels This One
After a solid showing in the first half, the Tar Heels defense collapsed, putting up their worst quarter of football for the entire season, in the third quarter. The Cavaliers found the endzone all three times they possessed the football in the quarter, while also combining to rack up 259 yards of total offense in the quarter alone. It all started with the second play from scrimmage, where the Tar Heels missed a handful of tackles on a play where Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins would tightrope the sideline for a 65-yard rushing touchdown 35 seconds into the second half. That play set the tone for the quarterback's play for the entire, as Perkins tore apart a struggling Tar Heel secondary. This will be a quarter that this defense, who held the Cavaliers to just 17 points in the other three quarters, will wish they had back.
Situational Pass Rush is the Only Thing Getting Home Right Now
With all of the injuries that this secondary has dealt with, the defensive line has been turned to to help this defense slow down opposing passing attacks. That plan hasn’t gone as smoothly as one thought it would, especially during Saturday night’s affair. The defensive line was held in check nearly the entire night, giving Perkins plenty of time to pick apart this young, inexperienced secondary. The Tar Heels defensive line has struggled to provide the necessary pressure, forcing Jay Bateman to have to use a variety of different blitz looks to put any pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With the help needed in coverage, the Tar Heels aren’t able to blitz to sustain much pressure often and that has allowed quarterbacks to stand in and make the throws necessary to move the football. Over the final three weeks of the regular season, that trend will have to chance for the Tar Heels to avoid having to win track meets the rest of the way.
The Deep Passing Game Has Returned
When Mack Hollins was lost in the middle of the 2016 season, I don’t think anyone foresaw the struggles to throw the ball deep that would follow for the Tar Heels over the next two and a half years. The good news is, thanks to Sam Howell and a talented veteran receiving corp, the Tar Heels deep passing portion of their offense has returned to being lethal. Last night, the Tar Heels fifteen receptions went for an average of 23.5 yards per catch, including Dyami Brown’s ridiculous 33.7 yard average on his six receptions. The Tar Heels had six completions of 30+ yards on Saturday night and with a quarterback that appears to be the best thrower of the deep ball that the Tar Heels have possibly ever had taking snaps under center, this deep passing game should continue to be something that causes opposing defenses issues.
Red Zone Offense Is Exactly What Ole Miss Fans Warned Us About
We heard all offseason from Ole Miss fans to be careful with the excitement around Phil Longo. Between the 20s, Longo has no trouble moving the ball up and down the field, but in the red zone, his teams have trouble putting it in the end zone. The Tar Heels reached the red zone three times on Saturday night and came away with just three points in those trips. Leaving points on the board has been a problem all season long, with the Tar Heels scoring a touchdown on just 51.4% of their 35 red zone trips this season. This is Longo’s third season as an FBS offensive coordinator and in those three seasons, he has yet to have an offense that has had a red zone touchdown percentage of more than 55.8%. The Tar Heels will need to find that reliable field goal kicker soon because putting the football in the end zone won’t be a simple task under Longo.
Beating NC State, Making a Bowl Game Now Becomes the Biggest Goals
This was the game that had the biggest impact on the ACC Coastal race as we head down the home stretch of the season. While the loss doesn’t eliminate the Tar Heels completely, the team will now need to win out and get help from both Virginia and Virginia Tech, who would both have to lose twice, to see Clemson again. The focus of this 2019 season now has to be on beating rival NC State for the first time since 2015 and making it back to a bowl game for the first time since 2016. Beating the Wolfpack definitely looks possible, as they are limping to the finish line after being stomped by Wake Forest on Saturday and are still without an answer at quarterback. As for the team’s chances to make a bowl game, the Tar Heels have FCS Mercer still on the schedule and if they can take care of business like they should, they’ll need to beat just one of their final two ACC opponents to go bowling in Mack Brown first season back on campus.