Saturday produced one of the most gut-wrenching losses in program history. In the longest game in ACC history, the Tar Heels dropped a heartbreaker 43-41 to the Virginia Tech Hokies in six overtimes in Blacksburg. Let’s take a look at what we learned about this Tar Heel team on Saturday.
Missed Opportunities Cost the Heels an Important Win
The Tar Heels had a bevy of opportunities to win the game on Saturday afternoon and just couldn’t find a way to get it done. It began with the choice to not be aggressive on the final drive of regulation, where you could have at least gotten into field goal range and given Noah Ruggles a chance to win the game. The team had the chance in the first overtime to win it with a touchdown, but decided to play it safe and tie the game with a field goal. The defense got the Hokies into a 4th & 3 situation in the second overtime, but a perfect pass play by the Hokies for a touchdown kept them alive. Two missed field goals by Ruggles in the third and fourth overtimes are frustrating because if one goes, the Tar Heels come away with a victory. There were plenty of chances for the Tar Heels to get the job done, but they simply didn’t execute when they had to on Saturday.
Refs Call on Joshua Ezeudu Leaves Questions
Blaming the refs for a loss is never usually a logical explanation and it’s not again in this case. However, there is a legitimate question to be asked when it comes to the holding penalty that was called on Joshua Ezeudu in the third overtime. Following a first down completion to Beau Corrales to move the ball to the 15-yard line, Javonte Williams reeled off an 8-yard run that would have moved the Heels down to the 7-yard line. The play was called back because of a hold, but as the replay showed, the player in question did anything but hold on the play. It was simply a good block where Ezeudu got the best of the defensive lineman he was locked up with and the opposing player went to the ground. That call backed the Heels up to the 25-yard line and the team chose to play it conservative with three straight runs, settling for the 35-yard field goal attempt that was eventually missed. You have to wonder if the flag hadn’t been thrown, would the Heels have been able to pound it in or connect on the shorter field goal? Believe me, the refs were not the reason the Tar Heels lost this game, but you do have to wonder if they outcome would have been different if the flag doesn’t get thrown.
Phil Longo Has Some Questions to Answer With His Play Calling
It’s hard to question play calling from the couch or the bleachers, but Longo definitely made some more questionable decisions on Saturday. The Tar Heels had some success on the ground with Michael Carter early in the game and with Javonte Williams late, but Longo never really stuck with the running game for a consistent period of time throughout the day despite Virginia Tech having some success getting pressure on the quarterback and slowing the passing attack. Late in the game, Longo made some calls that even left Mack Brown scratching his head, such as the choice to run the ball with Antonio Williams out of the shotgun on 3rd & 1 late in regulation despite having Javonte Williams in your arsenal and using the under-center package a few times earlier in the game. The choice to run the ball three times with :38 left in regulation was confusing, as were his two play calls in the 5th and 6th overtimes. After seven games of the Phil Longo offense, there are really more questions than answers about his offensive scheme.
Howell Just Continues to Impress
While it may have been far from a perfect game for Howell, he still continued to answer the bell when his number was called. Behind an offensive line that struggled all day in pass protection, particularly on the interior, and with a gameplan that wanted to attack Virginia Tech deep all day, Howell still found a way to complete 53.3% of his passes for 348 yards and five touchdowns, the latter of which tied a school record. Through seven games, Howell has thrown for 1,892 yards and posted a 20-3 TD-INT ratio. Although he struggled holding on to the football a bit too long later in the game, Howell was the main reason the Tar Heels offense was able to move the ball on Saturday afternoon.
No One is Safe From the ACC Coastal Madness
This loss is the Tar Heels first in the ACC Coastal and this wild game shows that no one is safe from the madness that is the ACC Coastal. With the loss, Virginia is now once again in the driver's seat after they succumbed to the madness against Miami a week ago, a team that fell to a struggling Georgia Tech team on Saturday. The ACC Coastal continues to remain one of the wackiest divisions in all of sports.
The Coastal is Still in Play, As Is a Bowl Chances
Because of the above reasons, Saturday’s loss doesn’t eliminate this team from the ACC Coastal race. The Tar Heels enter the week with the best chances to win the Coastal and while those chances took a hit, it’s important to remember that the Tar Heels host two of the favorites at home and have yet to lose to the other favorite, Pittsburgh, since they entered the ACC. The Tar Heels will have to finish a game ahead of the Hokies, but in the Coastal, anything is possible.