Yes, it’s still real. The Tar Heels really let a 1-5 Virginia team that hadn’t beaten an FBS opponent walk into Kenan Stadium and pull the biggest upset in program history. For a second straight season, the team has dropped a game which they were favored by 20 or more points in and now they need to rally this weekend on the road against a team they haven’t beaten in three years. As the team prepares to go on the road to Georgia Tech here is a look at who is trending up and trending down.
Lindsey had his worst games of the season on Saturday night with one of the most confusing gameplans that we have seen from a Tar Heel offensive coordinator in a long time. Despite the Cavaliers coming in letting up 177.0 yards rushing per game, the first-year coordinator decided to lean on the passing game even after it became obvious that it just wasn’t in rhythm. The team called 51 designed pass plays to just 27 designed runs, including a 21 to 15 ratio on first down. Considering that the team averaged 4.9 yards per carry, including 5.9 for Omarion Hampton, it is simply unforgivable.
The Tar Heel run defense had been much better the past couple of weeks, allowing less than 100 yards in each of the past two games. That all changed on Saturday night when the team allowed their second most rushing yards of the season and was blown off the ball all night. The Tar Heels allowed 228 rushing yards on 54 carries, including 66 yards to quarterback Tony Muskett, who entered the game with -12 rushing yards. We thought the Tar Heels had turned the corner on these issues, but clearly not.
Maginness had a very promising first game against Miami, but came crashing back to Earth on Saturday. He averaged just 32.6 yards per punt on his five attempts before he was removed in favor of Cole Maynard in the fourth quarter. His struggles mean the door has to open at punter the rest of the way.
⇩Interior Defensive Line
One of the biggest reasons that the run defense was so much better the last few games was because of the interior of the defensive line and it’s no coincidence that the group was very quiet on Saturday. Myles Murphy, who had been wrecking shop the past couple of weeks wasn’t nearly the presence they needed him to be and Tomari Fox and Jahvaree Ritzie also had much quieter nights than they did the week prior. Kevin Hester Jr. may have had eight total tackles, but not a single one came for a loss illustrating perfectly how little push there was. This unit’s success has been the key to stopping the run and they need it to return to form starting in Atlanta on Saturday.
McCollum had the worst performance of his Tar Heel career on Saturday night. He was targeted 11 times and caught just two for 11 yards and had multiple drops. This is now two quiet weeks in a row from McCollum, who the team desperately needs to be producing in the slot with Kobe Paysour out with a broken toe. The hope is that he can bounce back against his old team on Saturday in a game the team needs desperately.
Barnes had to play his most snaps in a game in three weeks for the Tar Heels on Saturday night and had to do so at left tackle in place of Diego Pounds. The results were not great, especially in pass protection where he posted a 33.8 pass protection grade, the fifth time this season that he has finished a game with a grade of 35.0 or worse. He allowed three quarterback pressures, including the hit on Maye that led to the interception after he whiffed on a block attempt. The Tar Heels need Pounds to get healthy and stay on the field because at this point Barnes is simply a liability when he’s in the game.
It wasn’t all bad on Saturday and the positivity starts with Walker. For a third consecutive week, he put up a Tar Heel career high in yards (146) and receptions (11) while finding once again. His touchdown the other night has him as the team’s leader in touchdown receptions after just three games and he continues to show that he is a complete receiver that Drake Maye can rely on in so many capacities.
Chatman played a season-high 73 snaps opposite of Marcus Allen on Saturday night and was spectacular. Not only did he pulled down an important interception in the first half that stimied a promising drive for the Cavaliers, but he was the player who forced the fumble on the goal line that prevented them from extending the lead to double digits and gave the Tar Heels a chance to drive the field and the take the lead themselves. Chatman has looked really good when he has been on the field this season and unless that changes, he should be the guy starting opposite of Allen.
While the run defense may not have been great, it wasn’t because of Gray. He set a new career-high with 18 total tackles, eleven of which were solos and 1.5 of which were for a loss. He did not have the greatest night in coverage, but he made every play he needed to in the run game or else things could have been a lot worse.
Saturday night continued Nesbit’s wild up and down season. His 93 receiving yards were a season high for the junior tight end and the 62-yard touchdown in the second quarter was the longest reception of his career so far. Consistency hasn’t been the name of the game this season for Nesbit, but the contributions that he is able to make every other week have been huge.