Postgame Observations: UNC 48, State 21

Brett Friedlander

Editors note: On the video, the final score was reported as 45-21. In actuality, it was even worse. It was 48-21.

It wasn't exactly a case of everything that could possibly go wrong, going wrong.

But it came close.

NC State's biannual visit to Chapel Hill started badly and got progressively worse on the way to a 45-21 shellacking at the hands of rival North Carolina that ended both the Wolfpack's three-game winning streak overall as well as its three-game winning streak against the Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium.

State's offense sputtered as many feared it would in its first game since losing starting quarterback Devin Leary. But as balky a performance as Bailey Hockman and his unit turned in, the most disappointing aspect of the loss was the torch job UNC put on the Wolfpack's defense.

It's bad enough that the Tar Heels were able to churn out 578 yards while coming two points shy of putting a half hundred up on the scoreboard. It's the fact that star quarterback Sam Howell wasn't the one to do the most damage.

Howell did have a decent game at the expense of State's patchwork secondary, going 18 of 29 for 252 yards and a touchdown. But it was UNC's ground game, which finished with 326 yards against a defense that had been vastly improved against the run during the winning streak, that turned the game into a rout.

Here are some other postgame observations a disappointing afternoon in Chapel Hill:

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  • UNC's running back duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter Jr. is among the best in the country. Both gained more than 900 yards last season and are averaging better than 100 per game this year. And State's defense was already at a disadvantage with safety Tanner Ingle out with an injury and leading tackler Payton Wilson hobbled after getting nicked up early in the game. But all that aside, the Wolfpack did a terrible job of tackling Saturday. Too many times they had one of the Tar Heel backs stopped for a short gain, only to have them bounce off a would-be tackler to gain an extra 4-5 yards or more. It's an area that hasn't been a problem lately, but is something coach Dave Doeren said afterwards that will become an emphasis during the upcoming open week. "It doesn't matter what you call," the State coach said. "If you have unblocked players at the ball and they miss the tackle, it's not going to be a good defense. You've got to make tackles.
  • Hockman didn't distinguish himself during the competitive stages of the game. Although he finished 14 of 24 for 215 yards, a touchdown and a meaningless interception on the final play of the game, he was just 1 of 4 four seven yards on three unsuccessful first quarter drives before being lifted in favor of true freshman Ben Finley. Hockman was put back into the game after things got out of hand in the third quarter and led the team to a pair of window dressing touchdowns. But it's clear that the Wolfpack is a different offensive team -- and not for the better -- without Leary at the controls.
  • Speaking of Finley, the kid brother of former Wolfpack star Ryan Finley made an immediate splash by driving the team quickly down the field on his first college possession. He should have been rewarded with his first touchdown pass, too, but a wide open Dylan Parham muffed an easy catch in the end zone. To make matters worse, he batted the ball up in the air so that it could be intercepted by the Tar Heels' Don Chapman. Finley got his touchdown pass on the next possession by hitting Emeka Emezie with a bullet that turned into a 42-yard score just before halftime. As good as Finley looked in the first half, his inexperience caught up with him after halftime. He got picked off again when a UNC defensive lineman tipped his pass, then fumbled trying to make something happen on a scramble before giving way to Hockman. Finley finished 13 of 20 for 143 yards and showed that he's got a lot of talent and grit that could help the Wolfpack out during the second half of the season. But he also showed that he still has a lot to learn.
  • In some ways, the first half Saturday was similar to the one the Wolfpack struggled through last week against Duke. As bad as things were -- this time on both sides of the ball -- the deficit was only 17-7, leaving the door open with a legitimate chance at a winning second half comeback. But instead of making the adjustments and cleaning up its mistakes as it did against one Triangle rival, this time State got even worse over the final 30 minutes. It couldn't run the ball, couldn't stop the run and only began to move through the air once the issue was decided in getting outscored 31-14. 
  • If you're looking for any kind of sliver lining to take out of an otherwise dark day for the Wolfpack, it's that some of its true freshman receivers got a chance to contribute for the first time in their careers. Anthony Smith, who dropped a sure touchdown pass in the win against Pittsburgh, did a nice job of making the most of his next opportunity by making four catches for 63 yards -- including a difficult grab in traffic for a 30-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Christopher Scott had two catches for 29 yards while preferred walkon tight end Andrew Jaynes also had a reception -- helping to make an already deep receiving corps even deeper.  

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