‘The Perfect Opener': Reanalyzing UNC’s 1-0 Start
Without a game to breakdown this week, more attention will be given to UNC’s week two performance against Syracuse. Despite a choppy first half, the Tar Heels exploded to start the fourth quarter and ran away with the game 31-6.
There are a several negative aspects for UNC to pick through, but that is probably a best-case scenario for Mack Brown and his staff.
“After reviewing the game that it’s exactly what I thought on Saturday, it’s the perfect opener for us,” said Brown in a press conference this past week.
“Because you’re 1-0, which was your only objective. You wanted to stay healthy, and we were able to do that. At the same time, we’re got a lot of things to fix. Lot of positives should gain some confidence. But you can coach your guys so much harder after a win than you can after a loss. Because after a loss, they’re down and they’re struggling, and you have to pick them back up. Now, their expectations are high like our fans and like college football people across the country.”
Game was an interesting one. Given that it was the first game the season, some rust is expected. Pile on top of that an extremely limited preseason and it’s difficult to say how troubling some of the Tar Heels mistakes were against Syracuse. That won’t change anything for the coaching staff, though. They know this team’s potential and will expect perfection regardless.
The point in the game that has received the most scrutiny is Carolina’s second quarter. Special teams were not great. Grayson Atkins opened the quarter by hitting the upright on a 50-yard field goal attempt. Then, following a stop by the defense, senior Dazz Newsome fumbled the ensuing punt return for a turnover.
Sam Howell had thrown his first of two interceptions at the end of the first quarter, though it was caused by some stout defense as the Orange tipped Howell’s pass into the air. However, this play seemed to stagger the offense for the remainder of the half, as it just offered two punts in the second quarter.
If it weren’t for a missed chip-shot field goal at the end of the half, Syracuse would’ve made the score 7-6 at the break.
“Going into last year’s game, we were coming off two wins and nobody knew if we’d win any games or not. Here we are, we win 31-6 and people are questioning quarters now. I remember that happening when we got really good here before,” said Brown.
Still, the defense for North Carolina was Stallworth the entire game. While Syracuse was not boasting a tremendous offense, you can never overlook a game where a defense doesn’t allow a touchdown. That’s the first time a UNC defense has done that sine 2012, and the first time in ACC play since 2009. They did it by being versatile. The secondary, specifically Kyler McMichael and Storm Duck, were very strong. What really made it impossible for the Orange was the Tar Heel pass rush. Syracuse’s offensive line was completely out of synch and UNC’s rushers took complete advantage, tallying seven sacks on the day.
This is huge for Tar Heels. While the defense showed flashes last year and added significant depth, it was the bigger question mark coming into the year. In order for Carolina to become a serious contender on the biggest stage, the defense needs to continue to improve. When the Tar Heels almost knocked off Clemson last season, it was the defense that stepped up the most. In today’s game, even with the offense stalling for about half of the game, UNC never lost the lead.
With several teams yet to play, the Tar Heel’s huge fourth quarter propelled them in the rankings. The AP Poll had them at 12, and the Coaches Poll listed them at 11. With no game this week, they shouldn’t shift too much for week four as the team preps to travel to Boston College in two weeks.
“Playing with expectations is different,” said Brown.
“We’ve told the guys that’s all good and that’s cool but with that comes expectations that you’ll continue to play well and win. And that you going to have criticism over a quarter, and you’re going to be scrutinized very carefully with every little thing you do. I’ve lived this world, they haven’t in a while. It’s just something that they’ll have to understand. If you don’t play well Saturday, you won’t be rated. That’s just the world you live in. If you call it pressure, you can. I call it pride.”