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November 5, 2011
UNC-N.C. State: Inside the Box
"We didn't help ourselves. We helped them a bunch. When you're dealing with 18-22 year olds, you don't know what you're going to get sometimes. It bothers me an awful lot to lose any game."
The second half was a chess match of offensive futility for both teams, but with the Wolfpack holding a two-score lead, they were content holding a decisive advantage in field position and playing tremendous defense---in fact one of the top defensive games NCSU has played in years.
NCSU harassed UNC quarterback Bryn Renner into two costly interceptions before eventually knocking him out of the game with concussion-like symptoms.
UNC was able to move the ball into NCSU territory with Braden Hanson at the helm at quarterback in the fourth quarter, but the Wolfpack held Carolina out and then intercepted Hanson before running out the clock to tie NCSU's longest all-time consecutive winning streak against the Tar Heels.
WR Dwight Jones: In a game where Carolina sorely lacked any type of consistent playmaking, Jones did manage to have a respectable outing, producing another solid game with nine catches for 72 yards. It was Jones' biggest play of the day that would have meant the most for UNC---the 75-yarder that could have given him a nearly 150-yard day had it counted---but once again Jones was the most productive player in the UNC offense. He nearly produced half of Carolina's total offensive output by himself. While it was a shameful performance by the Tar Heels on the whole, there were plenty of plays Jones made today that will raise his NFL stock when pro teams watch this one on film.
RB Giovani Bernard: It was far from Bernard's best game of the season, as he managed just 47 net yards on 18 carries against the N.C. State resistance. But he did go over the 1,000-yard plateau, becoming the first Tar Heel since Jonathan Linton in 1997 to surpass that particular milestone. But that individual achievement was completely overshadowed by the total ineptness of the UNC offense. Bernard's accomplishment was just about the only bright spot the Tar Heels could muster.
H-BACK Christian Wilson: In a game where it's pretty hard to find offensive heroes for the Tar Heels, Wilson did have a couple of solid plays to help Carolina extend some drives. He had two important catches for 29 yards, including a long reception of 16 yards that looked like it possibly could have set up a UNC score. Of course, it wasn't meant to be. But Wilson's performance is something that he and the offense can potentially build on heading into the bye week and final two regular season outings.
DREADFUL FIRST HALF FOR UNC
To say the first 30 minutes of game action didn't go North Carolina's way would be an extreme understatement. Coming off its solid 49-point effort in the win last weekend over Wake Forest, the Tar Heels looked like a team that hadn't ever run an offensive play against the Wolfpack for much of the opening two quarters. In the first half UNC ran a total of 29 plays for just 32 total yards---43 passing yards on six completions, and -11 rushing yards on 15 carries. UNC had just four first downs over the game's first 30 minutes, and was a woeful one-of-eight converting third downs, while allowing NCSU to complete a much-more respectable five of 12 third downs.
Carolina's horrendous offensive performance in the first half was aided by a few inexplicable play calls by offensive coordinator John Shoop, including an end-around in NCSU territory when the straight-forward running game was working, and a halfback pass that was completely snuffed out by the Wolfpack. In addition, UNC ran some short passes and slow-developing running plays that it seemed that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. Combined with Renner and Bernard going down at different points with injuries, and it was about as atrocious a first half as the Tar Heels could have conceived in their worst nightmares. The only saving grace was that NCSU was largely unable to capitalize on all the good field position and extra scoring opportunities, and led just 10-0 at halftime. But as it turned out, those 10 points might as well have been 50 with the way the UNC offense failed to make plays.
PENALTIES, POOR EXECUTION CRIPPLE HEELS
On those rare occasions when UNC could move the ball successfully against the Wolfpack, they often kicked themselves in the foot with a penalty or lack of execution at a key moment. The Tar Heels moved into NCSU territory on its opening drive, only for UNC to get driven back on an end-around play, and then for Renner to get nailed trying to throw a pass, resulting in a fumble and driving Carolina way out of scoring range. And then there was the short passes on third-and-long that seemed to happen more than once over the course of the game.
In the second quarter Renner found space and got the ball to Jones, who broke free and scored for what a split second seemed like a momentum-reversing touchdown. But UNC right tackle Brennan Williams was called for holding, nullifying the 75-yard scoring play. But that wasn't the last time that Carolina cost themselves points with poor execution.
UNC moved inside NCSU territory early on the third quarter on what at the time was the team's most productive offensive possession, only for Renner to go for broke on a long pass to the end zone that was intercepted by Wolfpack secondary standout David Amerson. Amerson's ninth pick of the season was followed by a NCSU field goal, giving them a 13-0 cushion midway through the third period. Then after the Tar Heels pinned NCSU's offense deep in its own territory late in the third quarter, they allowed James Washington to break off a 24-run on a third down to extend a drive several more minutes. That drive ultimately helped NCSU maintain its field position advantage.
Then in the final period UNC moved back into NCSU territory, only for Shoop to shockingly call a draw play on third-and-long that was stuffed to force a fourth down. The Tar Heels went for it on the fourth down and Hanson's pass was tipped near the line of scrimmage, effectively ending Carolina's chances of scoring and winning.
PRESSURE WILTS TAR HEELS
N.C. State defensive coordinator Mike Archer brought a complex series of zone blitzes and stunts that seemed to throw off the Tar Heels front five from the get-go. The Wolfpack had Renner, and then Hanson, running for their lives pretty much from the opening drive---a remarkable turn of events for a much-maligned NCSU defense that has been banged up and abused for much of the season by offenses that statistically weren't putting up the numbers UNC has been.
But it's common knowledge to those who have been following this rivalry that the Wolfpack take their game to another level when UNC is in town, and that's again how it played out this time. The Wolfpack made every key play, converted every key third down, and stuffed UNC on every key play---especially in the first half---and the pressure that put the Tar Heels under in the second half was simply too much to overcome.
Along with applying pressure up front, the Wolfpack did a nice job with linebacker Dwayne Maddox and others stuffing the running lanes, and the secondary stifled all of Carolina's receivers with the exception of Jones. Jheranie Boyd failed to make a catch---although he had one hit him in the numbers that he dropped---while UNC's No. 2 receiver Highsmith had just two catches for 26 yards.
BYE WEEK AND THEN BLACKSBURG
It was obviously a long and dreary ride back to Chapel Hill for UNC Saturday afternoon, as this coaching staff and players more than ever now see the writing on the wall that there's going to be a major change within the program coming in the near future. This week will be a tough one as the team has to respond to the poor showing in Raleigh knowing that it may have very well been the nail in the coffin for the current coaching regime. How they handle the next 12 days will be a strong barometer, one way or another, of the professionalism of this coaching staff. They've already been tested so much, and this week won't be any easier.
Now it's on to Blacksburg for UNC, and a matchup with ACC Coastal Division frontrunner Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels will get a much-needed bye week to lick their wounds and start preparing for the Hokies, and then they'll go into the short week hopeful that lightning can strike twice for the program at Lane Stadium. Certainly Virginia Tech hasn't forgotten the loss at home against UNC in 2009, and with the outright Division title at stake, one can expect the Hokies will be ready to play. The question is how ready to play will the Tar Heels be given how things went down Saturday in Raleigh.
Saturday, November 17 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg's Lane Stadium, 8:30 pm kickoff, ESPN.