Optipessimism Week 2: Carolina vs. Rutgers

Carolina won. Barely. Now that I’ve had a few minutes away from throwing remotes and trashing my apartment in frustration, I can approach this week’s Optipessimism with some idea of perspective.

But before we get into that, I need to ask about the Blue Zone. I saw a bunch of shots during the game of an end-to-end camera that showed the Blue Zone, aka The House That Butch Built, almost completely empty. What the hell? This is becoming a legitimate problem, because besides the fact that it makes Carolina look like a small-time loser school (okay, some argue that its football program is just that, but I don’t agree), it ruins any aspect of intimidation created by having it filled with angry Carolina fans. I know that it’s hot in the sun there, and I know the concourse is air-conditioned, but seriously, what the hell. Never fear. I have a solution, though one that might not even be legal and definitely won’t ever happen.

Oversell the Blue Zone, 2 tickets per seat. One ticket would be the “official” ticket, which the rich guy eating lunch inside has, and one ticket would be the “as available” ticket. The way this works is that the “as available” tickets sell for the same bottom-rate admission price (usually $10) for everyone, including students, with the understanding that if you’re in a seat and the official ticket holder shows up, you have an obligation to relocate. The catch is that the AA ticketholders get to take advantage of the same amenities that the current Blue Zoners get, namely access to alcohol.

You’re telling me students wouldn’t jump at this opportunity? Any undergrad, at any school, will tell you that carrying airplane bottles of whisky in your underpants to beat the patdown at the gate is an uncomfortable experience and a slightly nose-wrinkling one to boot. This neatly circumvents the problem, and what better way to make the Blue Zone more intimidating than by filling it with drunk students and young professionals like myself?

Get used to seeing this picture, buddy.

It’s a win-win. The old rich people get to sit indoors and bask in the air-conditioned game experience, while the cheap young alumni and of-age students get hammered in the sun and sit in the best seats. And the school makes money off it all. Brilliant, I say!

Anyway, on to this week’s meaty Optipessimism.

Optimism: Bryn Renner. I’m about to do something I promised I wouldn’t do after getting emotionally attached to Cam Sexton my freshman year: hop on the Rennerwagon. The guy HAS “it.” You know what I’m talking about. IT! He’s got it. He just makes plays, and it’s going to be insanely exciting watching Renner mature (if the Carolina program can survive the sanctions in October). His numbers from this week: 20-26, 273 yards, 1 TD and 3 interceptions. He set the Carolina record for consecutive completions, looked good moving around in the pocket, and threw lasers. His first-quarter touchdown throw to Dwight Jones was an absolute beauty that involved a tertiary read. Under pressure, Renner continues to show extraordinary poise, rarely panicking even when there’s a big guy right in his face. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Jones himself, who had himself a monster day.

Pessimism: Too. Many. Interceptions. I know he’s young, but some of his interceptions were… well, immature. His first INT was a literal replica of the INT from last week: he felt a little pressure, stepped up and made a long throw downfield that floated too much and drifted inside. As with last week, in high school that’s probably a safe throw. In college, the backside safety comes over to grab that more often than not. His second interception should never have been thrown; the catch of feeling “hot” is you make risky throws you probably shouldn’t make. Renner tried to squeeze one into a tiny window and paid the price. The third interception was a ball Renner should have simply thrown away.

Optimism: The offensive line, which I mentioned in my season preview, is both huge and experienced, held up extremely well against Rutgers’ diverse package of blitz pressures. Renner was never sacked, and often had unlimited time to throw. I also thought offensive coordinator John Shoop called a good game for the second week in a row. Makes you wonder, really, considering how badly we Carolina fans treated Shoop last year. What changed?

Pessimism: I suspect this is due to the newness of the season, but UNC often toyed with disaster on the play clock. By my count, Carolina burned three timeouts because the clock was near zero while they still had men in motion, and got called for a delay of game penalty anyway later on. Carolina is well-known (well, at least to me) for using a lot of pre-snap motion to help the quarterback analyze the defense; the catch to that is the play has to come in very early in the play clock. It’s unclear if this is on the coaches, Renner, or the entire offense, but little things like that make a huge difference.

Aside: The headshot of Casey Barth, the kicker, is possibly the worst Photoshop job ever aired.

Unfortunately, this is the best I can do.

I physically recoiled when I saw it. It looks like Raycom didn’t have room for Barth’s voluminous Head & Shoulders dome and shaved off the top. I wish I had a screencap.

Optimism: I almost want to pre-emptively punish myself for uttering this jinx, but I think RB Giovanni Bernard is the real deal. Bernard got the start and the majority of the carries, especially as the game wore on. A beautiful touchdown run by Bernard was negated by penalties, and after more yellow flags Bernard ran one in all by himself. The guy’s speed is pretty amazing; on his second touchdown, I thought Bernard clearly took the play too wide. Until he simply outran the corner to the edge, stiff-armed the poor bastard, and walked in. Big back Ryan Houston, though it’s apparent he’s lost the starter spot to Bernard, had a 33-yard run to seal the game on 3rd-and-13.

Pessimism: The run offense, despite one long run by Giovanni Bernard, was mostly putrid (I know the stats beg to differ, but eff the stats). Bernard and Houston often dealt with penetration in the backfield early and rarely had a clear hole to run through. Though Bernard is definitely talented, he needs to learn to wait for his blocks to develop. On one play, Bernard outran guard Travis Bond, who Lieutenant Dan without his wheelchair could beat in a footrace, and ended up buried under a pile of Rutgers.

Optimism: The return of Charles Brown to the secondary gave some stability to an extremely young, inconsistent unit. Brown had a couple of nice pass breakups, though he did get called for pass interference on a somewhat questionable call.

Merletti and Old Glory. You really shouldn't be surprised.

Pessimism: The secondary as a whole was a mixed bag. Mostly of the bad variety. Safety Matt Merletti proved my suspicions correct: he IS Vince Papale from Invincible! He’s got good instincts and diagnoses plays extremely well, but often lacks the physical tools necessary to make the game-changing play. Merletti dropped an easy pick in the first half that would have resulted in a major runback. On a number of deep plays, Rutgers wideouts dropped sure touchdowns after beating their man downfield. Rutgers receiver Mohammad Sanu abused the secondary, especially safety Tim Scott (who looked totally gassed in the 4th). As the game entered the fourth quarter, it was clear the secondary wasn’t keeping up well with Rutgers, and UNC got away with a clear pass interference call on Rutgers’ final drive.

Optimism: UNC’s front seven, as predicted, is freaky good. Shane, I am probably going to write about the UNC defensive line at least nine times this year, so just deal with it. Rutgers could not run the ball at all. No, seriously, at ALL: they finished with a truly incredible one – yes, that’s one, singular – rushing yard off 25 carries. UNC simply dominated at the point of attack on running plays. When repeatedly put in bad spots – from the offense’s turnovers and from penalties – the defense shut down Rutgers’ offense and held them to field goals. In particular, UNC’s defense took the field at their own 2, and held Rutgers on 4 straight downs. Absolutely dominating. At one point in the third quarter, backed up against its own goal line, Rutgers got called for a hold, a false start, then called a time-out, simply due to an inability to figure out what the hell to do against the defense.

Pessimism: Stupid, STUPID penalties. Accepting the swagger and speed of this unit apparently carries this downside. There were at least 4 major defensive penalties against Carolina based around the front seven: two hits-to-the-head penalties, a major facemask call against Zach Brown inside the red zone that led to a Rutgers field goal. The problem was compounded by the frustration of Rutgers never getting called for anything: until midway through the third quarter, Rutgers had only been whistled once. On a punt return backup corner Pete Mangum was called for yet another hit-to-the-head penalty; when you realize the referees are gunning for that call, you absolutely have to adjust your tactics. Appropriately, the second-to-last play of the game was a penalty (though on Rutgers).

Optimism: Despite five turnovers, UNC eked out the win. That’s about it.

Pessimism: FIVE EFFING TURNOVERS! FOUR IN ONE HALF! Are you freaking kidding me? Renner’s first INT was followed by two consecutive fumbles – one by Dwight Jones about twenty yards downfield, the other by Erik Highsmith. Gut wrenching. Renner followed up the first interception with another, an ill-advised throw into a too-tight window that resulted in a tipped ball and long run-back, during which I threw my apple into the wall next to my TV. It exploded with an extremely satisfying blast radius, though the bitterness remained. The turnovers were responsible for a huge point swing: though Rutgers only capitalized with 12 points, UNC was on a march down the field in all four cases. UNC almost turned it over an incredible sixth time a number of times on botched handoffs. In fact, they almost fumbled on a center-quarterback exchange when UNC was kneeling out the clock! Withers needs to go Friday Night Lights on everyone: get absolutely hammered off Miller Lite and duct-tape some footballs to hands. Or he should order all the footballs greased so Carolina gets good at ball security real fast. Something.

Final Word: The intentional grounding rule is totally screwed up. I came up with this concept while watching Chris Dodd (oh wait, his name is Chas Dodd, which is somehow funnier), the harried Rutgers quarterback, throw yet another ball into the dirt. We’ve created tons of rules designed to protect the quarterback and enhance the offense, but somehow we let the quarterback get away with the equivalent of unsportsmanlike conduct with the most lenient rules for intentional grounding ever. And really, what’s more unsportsmanlike than throwing the ball into the bench? The rule needs to be made much, much stricter.  To wit:

  1. The “inside the tackle box” clause needs to go. Throwing the ball away is throwing the ball away, whether you’re standing between your tackles or running for your life to the sideline.
  2. Throwing the ball out of bounds intentionally, or if there’s no receiver within 10 yards with a legitimate chance to catch the pass, should be intentional grounding as a blanket rule. A legitimate chance to catch the pass means if you throw the ball at your running-back-turned-blitz-blocker’s feet and call him the intended receiver, that’s intentional grounding.

It’s just stupid that a quarterback can basically say, “I give up” and have the play just be over with no repercussions. If the defense is winning the play, either suffer the consequences – a sack – or be a gamer and make something happen. Finally, there’s no need to huddle for thirty seconds with your referee buddies to decide if there was a receiver with a legitimate chance to catch the pass, like most crews do now to decide if someone counts as an intended receiver. Think of how much more entertaining football would be if Tom Brady (NFL has the same problem!) had to either do something crazy or get plowed over by a gleeful, ‘roided up Shawn Merriman. Unless you’re a weenie Patriots fan, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to see that.

Until next week, fair TRB fans.

About Nate

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. I've written about the UNC-Duke rivalry since my best friend from high school took his talents to Durham the same year I went to Carolina. Astoundingly, we remain friends in part due to a moratorium on talking around Duke-Carolina games. Though capable of rationally approaching the rivalry, I generally prefer low-intellect vitriol, because it makes me feel better about myself. Visit my blog at http://thebestmedicineis.wordpress.com
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8 Responses to Optipessimism Week 2: Carolina vs. Rutgers

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  1. DWright says: