Optipessimism Week 6: UNC vs. Louisville

Here’s how bad this game was: With the score tied at 0-0 and Louisville lining up to try a field goal with nine seconds left in the first half, UNC coach Everett Withers called for a timeout. To ice the kicker.

I will repeat that. UNC thought the game was so bad it had a serious chance of ending 3-0, so they iced the kicker at the end of the first half. The best part? The guy missed.

<shaking head sadly> Ugh. I generally am gung-ho for the little guy, standing up to the big corporation, but I felt genuinely sorry for ESPN today. They were forced to televise a football game that probably could have been out-watched by PBA Bowling, which ESPN sometimes shows when they are up against a monster event they don’t get to televise like NFL football on Sundays. Nothing against bowling, of course, except that along with cheerleading, golf and NASCAR it’s not a sport.

<ducking>

Sigh. I was wrong about this team; when I wrote my season preview, I genuinely thought they had a chance to be special. They certainly have special talent, but UNC might be the least impressive 5-1 team in football right now. Before you get all huffy with me, recall that UNC has beaten James Madison, Rutgers, Virginia, East Carolina, and Louisville. Sorry, but that doesn’t really win you any bonus points, especially when your average margin of victory – in your victories – is only 13 points. If not for a really bad kicker and a couple bad bounces, Louisville could have gone into the locker room leading 6-0 or more.

Optimism: Renner Watch time. Renner was 12-18 for 178 yards and a touchdown. At this

PS: All photo credits to Inside Carolina.

midway point of the season, the good news is we more or less know what to expect from Renner now. He’s truly a first-year quarterback, with all the pitfalls that entails. He feels pressure too early and runs too early, makes some really dumb throws, and doesn’t seem to have a great grasp on his emotions yet. But he’s improved every game, and he consistently makes 3 or 4 flat-out brilliant plays every week. His throw to Dwight Jones down the left sideline early in the game is a perfect example; Renner dropped it right in his breadbasket. If the Louisville corner hadn’t been fairly spot-on in his technique, Highsmith would have had room to race for the touchdown.

Pessimism: Renner took four sacks. Though the offensive line had another bad game, a good deal of the responsibility rested on Renner for at least 2 of the sacks. He holds the ball to long when pressure comes, and twice Renner rolled directly into a blitzing defensive end or linebacker. Part of that is being unlucky – OC John Shoop calling a rollout to the same side the Louisville defensive coordinator calls a blitz can’t be helped – but part of it requires adjustment either at the line or as the play develops. Renner needs to learn to throw it away.  Another part goes to scouting. Louisville clearly knew what was coming out of the formation when Renner rolled out, and sent a blitzer to the strong side to blow up the play. Shoop needs to change up.

Optimism:  After a slow start, Gio Bernard still finished the day with 102 yards rushing and a touchdown. The kid is unbelievable. Despite continually getting stuffed early, Bernard eventually found the edge as the game went on and had some soul-crushing runs late in the game. Withers held true to his presser statement that he was going to be hard-headed about the run – kudos to him.

Pessimism: In this week’s edition of Let’s Bash the Offensive Line, Louisville continually got early pressure on Renner. The pressure was (to the line’s credit) sometimes deflected, but it still came far too fast, forcing a bad throw. On a number of instances, center Russell Bodine got absolutely run over by Louisville’s front seven. On one play, UNC kept in eight blockers – the five linemen, two tight ends, and Bernard – to protect Renner. He was sacked within two seconds of the snap.On run blocking, the pulling guards often looked slow to hit their blocks, especially on those long toss sweeps Shoop favored early on. As the game wore on and Louisville fatigued, some holes opened up, but the majority of Bernard’s yards were gained by himself alone.

Optimism: Dwight Jones continues to shine, despite only being targeted four times. If you saw

Dwight Jones. Megatron II.

the game, you know what play I’m about to describe: Renner took a rare shot downfield to Jones and horribly underthrew the pass. Jones won the jump ball for it, Megatron-style, then stood up and drove two defensive backs who were wrapped around him downfield. After a second, Jones whipped around, threw the defenders off like children, and literally walked into the end zone… Dwight Jones, ladies and gentlemen.

Pessimism: I’m always hesitant to criticize playcalling when I can’t see the game live. But the gameplan against Louisville was questionable, to say the least. Of course, it was hard to get a read on Carolina’s offense early (besides the fact that it sucked) because they only ran five plays in the first quarter, but I was surprised at how little UNC passed in the early going. I understand a commitment to the run game, and am almost always the one screaming, “RUN THE BALL! RUN THE BALL, YOU MORON!” but Louisville was clearly more susceptible to the pass than the run. This was not one of Shoop’s better games playcalling; he dialed up an option pass on the first drive, which was just flat-out stupid, then went for it on 4th down late when a punt likely ends the game (though of course Withers would have had to sign off on that). The touchdown UNC gave up late came out of the prevent defense and was off a broken play; you can’t criticize coaching for that, but UNC should never have been in that position in the first place. Unless the score mathematically excludes the other team, the only thing prevent defense does is prevent you from winning.

Optimism: Louisville only scored seven points. Their run game went absolutely nowhere. By the end of the game, the Louisville offense was gassed.

Pessimism: This was the best worst game this defense has played all year. What happened? This is the unit with like six draft picks on it? Quinton Coples was invisible. Granted, UNC had two linebackers out with injuries, but the truly putrid point of the defense remains the secondary. I thought moving Tre Boston back to safety would make a huge difference. Nope. Louisville nickel and dimed UNC all the way down the field to the red zone; only kicker ineptitude and a short field saved Carolina. Interestingly, the game plan seemed to be the same as against pass-happy ECU: basically let them take the underneath stuff and roll up yards, then clamp down in the red zone. UNC shows no aggressiveness on defense until the line of scrimmage approaches the 20.

Optimism: Sylvester Williams, the nose tackle, had his best game as a Tar Heel. He tipped multiple passes, blew up a bunch of plays, and got the only real hit of the day in on shifty Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The future is bright for UNC’s defensive line when the mass defections begin in the offseason.

Pessimism: If I were a Louisville fan (wait, do they have fans in football?) I’d be absolutely furious with the refereeing crew. Of course, they were from the Big East; maybe the Big East actually sucks so badly that even the referee crews are looking to jump ship and realign with the ACC. There were a huge number of calls that went against Louisville; a number of them, like the kick catch interference call, seemed to be completely incorrect. On the day, Louisville had nine penalties for 91 yards. UNC had its fair share – seven penalties for 78 yards – but almost all of those came on pretty obvious calls. Without those bad calls against UL, we could be reading a drastically different script right now.

Final Word: On national television with a large corps of recruits in the stands, UNC put up their most uninspired, insipid performance of the year. It was, frankly, an embarrassment. It was reminiscent of the John Bunting years, to be honest. It’s not as if Louisville is a good team, either; first of all, they play in the Big East, which might be the only BCS conference worse than the ACC in football. Even in that conference, Louisville entered the game 2-2, with victories over Murray State, that old powerhouse, and Kentucky. It’s two losses? To FIU – yes, FIU – and a 17-13 decision last week to the Matthew McConaughey-led Marshall Thundering Herd. Louisville lost to a team with “thundering” in its mascot name. Enough said.

Announcers Bob Davie and Bob Wischusen noticed. Wischusen said, “UNC has sleptwalked [sic] through this entire half!” as the teams went in for halftime. He was completely right.

I’ve been a Withers defender thus far this season, because I think he is a good man and

Sorry, buddy. I think your days are numbered.

deserves his shot at a head coaching position. I also thought that the talent of this team, which is considerable (thanks to Butch Davis), would make it look a lot more impressive than the circumstances would otherwise suggest. Through six games, I have seen nothing to inspire head coaching confidence, despite the 5-1 record. Maybe things turn around when the meat of the ACC schedule comes around, but I simply don’t see it right now. I can’t see a world where UNC hires a new athletic director (rumored to be Tulsa AD Bubba Cunningham) who wants to keep the interim head coaching staff on payroll, especially without some magical season. More seriously, I can’t see talented recruits wanting to come to a school that just self-imposed sanctions, torpedoed their football season by firing their coach eight days between training camp, and plays with absolutely no fire in front of a HOME crowd of approximately seven people. I just don’t see it.

On the plus side, this pretty much assures that the End Around Mad Genius, John Shoop, won’t be around next season.

Consider me frustrated. And NASCAR? Still not a sport.

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 6: UNC vs. Louisville

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  1. William says: