Optipessimism Week 7: UNC – Miami

I wrote this column spur-of-the-moment after the game yesterday, and left in this first sentence for your perusal before rewriting the rest from scratch because it was simply too depressing:

“Where last week there was anger and resentment, this week there is only grim disappointment.”

At least, that’s how I felt. Feel, really. I wrote last week that UNC might have been the worst 5-1 team in Division I (I still refuse to use that idiotic FBS moniker, it reminds me of an amateur bowling league), and now I am sorry to report that my fears have been borne out. But first, some actual good news!

UNC on Friday took its first real step toward moving beyond the scandal that has plagued the program since an untoward Marvin Austin tweet over a year ago. As everyone knows by now, that crisis claimed not only Butch Davis but also ended the career of athletic director Dick Baddour. While no one who matters will actually confirm or deny any of this, it certainly appears that Baddour announced his resignation in protest over the Davis firing, but that’s neither here nor there.

In a formal press conference on Friday, Baddour handed the reins of one of the strongest all-

New AD Bubba Cunningham

around collegiate sports programs in the nation to Tulsa athletic director Bubba Cunningham. With the hiring of Cunningham, I at least have a little hope that Tar Heel football will eventually – not right away, and certainly not in the next couple of years – return to that precipice of promise where it has hovered over the last couple of years. In previous stints at Ball State and Tulsa, Cunningham hired coaches like Brady Hoke and Todd Graham, both unheralded coaches who led major turnarounds. In case you don’t know, Hoke is currently leading a Michigan revival while Graham is doing the same at Tulsa. Hopefully Cunningham can do the same here at UNC. Of course, rational UNC fans like me (hah) know that this is going to be a long process. Carolina is about to go in front of the NCAA Committee on Selective And Meaningless Infractions on October 28, and will in all likelihood be hit with additional penalties on top of self-imposed scholarship reductions and the vacating of all wins from the 2008 and 2009 seasons, mostly because the NCAA has been in a really bad mood lately and is no mood to be messed with.

I’m hesitant to employ my typical Optimism/Pessimism style here, because I simply don’t have that many good things to point out. But I might as well point out the few bright spots all at once:

Optimism All At Once: As Bryn Renner has struggled with his consistency (some would say regressed, but I’m still bullish on Renner’s future), the Carolina offense has become two players: Giovanni Bernard and Dwight Jones. Bernard, the clear star of the offense, had his fifth straight game rushing for over 100 yards. By now, Carolina has figured out how to use Bernard: give him the ball and a tiny seam, and he’ll get yards. For the most part, Bernard didn’t pick up yards in huge chunks as with his regular sprints around the end against bad defenses like East Carolina. Instead, he steadily and consistently chipped away over the course of the game. Bernard was about as involved as possible in this offense while playing from behind. I should say that the offensive line had a far better game run blocking this week than last; that said, Bernard still gained the majority of his yards all by himself. On one play late in the second half, he simply threw guard Travis Bond into a defender, springing himself for a first down.  In fact, I recall Bernard doing the exact same thing last week… Hmmm.

Dwight Jones. Nine receptions. 82 yards. One touchdown.  Along with a sprinkling of Erik Highsmith, Jones carried the sometimes-erratic passing offense led by Bryn Renner. Renner himself had another Joe Flacco day – good stats that don’t tell the whole story – but we’ll get to that in a minute. On UNC’s only truly meaningful touchdown of the game, Jones eluded single coverage (who the heck thought single coverage on Megatron II was a good idea?) and caught a nice pass for a 5-yard score.

Defensively, UNC was mostly horrible… with one exception. Charles Brown had the best day of anyone of the UNC back seven, breaking up a pass or two and delivering a crunching hit to end Miami’s annoying penchant of running bubble screens to receiver Travis Benjamin.

On defense, the front seven performed admirably against the run. Really. Highly touted Miami RB Lamar Miller got nowhere all afternoon. Even when the game was essentially decided, no one quit.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the positives.

Pessimism, All At Once And Not Even All Of It: For the first time, UNC played a decent team with the game plan every smart team from here on out will have: attack the UNC secondary on the edges and never quit. With defensive coordinator Art Kaufman either unwilling or unable to get pressure on quarterback Jacory Harris, Miami’s pass offense absolutely wiped the floor with UNC’s secondary. Whoever scouted for the passing side of things had Carolina dead to rights: they noticed that the corners like to sit 12-15 yards off the line of scrimmage to prevent the big play and tackle poorly, so Miami opened the game by running six bubble screens in the first half. Apparently, Miami watched the ECU game tape.

Time after time, Miami receivers (especially speedster Travis Benjamin) torched the UNC defense by breaking the first tackle off the screen, then sprinting for yards in huge chunks before the backside safety cleaned up. When Charles Brown finally put an end to it, Harris found miles of space in the linebacker-safety gap. In the first half, Harris – this is freaking Jacory Harris we’re talking about here, the same guy that got beat out by Robert Marve last season – put up over 230 yards passing. That’s in one half. We knew the secondary was a weak spot even before it was devastated by injuries early in the season, but I thought Carolina’s awesome defensive line and its speedy linebacker corps would at least mask some of the secondary’s deficiencies. Unfortunately, at least today that was not the case. True, in the second half Carolina’s defense stiffened drastically, but part of that was simply due to Miami’s ultraconservative look after halftime. Much like Carolina is wont to do, Miami played not to lose in the final 30 minutes – and nearly lost.

Offensively. this was another stinker for the Tar Heels. Yes, Renner threw for nearly 300 yards and had no interceptions, but time and time again he took untimely sacks from holding the ball too long. In pass protection, the offensive line frequently allowed early penetration from Miami defenders and was responsible for at least three sacks.

Finally, UNC’s special teams continually put them in a hole on everything from kickoffs to punt returns. Every time Miami punted (which, granted, was rare), I held my breath, hoping just for the returner to catch it and not fumble. On kickoffs, I simply expected Miami to start at the 30-plus yard line every time.

I’m not even going to mention the playcalling of John Shoop, because it makes me far too upset.

Shoop, you are SO fired when this season ends.

Final Word: At this point, I’m struggling to see any kind of positive coming in the weeks ahead. Next week, Carolina goes to play Clemson in Death Valley before taking on a somewhat resurgent Wake Forest before facing NC State, Virginia Tech, and Duke. It’s entirely possible that UNC comes out of that gauntlet winning only one of those games, finishing the season barely bowl-eligible at 7-5 or 6-6.  It’s a virtual certainty that UNC is going to a bowl game, but really I couldn’t care less once the bowls start being named after auto repair companies and shoe stores. At this rate, Carolina’s destined for the BBVA Compass Bowl (I have been informed by Wikipedia that’s a real bowl, which is even funnier). The worst part of all this is I just don’t see a turnaround coming in the near future; any solution has to include recruiting success, and with the cloud hanging over the Carolina program – plus a new coach and an administration perceived as unsupportive – it’s tough to see quality recruits wanting to come to Chapel Hill in numbers.

On the plus side, basketball started!

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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3 Responses to Optipessimism Week 7: UNC – Miami

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  1. TarHeelAlex says: