What a crazy weekend in sports we just had. Three NFL games on Thanksgiving Day, including a victory by my beloved Ravens in the first-ever meeting of sibling head coaches. A slew of rivalry games, including an awesome game between Denard Robinson and Ohio State that ended with Michigan breaking its absurdly long string of losses to its rival. The NBA lockout ended as both the players and owners realized that until after the Super Bowl, 95% of America really couldn’t give less of a shit about the NBA. They ended the lockout specifically at 3 am after watching enough compelling NCAA basketball to realize that until after March Madness, 75% of America still won’t care about the NBA even when football ends.
The best part? UNC beat Duke in its annual slamfest. The last time Duke beat UNC was seven years ago. Since I matriculated at UNC from 2006-2010, I literally don’t know what the Victory Bell looks like painted any color other than Carolina blue. The silver lining for Duke fans is that there are only about nine of you that care about football at all.
Duke fans, you actually might want to read this one.
A disclaimer as we get into it: I’m going to talk very little about the UNC-VT game. Want to know why? Okay, what was the score of the game?
If it took you more than a couple seconds to come up with the answer, VT 24 – UNC 21, well, that’s why. UNC played hard in this game for about the first eight minutes, folded the middle thirty, then decided to make the score respectable toward the end. I just can’t get excited about a team that seems like it has tuned out for the season, just as many Carolina fans have. The score wasn’t nearly as close as it looked, because let’s be honest – if you watched the game, you knew that all the Hokies had to do if they wanted to score was run jailbreak screen passes and send their phenomenal tailback, David Wilson, on stretch plays and wait for UNC to miss seven tackles.
So UNC sits at 6-5 on the season, with wins over most of the “bad” teams on their schedule except NC State (yes, they really do suck) and losses to most of the “good” teams like Virginia Tech, Clemson, and GT. With just one game left in the season – the annual Victory Bell game against Duke – it’s a fairly safe bet to say this has been an underachieving, mediocre edition of Carolina football. But really, who can blame them considering the events of the summer and fall? After all, they’re still going to go to a bowl game….
Confession: I didn’t get a chance to start watching The Rivalry Game That Isn’t until about 2:45 on Saturday afternoon. I suppose that makes me a bad fan, but I was out doing good in the community (no, seriously, stifle your laughs because I was). I was thinking on my drive home, “How am I going to find this game? It’s on the ACC Network and isn’t televised here. Hmm.” On a whim, I fired up the Xbox and loaded ESPN3… and there was the game! Holy crap! So I got to watch the UNC game in full HD, on my own TV, while skipping commercials. By turning on my video game console. God I love technology.
I suppose I should explain why for a game that had a ton of hot air around it this week – UNC coach Everett Withers essentially called NC State a crappy academic institution, then later said “I was only referring to the academic facts” – I’m calling it the Rivalry Game That Isn’t. Because, as evidenced by the picture below, NC State really IS a crappy academic institution:
I mean, we should all just be impressed he spelled "Committee" correctly, right?
There are many things I don’t understand in this world. How they get peanut butter into Reese’s peanut butter cups. Why Diet Coke, a drink consisting mostly of toxic chemicals and poisonous gas, tastes so amazingly good. How announcers Dan Hawkins and Pam Ward are even hirable, much less employed. But maybe the most vexing part of football I can’t figure out is why the replay system has to take so long.
It doesn’t help that there are two entirely different sets of rules for replay between the pros and college. It doesn’t much matter what system is used, though; the process takes entirely too long. This really wouldn’t bother anyone if the decisions being made were earthshaking, championship-implication close calls at the end of games that could easily be wrong if they weren’t scrutinized 20 times from every angle. It shouldn’t bother anyone when an obviously wrong call gets challenged. But I take issue with a system that results in a referee taking seven minutes to determine something that a casual fan eating Cheez-Its in front of his TV can figure out in five seconds without even squinting. I think I counted 5 or 6 reviews in the Carolina-Wake rout. Not one of them was remotely contentious. Not one took less than 90 seconds. Not one took me, or my intermittently-napping father, more than 9.
Trailing just 24-17 at the start of the third quarter, Clemson began their second half effort by going three and out. A small butterfly jumped somewhere in my stomach; could this be the game where the UNC defense puts on an inspired performance and the offense does just enough for the win? Could this be the signature win on an otherwise-marred season? Could this be the Tar Heels that, after suffering under the weight of NCAA allegations, a dismissed head coach, a maligned secondary, and a trying-really-hard interim head coach, turn the corner on a dismal season with a massive upset of a top ten team?
When Clemson got the ball back about a minute later, thanks to the anemic UNC offense, they ran the ball once for no gain. This was good news: maybe Clemson was going to go Miami from last week and play hyperconservative. Then Clemson coach Dabo Swinney remembered that the UNC secondary is awful and bites on everything. Swinney dialed up a trick play – a toss reverse pass. Boom. 39-yard completion downfield to DeAndre Hopkins. Two plays later, touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff return, returner Charles Brown left the ball out, got hit, fumbled, and Clemson recovered. Two players later, quarterback Tajh Boyd found a shockingly wide open tight end for the touchdown. What was once a close game was now suddenly out of reach, and I developed an intense interest in carpet fibers. In honor of the crapfest that was this game, this post will be entirely pictureless. Sorry I’m not sorry.
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.
Posted in UNC
Tagged Bryn Renner, Dwight Jones, Everett Withers, football, Gio Bernard, John Shoop, Lousiville, Optipessimism, Quinton Coples, Sylvester Williams, Tre Boston
Before getting to this week’s Optipessimism, I have to beat my own chest for a minute and explain to you, lovely readers, my commitment to Tar Heel football. Upon hearing that the night game against ECU would only be televised in my area on a channel called the CBS Sports Network, and I didn’t get it, I called up Comcast and asked what it would cost to just buy it for a day, like pay per view or something. I had to buy a whole “package” of sports channels for a whopping $5 a month, though the low cost meant I wasn’t too broken up about it (I know, I’m undermining my heroics statement). So I have officially spent real money now this season on Carolina football in absentia; and I promised not to donate any money to the program when they fired my precious Butch Davis! (I’m kidding. Seriously. Donating money requires, well, money.)
The reason I’m telling you all this is because part of the sports package included NFL RedZone. Which is, hands down, the most perfect sports channel for a football fan ever invented. It’s amazing. You literally miss nothing. I sat down at 1 PM on my couch on Sunday and watched, enraptured, for hours. I caught nearly every touchdown, almost all the important plays, and felt like I could carry a legitimate conversation about the flow of all 10 or so games. It’s incredible. And there are no commercials. My question: how the heck has no one done this yet for college football? (And ESPN Goal Line doesn’t count; they don’t cover all the games.) I can understand there would be some serious obstacles, namely:
Well, well. The first Optipessimism feature after a Carolina loss. I don’t have the lack of attendance to complain about since it was the first road game, so let’s get right to it.
Story. Of. The. Game.
Optimism: After a truly miserable half of offensive football, Renner seemed to clean up a little bit and settle down. In general, Renner wasn’t asked to do a whole lot throwing downfield. That’s about it for optimism. Of course, the week after I gush over Renner’s potential he takes a step back.
Pessimism: This was undoubtedly Renner’s worst game as a Tar Heel. His stats weren’t terrible – 17 of 25 for 204 yards , 2 TD’s and 2 INT’s – but this is one of those cases where stats don’t tell the whole story. Both of Renner’s picks came at particularly bad times, both when UNC had momentum off takeaways of their own. Both were especially bad decisions in a game filled with them; Renner’s first interception was thrown into quadruple coverage. I didn’t even know someone can have quadruple coverage on them. Renner looked extremely young in this game, often running scared out of the pocket and taking a lot of sacks he probably could have avoided.
First things first: the Blue Zone was comically underfilled again this week, and it was a balmy, cloudy day. With the “hot in the sun” argument lost, I’m convinced more than ever now that
The Blue Zone... it's full!!! Oh wait, this is just a computer rendering.
Blue Zoners, if they’re showing up at all, are simply choosing to watch the game from the comforts of the indoor lounge. As I said last week, Carolina should just double-sell the Blue Zone seats at general admission cost, let of-age students turn the Blue Zone into the Drunk Tar Pit and make an experience of it. Actually, even better: move the traditional fraternity rows to the Blue Zone itself, since no one sits in the existing seats anymore anyway, tell them they’re special and they’re free to drink themselves stupid if they’re 21 or possess a particularly credible fake ID, and triple sell the seats. They still won’t get full. This makes too much sense to ever happen, but still.
I will admit, I struggled to sit down and write this week’s edition of The Optipessimist, for the simple reason that this was a depressingly poor, badly played football game. I know it sounds petty and fair-weathery of me to be complaining about a 28-17 win, Carolina’s first ACC opener win since 2000, but the game simply went rather than being played. In short, Carolina didn’t win the game so much as they didn’t lose it; they didn’t turn the ball over and generally let the Cavaliers’ own ineptitude lose the game. There, you can stop reading now. But if you’re game, read on:
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.