(Just)Pessimism Week 10: UNC – NC State

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?

It’s very simple, though in light of the shutout you’ll all think I’m just dismissing sour grapes. Carolina and NC State have a relationship that is best explained by siblings in a dysfunctional family. Carolina is the eldest in the family, the successful older brother who was school valedictorian and won an athletic scholarship to a prestigious university, then went on to become a doctor and real estate developer. NC State is the younger brother who constantly lived in his brother’s shadow, forced to watch his sibling win all kinds of trophies while he usually got the stuffing beat out of him on the playground, although he did have a particular affinity for building things out of Legos. NC State’s hatred for all things Carolina festered with occasional outbreaks for years, then burst like an infected pimple when the elder brother was ensnared in a mildly famous land zoning scandal. (Thanks, Marvin.)

The flip side of this is that Carolina, while looking bemusedly down on its younger and less talented brother, doesn’t actually mind his brother’s hatred for him – he thinks it’s all part of a fun and rather amusing rivalry, but doesn’t consider it serious. When State wins a football game, it’s like the younger brother winning his first fight. It fills him with wonder, joy, and inexplicable fulfillment. For most Carolina fans, it’s an irritating setback, shortly to be remedied when Carolina pastes State twice in basketball, the sport for which it won its scholarship. The fights Carolina lost were just a necessary part of growing up.

Don’t believe me? Read the post-game press conference quotes where Gio Bernard, who over the course of the season has become a leader instead of just a producer, said he thought guys were joking around and weren’t taking the game seriously. Meanwhile, State players indicated they were holding séances and ritually burning effigies of offensive coordinator John Shoop.

It’s kind of like the relationship between Maryland and Duke in basketball – Maryland considers the Duke game its Super Bowl, while to Duke it’s just an unfortunately necessary trip to College Park.

(If you’re from College Park, don’t you take offense – you know it just as well as I do.)

Yes, I know, Withers stirred the pot this week. But what else is a guy who is certain to lose his job after the season to do? Might as well try some motivational tactics. After all, for the past six or so weeks, Withers has effectively been auditioning to be a head coach at a smaller school.

(Also, in case you’re thinking, “he’s just bitter because UNC lost for the fifth time in a row,” I wrote the intro for this column before I turned the game on. Also because I could care less who wins games now this season; either way, UNC is going to a meaningless bowl game no one has heard of or cares about, because that’s how the system is set up. It rewards mediocrity. More on this on the bye week.)

There were pretty much no positives for today – there’s basically no such thing when you get shut out by a team whose quarterback transferred because, well, he was being coached by Tom O’Brien. So let’s just do some bullet points:

  • Dwight Jones was his usual efficient self, catching nine passes for 72 yards, which was unfortunately more than half the team’s total pass yards.
  • Gio Bernard broke 1000 yards on the season, though he only rushed for 47 on the day.
  • The defense looked really good, giving up only 13 points while State started on the Carolina side of the field 4 times and basically controlled the field the whole game. I say they “looked” good, because State quarterback Mike Glennon helped them. Glennon is horrible and missed open receivers repeatedly all day.
  • And… yeah, that’s it.

Normally, I’d say the worst part about today’s game was that Bryn Renner got hurt. And yeah, it’s not exactly great news that he went down. But with only games against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and Duke at home, I’m not terribly concerned. It’s not as if UNC is playing for a title – they’re 2-4 in the ACC, not exactly the world-beaters people thought they could be before Butch Davis got fired. What’s the worst is how he went out – Renner was repeatedly hit by State defenders until he finally couldn’t take it anymore, leaving the game with an injured ankle and concussion-like symptoms. The offensive line, which I’ve castigated all year, had maybe its worst performance of the season. Renner never had time to throw, and after a while completely lost his poise, running into defenders and taking unnecessary shots simply because he was too afraid of getting hit again. Eventually, Renner gave up and left the role of tackling dummy to backup Braden Hanson.

Why is this worse than Renner getting hurt? It shows the Heels, fielding their largest offensive line in recent memory, don’t have the talent or the coaching to match their size. It wasn’t a pretty sight for the line, with free runners constantly bearing down on whoever happened to be holding the football. Tackle Carl Gaskins and guard Travis Bond had particularly bad showings. Even with the number of rollouts built into the game plan (for fear of pressure), the line still could not keep Renner upright. Line coach Sam Pittman, if he doesn’t get fired, has a lot of work to do.

I’ve sometimes given offensive coordinator John Shoop a pass in this column, but he undoubtedly called a bad game today. I’m not going to delve too much into it, because it hurts the brains of sane people to hear about draw plays on 3rd and 5 with your backup, 240-lb running back, but suffice to say he was bad. Shoop also bears a majority of the blame for the regression of Renner over the season, both by not supporting him with a sane gameplan and by somehow failing to coach the simple concept of “don’t run into a 280-lb defensive lineman with two bad ankles.”

I’m just ready for this season to be over. It’s hard to shake the feeling that this team mailed it in after the Miami loss and is just going through the motions until the season, mercifully, ends.

I’m not sure there’s much else to say. I hope Holden Thorp apologizes for the loss, if only because I’m jealous that everyone else got an apology except me.

Sigh. Three more weeks.  Then I get to write about the farce that is the bowl system. The migrants in Grapes of Wrath ain’t got nothing on Carolina fans this year.

Next week, UNC is off before their annual humiliation by Virginia Tech on national TV. I’m planning on writing about how ridiculous the concept of a bowl is in the first place. Who’s excited!?

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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