"From what I can remember of the first half, it was lack of effort, lack of intensity, lack of passion, lack of enthusiasm, a lot of mental mistakes, you name it," head coach Larry Fedora told reporters following the loss. "Whatever could go wrong went wrong in the first half. You've got to give Louisville credit, but we can't play football the way we played in the first half."
Senior linebacker Kevin Reddick pointed to execution issues, while senior wide receiver Erik Highsmith was brutally honest when asked about the problems.
"I really don't know; I really don't know what was going on," he said. "I can't answer that for you."
Fedora chose to be aggressive to start, electing to receive after winning the coin toss. North Carolina churned out 18 yards on its first four plays, but a holding play forced a 3rd-and-20. After failing to convert, Thomas Hibbard mishit his punt, skying it out of bounds for a 31-yard gain.
Louisville began its opening drive on its 38-yard-line, which would represent its worst field position of the first quarter. The Cardinals needed five plays – only one for less than 11 yards – to score its first touchdown on a 13-yard Senorise Perry touchdown run.
Those opening possessions ignited the Cardinals Stadium crowd as well as UNC's free fall into a comedy of errors. Mental miscues and a lack of intensity plagued the Tar Heels for the next 25 minutes.
Quarterback Bryn Renner was intercepted on the next series by defensive end Marcus Smith. Teddy Bridgewater connected on the next play with a Charles Gaines for a 32-yard touchdown pass, thanks to a missed assignment in the secondary.
North Carolina's third possession lost nine yards and was answered by a 22-yard field goal by Louisville's John Wallace. The Tar Heels's fourth and final series of the first quarter, though, combined despair with hope and a turnover for good measure.
On 1st-and-10, center Russell Bodine snapped the ball over Renner's head for a 24-yard loss, but it appeared as though UNC may convert the improbable yardage on 3rd-and-26 with a 24-yard pass play to Romar Morris. The red-shirt freshman tailback fumbled just shy of the first down mark, allowing the Cardinals to start their drive in the UNC territory.
Louisville outscored North Carolina 21-7 in the second quarter, although the Tar Heels played with more composure on the offensive end. There was not much silver lining to be found defensively as the Cardinals scored on all six of their first-half drives – five touchdowns and one field goal.
Fedora indicated that the game plan for Saturday's game was scaled back from what the staff installed for Wake Forest.
"I'm not sure that we can cut it back anymore than we've cut it back," Fedora said. "We've got to execute what we do."
The first-year head coach kept going back to the lackluster showing in the first half during his postgame press conference, as if to make sure reporters understood what cost his team this game.
"I was disappointed in the effort and enthusiasm on the football field in the first half," Fedora said. "That's not who we are. We can't play that way. Nobody can play that way. I don't care who you are, you're not good enough. You've got to play with energy and enthusiasm and passion. That's what the game's all about."
The Tar Heels settled in and played with more energy and composure over the final 30 minutes, especially in the fourth quarter. By that point, however, the damage had already been done.