UNC’s first snap of the game served as an appropriate foreshadowing for how the first 30 minutes would play out under first-year signal caller and assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell.
Virginia Tech defensive ends Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem both beat UNC tackles off the edge, converging on Marquise Williams (17-of-33 passing, 187 yards, TD; 94 rushing yards) for a sack fumble and recovery. The Hokies traveled the 16 yards in two plays to take a 7-0 lead 44 seconds into the game.
UNC answered with its lone scoring drive of the half, churning out 64 yards on nine plays before stalling at Virginia Tech’s 3-yard line and settling for a 20-yard Nick Weiler field goal.
It was UNC’s lowest scoring half under Fedora.
The Tar Heels gained 15 yards on 15 plays over their next four possessions. Five of UNC’s six possessions failed to gain 10 yards, while two resulted in negative yardage.
“It was just guys missing assignments and not doing their job,” Williams said.
UNC gained 138 yards on 34 snaps (4.1 yards per play) in the first half.
Bobbled snaps, penalties, drops and turnovers all played a role in UNC’s lowest scoring half under Fedora.
“I’d love to tell you that Virginia Tech is a great defense and did something spectacular, but it was whatever we could do wrong, whatever could go wrong for us offensively went wrong the entire first half,” Fedora said.
Fedora stressed this week the importance of his offense sustaining drives with its ground game to offset Virginia Tech’s pressure and protect his defense. The Tar Heels failed to convert any of their third down plays (0-6) and held the ball for just 9:56 of the opening 30 minutes.
UNC was also forced to rely on its quarterbacks’ legs for any semblance of a ground game. Williams and Mitch Trubisky combined for 52 of UNC’s 59 first-half rushing yards, while the touted running backs group combined for seven yards on five carries.
Speaking of Trubisky, the redshirt freshman entered for the fifth-straight game for the third series of the game. Both of Trubisky’s first-half series ended after three plays. The first resulted in a three-and-out; the second a pick-6 by Kendall Fuller for 47 yards and a 24-3 Hokies lead just before halftime.
There were very few answers available following the game to explain UNC’s slow starts this season.
“There are breakdowns every play." - Landon Turner
“I honestly don’t know,” running back Elijah Hood said. “We just have to figure it out. We’re obviously struggling in the first half of games and then in the second half we start to figure things out.”
Junior right guard Landon Turner, who returned to action after missing the last two games with a MCL sprain, pointed to mistakes up and down the lineup.
“I think guys just have to buy in,” Turner said. “There are breakdowns every play. You can look at the film and there’s a breakdown in someone’s position somewhere, so we just all have to come together and put a whole game together by doing our own jobs.”
UNC has scored 37 points (4 TD, 3 FG) in the first half in four games against FBS opponents this season. The Tar Heels’ four touchdowns include an interception return for touchdown, a fake field goal pass and a wide receiver pass.
The Tar Heels have trailed by an average of 14.5 points at halftime in all four games against FBS-level competition.