UNC-Oklahoma: The Good & Bad

Following one of the most bizarre opening halves in North Carolina football history, the Tar Heels somehow managed to work themselves into a semblance of a groove and came away from their 41-27 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma on Saturday night with some positives.

From about 7:45 to 9:30 p.m. EST, Carolina completed the final phase of its transition from the old Carl Torbush era to the new John Bunting era and in the process has legitimate reason to be optimistic about the future. The following is a look at the good and the bad of UNC's loss:

GOOD

Transition - The final act of the football program's transition from the Torbush era to the Bunting era took place in the locker room at halftime with the Tar Heels trailing 41-14.

In the first half, especially the opening quarter, the Heels could not have looked more unprepared, out of sync, fundamentally distorted, careless and mortified. Most UNC fans probably caught themselves thinking nothing had changed from the Torbush days.  

Fears of being an ordinary, at best, football program likely began to settle in many baby blue hearts and minds. After all, most had convinced themselves that ‘the last three years were an aberration'.

The running game was as awful as it had been against quality opponents for the last three seasons. The pass protection was poor. The team looked tired early. The defense appeared to lineup improperly too often and miss too many tackles. The whole thing looked like 1999 all over again.

This may be a stretch to some, but perhaps the Heels were purging the remnants of the old regime from their systems. It's sort of like having clogged pipes fixed. Once the work is seemingly complete and one is ready to turn on the water, it is best to let the water run first so the pipes can be flushed out. Maybe the Heels were flushing the previous three years from their systems.

While Oklahoma was playing the role of a spoiled rich kid on Christmas morning, UNC was beginning to feel as if they were in a time warp dating back to 1999 (Furman, Wake Forest, Maryland or Houston) or 2000 (Florida State, second halves against Georgia Tech and Clemson).  When Bunting finally got the team together at half time, he put the finishing touches on establishing he was the man in charge.

There would be no raising of the white flag. He convinced the team to continue playing hard.  The end result was not a spectacular second half of play, but it was, more importantly, the completion of  the final phase of adjusting the program's attitude.

Defense – Carolina's defense was as close to spectacular as one could expect. The Heels, with their backs against the wall without a break for more than an hour, remained calm and mostly stingy.

OU did have scoring drives of 46 and 19 yards in the first five minutes of the game but don't fault the defense too much for the explosion. In the first quarter, half the defenders were regularly summoned back to the field before they could refresh with water because of another UNC turnover.

The defensive stop forcing an OU field goal after UNC's first turnover was impressive, but completely shutting down the Sooners' vaunted offense for the last three quarters was downright extraordinary. Oklahoma (only 12 first downs) had just 138 yards of total offense in the first half and finished with 286 for the night. The Heels accomplished this despite keeping their first team in the game (except quarterback where there is still a battle despite what coaches are saying). Had the Heels not miscalculated on the first down run by Quentin Griffin on 3rd and 17 with less than five minutes left, this game might have been received differently by the majority of the ignorant national media.

David Thornton – UNC's once-unknown former walk-on linebacker had a monster of a game. He was making tackles all over the place on tailbacks, receivers and even the Sooner QB once. Thornton had 13 tackles and seemed to be near about 500 more. He was inspiring not just to his teammates but to the many fans looking for reasons to be excited.

Dexter Reid – Reid did an excellent job in the secondary delivering numerous solid hits and defending OU's passing attack. Reid's play appears indicative of the new approach and attitude Bunting has instilled in the program.

Defensive line – The whole line, including the second-teamers, played extremely well. They handled the run well and other than a couple of jaunts, shut down Griffin, an All-Big XII tailback. They applied plenty of pressure on OU's signal callers and the ends did a fine job extending to gang up on short OU swing passes.

Hitting – The Heels hit a lot harder and more consistently than they did the last few years. Numerous hits were face-first and stood up the ball carriers allowing more Heels to gang up. Carolina's ferocity was reminiscent of the 1995-97 squads.

Darian Durant – The redshirt freshman QB didn't have the greatest passing game but did inject some juice into Carolina's offense. The Heels' only two offensive scores came after he engineered drives of 80 and 86 yards in the second half and darn near got the Tar Heels back into the game.

On the first TD drive many of the plays were in the middle of the field at the heart of OU's first-team defense, which had played the entire game. Durant had a presence that UNC badly needs and played with confidence. He was also vocal and did a nice job getting the attention of his mates in the huddle.

Kicking game – Yes, Chris Bender did miss an extra point but looked fine on his other three PAT's. Punter John Lafferty booted the ball nine times for an average of 44 yards and the Sooners never got close to him.  Despite the kickoff return for a score, the Heels mostly did a fine job getting to the returner quickly and tackling in the open field.

Condition/Jeff Connors – There is no doubt that the Heels are in superior physical condition as opposed to the last few years. They were strong and quick at the end of the game and appeared sharp mentally. In fact, they appeared in better shape than the Sooners, whose S&C program is one of the best in the Big XII. 

John Bunting – Coach Bunting made it clear this is now his program.

Three crucial areas of improvement were obvious and necessary if he were to gain respect and confidence from his players and the fans. The team was in great physical condition, which he promised. They fought until the final whistle and for 60 minutes, which he also promised. And the Heels were tougher, which he promised.

They also had better schemes defensively and if the offensive line improves and Curry is more accurate, they should be good enough on offense to win at least six if not seven or more games.

BAD

Turnovers – Following Carolina's first three possessions, the Heels had run only five plays and trailed 17-0, all before five minutes had run off the clock. Moments later, OU's Rocky Calmus scooped up an Andre Williams fumble and rambled 20 yards into the endzone. OU 24, UNC 0.

In the second quarter, OU returned an interception for a touchdown leading to a 38-7 advantage. Five UNC turnovers in the game's first 25 minutes lead to a 41-7 Sooner advantage despite OU having barely over 100 yards of total offense. It helped the point margin that the Sooners returned a kick 88 yards for another touchdown.

Offensive line – Although the Heels did put together some nice drives late against OU's first-team defense, it wasn't as if the Sooners were playing at the same level of intensity as in the first half. In the first quarter, OU was in Carolina's backfield as the ball was being handed off. The backs never had a chance to turn toward their hole much less turn up field.

Ronald Curry – Curry is an extremely nice and decent young man. He has a bright future ahead of him regardless of what he chooses to do. But as a football quarterback, he has a lot to prove despite being an experienced senior.

He played perhaps his worst game


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