The team that opened the season ranked 23rd nationally closed its 13-game slate with back-to-back blowout losses to 7-5 programs with losing conference records.
Roughly four weeks after being rolled by N.C. State, 35-7, at Kenan Stadium, North Carolina (6-7) fell behind Rutgers by 33 points in the fourth quarter before a couple of late touchdowns reduced the final margin to 40-21.
The Scarlet Knights’ defense, which entered the game ranked 96th nationally, consistently got pressure on Marquise Williams (25-of-37 passing, 198 yards, TD; 51 rushing yards, TD) with its front four and stymied UNC’s up-tempo attack for the first 50 minutes of play. The Tar Heels gained 287 yards on 65 plays – 4.4 yards per play – prior to Rutgers taking a 40-7 lead with 9:57 to play.
“There was pressure with the front four that they created,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “They also did a good job of keeping their safeties high. We got behind them a couple of times but we weren’t able to finish those plays off.”
Rutgers’ offense, which entered the game ranked 81st nationally, became the seventh unit to amass over 500 yards of total offense against UNC this season and the fifth to surpass 300 rushing yards. The Scarlet Knights finished with 524 total yards and 340 rushing yards. Both marks were season highs.
“One of the things they did was have a strong formation to the field and then do counters weak,” middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “We adjusted to it in the second half, but that really killed us in the first quarter. We got beat on some man-to-man coverages. We’ve got to get more pressure on the quarterback.”
There were plenty of issues in the bowl game that have been common themes throughout the season. Thomas Moore had a 31-yard field goal blocked, Ryan Switzer managed just five yards on three punt returns and two early fumbles helped Rutgers capitalize in building a 23-0 halftime lead.
Falling behind early in games became a late-season trend for the Tar Heels. UNC trailed 14-0, 9-0, 14-0, 35-0 and 23-0 in five of its final six games, losing three of the five.
There were also six penalties for 70 yards, two coming on kick catching interference and two more on offensive pass interference, negating a pair of touchdowns. UNC finished the season with 99 penalties, tying the school record set in 2010, and 821 penalty yards, second most in school history (831 in 2013).
The defense cemented its place in the record books as well, closing 2014 as the school record holders in total points (507), total yards (6,472) and rushing yards allowed (3,126). The offense experienced its own relative futility as Fedora’s brainchild, registering the lowest yards-per-play output (5.56) during his seven years as head coach.
The 2014 season will also go down as Fedora’s first losing season as a head coach.
“I don’t like it,” Fedora said when asked about that statistic. “Nothing about it that I like. It doesn’t taste good. There’s nothing good about it. Nothing.”
Most troubling for this UNC team, both in Friday’s loss to Rutgers and for the season as a whole, is the lingering issues behind the stat sheets and records books.
Various Tar Heels spent their postgame interviews talking about a lack of chemistry, teammates not caring and negativity infiltrating the locker room. Those types of characteristics establish a foundation for a rollercoaster-type season, just like the one UNC just completed.
“There were weeks where we didn’t have that great of practices and we won,” senior safety Tim Scott said. “There were weeks where we had great practices and we lost. It just came down to, no matter what type of practices you have, when it comes game time, we have to get ready. And we don’t do a good job of getting ready for games. Besides the Duke game, I can’t name another game we came out ready to play for.”
The Duke victory, against a top-25 team on national television, was undoubtedly UNC’s best performance of the season. It also seems like a distant memory and a long, long way from Ford Field in Detroit.
Heels Close 2014 in Defeat
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