Darian Durant – Durant struggled early but threw for 274 yards over the final three quarters (286 for the night) and kept the Tar Heels in the game, giving them a chance to win despite being tremendously outplayed. Durant hit on some key third downs and even had a nice run for a first down. For his first full game behind center, he handled himself well.
Receivers – Bosley Allen, Sam Aiken and Kory Bailey all had nice games, not just catching the ball the making key plays. Allen hauled in nine balls for 114 yards. Bailey had three catches for 51 yards and a score and Aiken scored on both of his receptions that totaled 36 yards. They also ran the ball hard after making receptions and even blocked well down field, if only those blocks would have mattered.
Dexter Reid – The budding star was in on seven tackles and appeared to be close to about 10 more. He hits with authority and plays and plays with a great deal of intelligence. He is one of the better free safeties UNC has had on some time, especially against the run.
Greg Warren – Rarely does a deep snapper get mentioned other than on a bad snap, but when Warren ran down and tackled Kelley Rhino late in the second quarter after the Techster returned a punt 50 yards to the UNC 38 he saved a touchdown. Tech eventually kicked a field goal to go up 13-7, but he helped keep the Heels in the game. It was a tremendous effort and impressive for a deep snapper.
Goal line stand – The goal line stand on Tech's second possession of the game was impressive. The Jackets had moved the ball 88 yards from their own 11 and were denied when David Thornton clogged up the hole on fourth and goal from the one.
Margin – Despite how poorly the Tar Heels played they still only lost by seven points and with a defensive stop late could have tied the game with an effective drive.
Defensive line – The line wore down but that was a small excuse because Tech was running the ball right at them with success from the outset. From Tech's second possession on, they controlled the line of scrimmage, running between tackles and simply jamming the ball down UNC's throats. The line did eventually tire and was no test for Joe Burns (198 yards) and the Ramblin' Wreck (237 yards rushing). The absence of Will Chapman, who was hurt in the win at Clemson, clearly hurt. As solid as the hobbled Anthony Perkins is, he is still just 257 pounds and was originally expected to miss the season with a knee injury. Compound that with an injury to Donti Coats, and the middle of the line was also thinner than it has been.
Secondary – The secondary still defends the long ball extremely well but they have been suspect at times this year defending the short ball. Too often the Heels allow passes under the belly (also see the Virginia game) and rarely go after the ball, as evidenced by having just two interceptions this season amongst the DBs.
Ground attack – The running game was brutal. The Heels had made tremendous progress on the ground but this performance has to be discouraging. Carolina had just 13 yards rushing on 17 attempts and Durant was the team's leading rusher with a paltry 12 yards. Jacque Lewis had six yards on five carries and Andre Williams, who had averaged 119 yards over the past two games, totaled a wretched negative five yards on seven carries. The line did a poor job of executing and was manhandled at the line of scrimmage.
Offensive philosophy – The Heels changed their approach from the five-game winning streak by throwing the ball on five of their first six plays. Perhaps this ultimately had nothing to do with the outcome, but in a big game – and this was the biggest of the season – they went away from what had worked.
Special teams – The special teams had been excellent since the loss at Texas but fell apart in Atlanta. The Yellow Jackets had 219 punt and kickoff return yards and continually changed what would have been a positive field position for UNC into their advantage. Kelly Campbell's kickoff return to Tech's 46 after UNC cut the deficit to seven in the fourth quarter exemplified the poor performance.
Penalties – The Heels were penalized eight times for just 45 yards, but 10 of those yards were huge and may well have cost Carolina the game. One on third down and two at the UNC seven during Tech's 18-play, 84-yard scoring drive after Carolina took the lead, gave Tech a first down. George Godsey scored two plays later the give the Jackets a lead they would not relinquish. Earlier in the drive, the Heels had another offsides on first down that helped out Tech's drive. UNC also was called for its fourth defensive offsides of the game on third and four with the ball at UNC's 37 with just under four minutes left in the game. The mistake allowed Tech to keep the ball and they eventually ran out the clock.
Overall performance – This was UNC's worst performance of the season. The score notwithstanding, the Heels were consistently bad on Thursday, unlike in the other three losses. They did show some resilience answering Tech's first score with a touchdown and scoring a touch on their first possession of the second half to take the lead. They also answered a Tech score to cut the margin to seven in the fourth quarter, but the combination of the woeful running game, lousy defensive play and terrible special execution was too much to overcome. This was the first game they didn't dominate at least one quarter. Overall, Tech was 10-17 converting third downs.
Loss – The loss makes it virtually impossible for the Tar Heels (5-4 overall, 4-2 ACC) to claim at least a share of the ACC title. However, they are still in excellent position to land an invitation to the Peach Bowl if they win out.
Carolina returns home on Saturday to face a solid Wake Forest team in a crucial game. With a win UNC will be just one win closer to securing bowl eligibility and will guarantee a winning record in league play. Game time is set for Noon and will be televised regionally on Jefferson Pilot.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.