Nobody really knows what to make of these Heels. The blowout victories over Florida State and Clemson were an aberration as some Carolina fans feared, but so perhaps were the overwhelming losses to Oklahoma and Texas. The real Tar Heels lie somewhere in between, but whether that is on the side of being a quality team or in the midst of mediocrity remains a question. However, after Saturday's collapse in the 32-31 home loss to Wake Forest, the latter appears a more accurate.
Here is a look at the good and bad of UNC's loss:
Darian Durant – Durant had an excellent game - mostly first half - as he connected on 24 of 32 passes for 361 yards (UNC record for a freshman) and four touchdowns. He threw a sharp and accurate ball all afternoon and made some nice decisions on when to throw it away. However, he could have scrambled and felt pressure a little better, especially on the Heels' last play. He also became the single-season record holder for yards passing by a freshman with 1,596.
Receivers – The trio of Kory Bailey (seven receptions for 87 yards and one score), Sam Aiken (five for 108 and a TD) and Bosley Allen (four for 71 and a score) was sensational. They all use fundamentals extremely well and are getting open quicker and more often. They were nothing short of great in the first half. Bailey looked super on the last possession before the Durant fumble.
First half precision – The Heels were as sharp offensively in the first half against a solid defense as they have been in years. It was an impressive display of passing but the running game lacked a bit. Yet, overall, Carolina was excellent in that half.
Quincy Monk – Monk was in on 17 tackles and picked off his second pass this season. He was all over the place, tackling in the backfield, down field and from side to side.
David Thornton – Thornton always plays well and despite the Wake comeback, the senior walk-on still made enough excellent plays to warrant being recognized.
Julius Peppers – Peppers played as athletically as he has in weeks. He was chasing down runners near the opposite sideline and pressured Wake's quarterback often although he never quite got to him.
Rushing defense – What has happened to this so-called great defense, especially against the run? For the second consecutive game, the Heels were embarrassed against the run as the Deacons had 212 yards on 58 carries with all four TD's coming on the ground. The middle of the line clearly misses Will Chapman, but the other guys need to pick up the slack. Where is the toughness and conditioning? Time of possession aside, they have tired the last two weeks.
Ground attack – For the second consecutive game, the Heels could not run the ball as if they have returned to the first month of the season. Carolina managed just 54 yards on 34 attempts, making it 67 yards on 51 carries over the past two games. As much as the line and tailback Andre Williams had improved from the 0-3 start, they have regressed during the past two games. If a team can't run or stop the run, which the Heels haven't done well the last two weeks, they stand no chance at winning. UNC didn't register a sack either.
Collapse – There is not and never will be an excuse for a North Carolina football team to blow a 24-0 halftime lead at home against Wake Forest. It just shouldn't happen no matter the circumstances. The players relaxed at halftime and were never able to get it going again. Once it was clear Wake was back in the game, they showed very little heart and absolutely no intensity. It was an embarrassing day for UNC football and everyone involved is to blame.
Secondary/picks – Carolina's defensive backs have a grand total of two interceptions. TWO. Monk has two and Peppers has three for the team's total of seven. When was the last time speedster Michael Waddell actually broke for the ball instead of allowing so many receptions under the belly of the secondary? Defensive coordinator and secondary coach John Tenuta is known for producing great defensive backs but this bunch, although they have played fairly well overall this year, is not close to great and appear uninterested in interceptions. What exactly is their philosophy? They are athletic enough to go for some picks and experienced enough to trust going for those picks.
End around – Wake twice scored running plays with the wide receiver on an end around in the third quarter on the same play, once to John Stone the other time to Fabian Davis. UNC was caught off guard both times although knowing Wake's personnel and how they use it the end around runs were a possibility.
Time of Possession – The Demon Deacons had the ball for 34:47 and UNC 25:13, a definite change from Carolina's winning streak. Had the Heels stopped the run more often, this would not have been such an issue and Wake likely would not have had the time to complete it's comeback. After being stopped on its first possession of the second half, the Deacs scored on their next five possessions before running out the clock on their final possession.
Special teams – The Heels were fine on special teams with one exception: The safety. Greg Warren's bad snap over the head of punter John Lafferty that sailed through the end zone cost the Heels and ultimately gave the Deacons enough points for the victory. It was the fourth safety UNC has allowed this season.
Play calling – Carolina's play calling the last two weeks has been questionable at best. Although the Heels moved the ball overall (415 yards), they didn't move the chains when it mattered most in the second half. The basics weren't working and yet tried no trickery to get something going. They also mishandled the last possession of the first half. UNC ran essentially just one play over the last 25 seconds when they were in position to get in field goal range.
John Bunting – For the second consecutive game, Bunting was thoroughly outcoached. The coach and his staff must ultimately take responsibility especially they need to make the players believe the game isn't over and to find ways, when understanding the players have relaxed, to get them going again. When a team blows a 24-point lead, the players are certainly responsible, but so are the coaches, perhaps more so.
Put away – The Tar Heels have had many chances to put teams away this year and haven't done so. They could have put away N.C. State but didn't and won 17-9. More obvious was not salting the game away against inferior teams East Carolina (a 24-21 UNC win) or Virginia (30-24), allowing both teams to score late touchdowns and get in position with an onsides kick to possibly win the game. Saturday, however, was a different story, that was simply inexcusable.
Fans – The problem with Carolina's mostly lethargic fans and the atmosphere at Kenan Stadium has become a tremendous problem. Some fans are excellent, but when standing cheering fans are asked to sit down during Wake's final, game-winning drive something is wrong. The fans show up late and leave early. They rarely make noise except on the occasional third down and after a UNC score. The fans were terrible during Wake's decisive drive. It sounded as if it was a punt situation in the second quarter during that possession, not the winning drive by the opposition.
And the band doesn't help either. They are brutal and few college football bands are worse. They are excellent for basketball, but this isn't basketball, although they haven't figured it out yet. The band rarely plays and when they do they play the same old stuff. As has been written in this space many times, perhaps the band leaders might want to watch other games to see how a real band is supposed to contribute during games. This overall problem is a serious issue. Coach Bunting will probably eventually do something about it.
The Tar Heels host rival and winless Duke on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (no TV). UNC needs two more wins (they also host SMU on Dec.1) to become bowl eligible.
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.