With expectations for the UNC defense at all-time lows, Louisville's opening drive of 77 yards, resulting in a touchdown, actually had many Tar Heel fans feeling encouraged. After all, Louisville didn't put up any big plays. They had only three plays from scrimmage in their fourteen-play drive that yielded them more than 10 yards, the longest being a twelve-yard gain.
The Tar Heels would give up only a field goal for the rest of the first half. Defensively, the Tar Heels were in the game. They weren't giving up the big play, and at least gave the impression they were making Louisville work for their yardage.
The second half began as the UNC offense went three-and-out, actually losing four yards in the process. Louisville took exactly one play to capitalize, a 37-yard jaunt by Eric Shelton for a touchdown.
There are college defenses capable of rebounding from that type of demoralizing play, but the Tar Heels aren't one of them. Defensive futility would be the order of the day from that point forward.
Some individual defensive players should be recognized for their efforts. Fred Sparkman, who left the game at one point with a minor injury, hustled and played with intensity all day. In fairness to the defense, it was clear they were outmatched.
Louisville, under head coach Bobby Petrino, has been noted for its offensive prowess. It is not shocking that the Tar Heel defense gave up 34 points to the Cardinals, who have a well-conceived offense that brims with confidence. Louisville has a huge offensive line, a trio of good backs, decent wide receivers, and an efficient quarterback.
What follows does qualify as unexpected.
There is going to be a ton of armchair analysis of the plays called by offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill. It is the unalienable right of every college football fan to second-guess offensive play selection. Pundits and fans alike feel a special expertise in this area.
Some criticism might be fairly leveled on play selection, but in many cases line-blocking wasn't there, runners didn't hit what space was available to them with authority, passes weren't where they were supposed to be, and when they were, the receiver dropped it. Tranquill would look much smarter today had there been better execution on the field by the Tar Heel players.
The offensive line had its worst outing of the year. Louisville sacked Tar Heel quarterbacks three times and were often in the UNC backfield disrupting running plays before they could get any traction.
But it would be unfair to single out the offensive line when no unit, and virtually no player, managed to distinguish themselves in this game. Poor execution by every unit of the offense was the story of this game – and in many ways, it is inexplicable.
It appears, in addition to defensive breakdowns, UNC fans now have to be concerned about the UNC offense putting up a goose egg on the scoreboard. In any event, if the Tar Heel offense had been looking to pin losses on the defense in the past, they forfeited that right on Saturday.
Special Teams and Turnover Margin
The Tar Heels missed David Woolridge's punting but, in the great scheme of things, it was a non-issue. There weren't any special teams breakdowns such as the ones at Virginia; kickoff and punting teams on both sides did a creditable job. The fake punt by the Tar Heels was a well-executed play.
Four possessions ended in UNC turnovers, and the Tar Heels had zero takeaways. The Georgia Tech game's positive turnover margin now looks like the exception to the rule.
The Kenan Crowd
Because comments about the crowd are showing up all over the place this week, I will add my observations to the mix.
If a stadium holds 60,000 fans, a crowd of 49,000 looks sparse. It isn't going to intimidate any visiting football team, and it is a clear sign of discontent with the UNC football program.
That said, credit has to go to those 49,000 fans in the crowd for being there, given the woes of the football program. Those who were there eagerly awaited something to cheer about.
But of those 49,000, easily half of them have their limits on just how much poor football they are willing to stomach, and that limit isn't 60 minutes. If a visitor from a distant country had been asked what the "bells" meant at the start of the fourth quarter, they could have easily assumed it signaled the appropriate time for UNC fans to head for the parking lot.
A Tar Heel team that still does not seem to know very much about itself after four games travels to Tallahassee to play Florida State.