There were many things that went wrong, but any attempt to analyze the "X's and O's" doesn't strike at the underlying problem that both sides of the contest noticed on Saturday.
"We just came out flat. You can't do that against good teams. When you come out flat against good teams, they're going to do what Clemson did. We had no enthusiasm; no intensity," senior linebacker Larry Edwards said.
"We thought that UNC would show a little more intensity than they brought today. We were expecting them to have the same intensity that they brought to the VT game," Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said.
What Bowden and Edwards are talking about was evident on the very first Tar Heel snap from center; resulting in a busted play. There were many other examples. North Carolina's nine penalties weren't created by overaggressive play – most were caused by a simple lack of focus. The Tar Heels converted only one of 10 third-down attempts – they would earn only eight first-downs on the day, half of them coming on their last drive of the day while Clemson rested much of their first team defense.
It wasn't until that final drive that the Tar Heels held the ball for over eight plays. Meanwhile, the defense gave up an opening 12-play, 90-yard drive to the Tigers. From that point on, the failure of the offense to move the ball gave the Tigers a short field virtually the rest of the game. The average starting field position for Clemson was their own 42-yard line. The average starting field position for the Tar Heels was their own 18-yard line.
The other statistics – and none of them are pretty from a Tar Heel point of view - and the final score could be inspected in depth and at length, but would only serve to painfully paint a disturbing picture of the major missing ingredient in North Carolina football on Saturday – intensity.
What Went Right
It is a short list.
Head coach John Bunting hit both of these points in his Sunday press conference – UNC punted well, and the offensive line did well in pass protection – for the most part.
In addition, the pass protection looked good from a "sacks against" perspective, but Sexton was often hurried and harassed by the quick Clemson defensive ends. Garrett Reynolds was replaced in the second half by Ben Lemming to try and remedy part of the problem.
After being limited to two plays a week ago against Furman, Kareen Taylor led the Tar Heels in tackles with 10 solos hits, and 13 tackles overall – and also recorded an interception. Though the defensive effort overall was poor, Taylor's effort deserves recognition.
And UNC punted well. Six times.
While the UNC coaches can look at how the players "fitted" defensive plays, or executed offensively, dissect and break down miscues, and try to fix technical failures in the next two weeks, there is a much larger problem to fix. The North Carolina Tar Heels cannot win games by technique alone against any opponent they face this season - they must find a way to play with emotion.
The Tar Heels have been blown out before and come back with a surprising win in their next game, and that pattern is common after a bye week. But they have to rediscover how to play the game with passion to have a chance. If they don't, there could be another "bad loss" ahead in Miami.
One of the best Tar Heel players ever, Lawrence Taylor, put it this way, "You can always turn up the intensity." If the Tar Heels can learn that lesson in the two weeks before they face Miami, they have a chance to change the course of this season.