I've been to a lot of Carolina football games and the thought of leaving early offends me. But I could not help it Saturday. In all honesty, I almost left at halftime. Watching a second quarter Carolina punt on fourth and 22 barely cross the first down marker, well, I had seen enough right then and there. Had the weather been anything less than stellar, I would have been gone. So we enjoyed the sunshine and hung around for the second half. No way things could be much worse than the first half performance of the Heels. No way! So we stayed.
It didn't get any better. Carolina three and out to open the half, Maryland five plays to score. Carolina five plays and out. Maryland three plays to score.
The next Carolina drive? Five penalties in eight plays. Two holding calls and three false starts. All within four minutes of each other. I had seen enough.
But leaving early is no small thing, so I procrastinated a little longer. Then the back breaker, or should I say, the head for home maker. Maryland QB Chris Kelly goes 27 yards on a naked bootleg where not one of the Carolina defenders knew he had the ball until he was twenty yards downfield. Not one. I've seen nine, even ten defenders get fooled on a play like that. Never the entire unit.
I was gone. I refused to allow what I witnessed to wreck an otherwise beautiful fall day in Chapel Hill any longer.
In the game's aftermath, coach John Bunting had no quarrel with those that left saying he didn't expect the fans to stay around when the Heels play that poorly. And sad to say, he's right.
I'll admit that I've been tough on fans in the past especially those that fail to even show up for the games. But at some point the product on the field must be respectable. Saturday's showing rivals the Furman showing from 1999. Even the most diehard Carolina supporter cringes at seeing that performance again.
You have to feel for a guy like Sam Aiken. As a senior, he deserves better. Through everything, he simply goes about his business and continues to be one of the best, if not the best, receiver to wear the Carolina Blue jersey. While the team's woes prevent him from getting the recognition from the press he deserves, he never complains and never stops working. His 102 yards receiving Saturday give him 2,042 yards for his career, good for fourth in Carolina history. He needs 405 yards in Carolina's final three games to surpass Corey Holliday for first on the all time list. Carolina needs more guys like Aiken and fortunately for Sam, the NFL scouts are adept at singling out individual performance in the midst of terrible team performance.
And I feel for the coaching staff. As I asked last week, what do you do? Judging from the emails I received after last week's column, there are some that believe that Bunting on down to the equipment managers need to be shown the door. Nonsense. Are we to believe that this team isn't taught to tackle? Isn't taught to be in position? Isn't taught to play smart?
The staff must continue to move forward with this team. All the talk about not quitting is nice. Putting a team on the field that doesn't quit in the face of insurmountable odds is the daunting task remaining this year. The staff cannot afford to lose this team, because doing so will affect so much more than the outcomes of the season's last three games.
Which brings us to the task of recruiting. Bunting and staff are well on their way to securing a top-notch group for next season. They will need more of the same success to fill out the rest of the class and get Carolina's ship pointed in the right direction. Doing so in the aftermath of a season like this will be difficult. Competing schools will stress Carolina's struggles. On the other hand, choosing Carolina will mean immediate playing time in many cases. There are clear arguments for each case and recruits are often a fickle bunch. Judging from the word out of Chapel Hill early this week, despite the big loss to the Terps, the recruiting weekend was a pleasant success.
Bunting and company are headed in the right direction with Carolina football. Though that fact is clearly not visible on Saturday's, now is not the time for the fans and supporters to "leave early" and jump ship because given time, Carolina football will be back.
Tommy Ashley can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.