By R.L. Bynum
Mack Brown sees the mistakes and the flaws that led to frustrating road losses to Florida State and Virginia. While working to correct all of that, he likes a lot of what he’s seen from his Carolina team.
“I’m excited about this thing moving forward,” Brown said Wednesday ahead of the Tar Heels’ noon visit to Duke (2-5, 1-5 ACC) on Saturday. “They’re resilient. They’re tough. We’ve had a lot of kids that have made mistakes in games that really hurt us and they keep fighting back and do it with tremendous pride. So, we’re about to be really good. I don’t know when it is, but I’m excited about the future of this team.”
Some negative areas are getting better, but with still damaging results, and some others are getting worse.
UNC (4-2, 4-2) had six penalties for 69 yards, both season-lows, during its 44-41 loss last Saturday to the Cavaliers but half of those penalties were damaging. The Tar Heels hadn’t lost a fumble since the season opener against Syracuse before losing two against Virginia, which led to the first negative turnover margin since the win at Boston College.
“The ones that we had were really bad,” Brown said of the penalties. “Those three were penalties that really, really hurt us.”
The sequence that combined both issues was in the second quarter when Carolina had sacked Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong for a seven-yard loss on third down only to have a Trey Morrison unsportsmanlike conduct penalty continue the drive. When that drive finally ended and Virginia punted, Toe Groves muffed the punt at the Carolina 20, leading to a Virginia touchdown that gave the Cavaliers the lead for good.
Some might see Duke’s worst-in-the country 23 turnovers and third-worst-in-the-country -10 turnover margin and expect the Blue Devils to make the going easier Saturday. After road losses against teams with poor records in the Seminoles and Cavaliers, Brown isn’t buying that.
“But we’ve got to plan on Duke playing their best game. And we’ve got to try to force turnovers, but we can’t plan on them turning the ball over,” Brown said. “And we saw that Virginia played their best game against us. Florida State played the best game against us. We’ve got a lot of publicity and people are talking about our expectations being up and that makes the other team hype. So, we’re going to see a really good Duke team on Saturday.”
UNC is 50th in the country and tied for 13th in the ACC with only seven forced turnovers. The Tar Heels have only forced one fumble, which came in the blowout win over N.C. State.
“We talk about tipping the ball and stripping the ball every week we talked about trying to stop guys on first down so we get second and long, third and long and we haven’t done a great job of that, which is where you usually get your turnovers,” Brown said.
Other mistakes in Charlottesville were particularly damaging, such as the backward pass from Sam Howell that led to the clock running out at the end of the first half. The drive at the minimum would have produced a short field-goal attempt or possibly a touchdown.
“I take responsibility just because I have got to do a better job maybe of coaching our quarterback on that play,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said.
The play was meant to be a pass to Dazz Newsome.
“We wanted to change direction and get back out on the perimeter and throw him a swing,” Longo said. “It wound up being a backward lateral. That was not the design of the play. The play was to just throw him a swing off a little bit of run action and, because he’s such a great athlete, let him race to the pylon.”
With a choppy performance from the defense at times, and for long stretches against Virginia, cutting out all those mistakes would give UNC an excellent chance to win at Duke if the potent offense continues to pour on the yards.
It would be a really good time for the Tar Heels to be that really good team that Brown is expecting.
Pool photos by Andrew Shurtleff