I think it’s safe to say that last night’s game against Virginia Tech was a complete and utter disaster. From the very start of the game, the Hokies controlled the momentum and despite trying to give the momentum away for free 99, the Heels didn’t want to take it. Virginia Tech had sloppy snaps, gave away the ball a couple of times, had a costly pass interference penalty when Sam Howell threw a home run ball late in the game, and yet the Heels have nothing to show for it but their first L of the season.
I won’t hold y’all any longer than I have to. Let’s discuss the three things we learned from this game.
The offensive line did not live up to the hype
All offseason long the number one thing that we heard about UNC’s offense is that they were going into the 2021 season with an experienced offensive line. Not only did every starter from last year’s team return, but all of them are upperclassmen that should’ve had no problem accomplishing what the Heels needed to accomplish to earn the win last night. Alas, what we saw was Sam Howell under as much pressure as literally any Chicago Bears quarterback that has ever lived.
The most perplexing thing is that Virginia Tech didn’t necessarily do anything that crazy to get to Howell. Sure, there were blitz packages that were implemented, but an experienced offensive line should be able to handle a four-man rush with little to no problem. What we learned, however, is that Tech’s lines on both sides were just…better. It’s frustrating, and quite honestly a bit infuriating, but it’s also the first game of the season. I hope I’m wrong, but right now, this offensive line looks like it was hyped up a little bit too much, and that could be costly for what Mack Brown & Co. hopes to accomplish this season.
Josh Downs is the only receiver that can be trusted
If there was any silver lining for UNC’s offense last night, it was wide receiver Josh Downs. While Howell was getting pressured really quickly at times, there were times when he had enough time to make a throw, but had a hard time finding someone to throw it to. Downs was easily the best option for Howell, finishing the game with 8 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Without a doubt Downs has the potential to be Howell’s home run hitter this season, but if he isn’t able to the issue won’t be anything he has control of.
There’s no gentle way to put this, but I’m extremely concerned about this wide receiver group without Khafre Brown and Beau Corrales. Emery Simmons and Antoine Green were underwhelming, finishing with a combined five catches for 66 yards. Garrett Walston was infuriating to watch, as he had more drops than music artists during the pandemic. He finished the game with one catch for six yards.
If UNC wants to right this ship, Josh Downs is going to need some help. Hopefully Khafre Brown isn’t far from coming back, and also it would be nice to get some answers as to what is going on with Beau Corrales. Ideally someone else who is actually healthy steps up as well, but we will see if that is something that can reasonably happen.
Dealing with run is still painful for this defense
Here is where I’m willing to take UNC’s performance with a grain of salt: Virginia Tech did an excellent job running the ball down the Heels’ throats all night long. More specifically, their quarterback had a field day abusing the amount of space that the Heels were willing to leave for him. The Hokies finished the game with 43 runs for 138 yards, which honestly could’ve been much worse if the defense didn’t tighten things up in the second half. Braxton Burmeister led the team in rushing yards with 53, which doesn’t sound as bad as it was, but his yardage was collected in very key moments of the game.
It’s hard to pinpoint how much of the defense’s lapses were on personnel in the first half, and how much of it was Bateman calling questionable plays. At one point when it looked like maybe a spy was set up on Burmeister, the Heels dropped back into deep cover and let him pick up a first down. It’s unclear as to why the middle of the field was left open so often early in the game, but one has to hope that maybe the group’s performance was an anomaly. Hopefully. Maybe.
The offense still figuring things out is fine, but the defense needs to be able to pick up the slack if the Heels are to avoid having this kind of performance in the future. It is the first game of the season, so if all of this sounds like doom and gloom, just know that things can and hopefully will get better. However, for a team that had so much hype surrounding it going into the season, they couldn’t lose this game. It’s probably time to re-adjust our expectations, take down Georgia State, and see how things go from there.