Written by Bob Holliday, sports contributor for WRAL.
Before coaches Mack Brown and Mike Elko arrived, it was common for both Carolina and Duke to suffer losses on the same weekend.
However, this year, the expectations are greater as both teams were ranked in the top 16 before Saturday’s game. No one could have predicted North Carolina’s unexpected defeat at home against a one-win Virginia team or Duke’s collapse in the fourth quarter against Florida State after leading at the end of the third quarter.
Like last year’s Tar Heels
UNC made a change in offensive coordinators during the offseason, with Chip Lindsey taking over for Phil Longo.
Lindsey played a crucial role in securing a win against Miami last week by utilizing a strategy of running the ball more and passing less.
Against Virginia, Lindsey used a strategy similar to Longo’s, with Drake Maye throwing the ball 48 times. However, star running back Omarion Hampton only carried the ball 19 times against Virginia’s weak run defense. Despite averaging 5.9 yards per carry and gaining 112 yards, the Tar Heels heavily favored passing plays, resulting in an unbalanced run-pass ratio that worked in Virginia’s favor. The Cavaliers controlled possession of the football.
The Tar Heels’ defense, led by Gene Chizik, had been performing strongly in their first six victories. They were able to hold their opponents to only 21 points and 359 total yards, significant improvements from the previous year. The defenders were effectively covering gaps, breaking through blockers, and executing solid tackles. However, their performance took a turn for the worse in their game against Virginia, with poor tackling contributing to the Cavaliers controlling possession for 37 minutes.
Virginia had a break in their schedule following their first victory against William & Mary. Head coach Tony Elliott and his team utilized this additional time to incorporate numerous new strategies.
Brown observed that when a team has a record of 1-5 and a scheduled break, changes are likely to be made, and it is the team’s responsibility to adapt.
During Saturday’s game, Chizik, who is known for his halftime adjustments, was unable to improve the Tar Heels defense. In fact, they performed worse in the second half, allowing Virginia to score on two long drives of 73 and 74 yards, as well as a field goal.
The Cavaliers equaled Miami’s 31 points and missed two additional chances to score. One drive in the red zone was halted by an interception thrown by Tony Muskett in the end zone. Another was halted when Mike Hollins fumbled at the 1-yard line and the ball went out of bounds for a touchback. Therefore, the Cavaliers had enough offensive production to score 45 points against the Heels and took advantage of the Carolina defense as other teams did in 2022.
The Tar Heels also faced issues with penalties and punting. In the beginning of the game, they were penalized for a blindside block during the kickoff. Beginning the game on their own 8-yard line was less than ideal. Additionally, a touchdown pass was nullified due to a holding penalty. Overall, UNC received six penalties totaling 58 yards, and some of these were crucial.
Punter Tom Maginness averaged just 32 yards on five kicks; one punt traveled just 16 yards. So, Virginia often enjoyed good field position, which the Cavaliers did not need as they were moving the football extremely well.
Reworded: Muskett and Hollins played a key role in Virginia’s success on third and fourth downs during the evening, helping the team convert 8 out of 18 attempts and 2 out of 3 attempts, respectively. This brought their combined total to 10 successful conversions out of 21 attempts, contributing significantly to Virginia’s possession time throughout the game. In contrast, UNC struggled on third and fourth downs, only converting 4 out of 13 attempts and 0 out of 2 attempts, despite having a high third-down conversion rate of 57% throughout the season.
Despite everything that happened, the University of North Carolina still had one last opportunity to secure a victory in the game with only 1:12 remaining on the clock. However, due to a missed block, Maye was tackled as he attempted his 48th pass, resulting in an interception.
Coach Brown took full responsibility for the unexpected defeat, placing the blame on himself and his coaching team. Despite being heavily favored to win by 23 points, this loss ranks as one of the worst in the school’s history. Brown firmly believes that it is the coaches’ duty to prepare the players for the game and make necessary adjustments during play, but in this case, neither task was accomplished. To add to the pressure, UNC now faces Georgia Tech, who also suffered a shocking loss at home against Boston College. It is worth noting that the Yellow Jackets were the ones who started UNC’s downward spiral last season, with one of the four worst losses in Tar Heel history.
According to Brown, our record of 6-1 is one of the strongest in the history of this school. I refuse to let this setback disrupt our progress, so we must focus on our next game and aim for a record of 7-1.
The Blue Devils were ahead of the Seminoles for three quarters.
During the third quarter, Riley Leonard was leading a lengthy drive for Duke, with his team ahead 20-17 against Florida State. Despite not being fully healthy, Leonard was able to move effectively on his injured ankle, preventing Florida State from solely focusing on Duke’s running backs. In the first half, the Blue Devils gained 144 rushing yards, with Jacquez Moore and Jordan Waters accounting for most of those yards. Leonard only ran once for a gain of 13 yards.
In the first half, Leonard only completed four passes. However, in the second half, when it mattered most, Leonard’s throwing game improved. He mainly threw short passes, but they were still effective. He targeted Jordan Moore for an eight-yard gain and Sahmir Hagans for six yards. Then, at the Florida State 35-yard line, Leonard connected with Jeremiah Hasley for a 12-yard gain and secured another first down for Duke.
Unfortunately, that was the last time Leonard would make a successful play. In the following play, FSU’s Braden Fiske took him down, causing Leonard to fall in an uncomfortable manner. Fiske also grabbed Leonard’s face mask and forcefully removed his helmet.
Duke was awarded a first down at the Seminoles’ 11 yard line due to a penalty. However, Leonard was unable to continue playing due to an injured right ankle from Fiske’s tackle.
The absence of Leonard drastically changed the dynamic of Duke’s team.
Three runs by the Blue Devils resulted in a gain of seven yards. When they reached the 4-yard line, Duke decided to pass on fourth down. Jason Calhoun was open in the end zone, but the substitute quarterback Henry Belin, who was facing the Florida State pass rush for the first time, threw the ball too far.
Jordan Travis proceeded to drive his team 96 yards in the opposite direction, resulting in the Seminoles taking their first lead of the evening after 47 minutes since the start of the game.
After that, Duke’s chances quickly fell apart. Their offense failed to make progress on two consecutive series, first going three and out and then four and out.
Florida State scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions against a fatigued Duke defense, resulting in a score of 38-20.
After Leonard exited the field, Duke only managed to gain 61 yards on 17 plays. However, over half of those yards were gained in the last four minutes when the game was already three scores ahead. In contrast, Florida State gained 223 yards in the second half.
The Blue Devils’ passing game was insufficient; a mere 76 yards in the air will not suffice against a formidable team like Florida State.
Furthermore, Duke utilized all of their resources and abilities to attempt to secure their first victory against Florida State.
Duke’s defensive effort held FSU back on two consecutive downs at the beginning of the game. Meanwhile, Jacquez Moore’s 42-yard run resulted in a score for the Blue Devils. They later added to their lead with a field goal from Todd Pelino.
Duke added 10 points before the end of the first half, with a pick six from Chandler Rivers and a three-point field goal from Pelino.
In the first half, Florida State only managed to score one offensive touchdown against the strong Duke defense. The Blue Devils held the Seminoles to 197 total yards, giving them a 20-17 lead.
In the end, the passing game of Mike Norvell’s team was intensified. Travis had a completion rate of 27 out of 36 attempts, amassing 268 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Despite losing the game, Duke was able to limit the Seminoles’ running backs to approximately 90 yards. Duke also outperformed FSU in rushing, gaining 197 yards compared to their 152. Travis contributed about 60 yards that the running backs were unable to achieve.
Duke’s ability to surpass FSU on the ground in this historically one-sided series is likely a first.
It is likely that Florida State would have emerged victorious even if Leonard had not sustained the re-injury, but the fourth quarter would have played out differently had he been able to stay in the game.
It is still possible for the ACC Championship Game to occur.
After losing on Saturday, both North Carolina and Duke still have a chance to compete for the ACC championship in Charlotte. The ACC has changed its format and will now send the top two teams with the best conference records to play at Bank of America Stadium on December 2nd.
North Carolina (6-1, 3-1 in the ACC) has a crucial match this Saturday against Georgia Tech (who has emerged victorious in four out of the last five meetings between these teams). After that, the Tar Heels will face off against Duke at home. They will conclude their season with away games against Clemson and NC State.
On Saturday, Duke (5-2, 2-1 ACC) will play against Louisville (6-1, 3-1 ACC). After that, the team will have two home games and two away games. They will face Wake Forest and Pitt at Wade Stadium, and also have away games against UNC and Virginia.
Florida State, with a record of 5-0, is currently the leading candidate for the top position. However, they still have to face a strong Miami team. Louisville and an unexpected Virginia Tech, both with only one loss, are also contenders for the top spot.
If UNC and Duke are both victorious this weekend, their game on Nov. 11 may determine which team has the advantage for the No. 2 spot in the ACC Championship Game.