It's hard to win a game when you turn the ball over four times. The Tar Heels found this out the hard way on Saturday. With quarterback Nathan Elliott facing a third-and-ten deep in his own territory, he fired a pass that was intercepted and returned to the 23-yard line. At the time, the game was scoreless but the errant throw allowed California to score the first touchdown of the game to take a 7-0 lead.
From there, it was all down hill for UNC. Elliott proceeded to throw two more interceptions in the first half, including one that was returned for a touchdown.
Not only did the turnovers allow California to get the ball in Tar Heel territory, but they also prevented UNC's defense from getting much rest.
On the day, UNC managed more yards (301-279) than Cal, but the four turnovers were just too much for head coach Larry Fedora's team to overcome. Against East Carolina, Elliott will need to be safer with the football to give his team a chance to even its record.
Strong defensive play
While UNC's offense seemed to flounder during the first half, the defense was more than holding its own. The Tar Heels came out energized and managed to put pressure on Golden Bear quarterback Ross Bowers. UNC managed four sacks on the day, with two coming from redshirt senior defensive end Malik Carney. He also led all Tar Heels with eight tackles on the day.
Linebackers Jonathan Smith and Dominique Ross also played very well in the contest. Smith managed two tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks, and helped hold senior running back Patrick Laird to just 3.3 yards per carry on the day. Ross showed his versatility, deflecting four passes in coverage and managing five tackles. His energy and speed will be vital for UNC this season and he gives the team a new defensive weapon at a position that some thought was not particularly strong coming into the season.
The Tar Heel defense only gave up 17 points, considering one of California's touchdowns was on an interception return, and looked energized throughout the contest. Even with Carney set to begin a four-game suspension next week, UNC looks strong on the defensive side of the ball moving forward.
Just as it is hard to win games while turning the ball over four times, it's also hard to win games when you commit 13 penalties. With the game still scoreless and Cal facing a long third down in Tar Heel territory, Bowers threw an incomplete pass. However, safety Myles Dorn was called for pass interference on the play, giving the Golden Bears a first down. Cal eventually scored a touchdown and from there the momentum had shifted in its favor.
For the game, UNC gave up 124 yards via penalties, compared to just five penalties for 35 yards from the Golden Bears.
As close as the final score was, its safe to say those penalty yards made a difference in dictating the outcome.
UNC has reason to be encouraged. The Tar Heels outscored the Golden Bears 17-7 in the second half and showed plenty of fight after coming out flat to start the game. But UNC will need to play much better in the opening half moving forward to give itself a chance to win games.
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