With the help of LeBron James, Michael Carter ready to 'learn from' late-game fumble
The sophomore back fumbled at Virginia Tech's one-yard line, setting up the Hokies' eventual 98-yard game-winning drive and 22-19 win.
Sophomore running back Michael Carter (8) runs through a group of opposing players during the Tar Heels' 22-19 loss against Virginia Tech on the night of Saturday, October 13, 2018 in Keenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC.
On Friday night, Michael Carter was watching Episode 2 of “The Shop,” LeBron James’ HBO talk show, when he heard something that confused him.
In a conversation with the rapper Drake, James said that losing in the 2011 NBA Finals was the best thing that happened to his career. The first reaction of Carter, UNC’s sophomore running back: "Dang … what?!"
“And then he explained it,” Carter said. “It was because, well, he didn’t show up. And he knows that. He acknowledges that. So, I’m going to have to acknowledge this.”
In the case of Carter, ‘this’ was fumbling at the one-yard line, as UNC held a 19-14 lead over Virginia Tech on Saturday night. ‘This’ was having the best rushing performance of his college career — 18 carries for 165 yards, both career highs — soured. ‘This’ was watching the Hokies march 98 yards down the field, for a last-second touchdown and a 22-19 win.
“I think for me to say I’m just going to completely forget about it would be stupid,” he said. “I think it’s something I can learn from.”
The Tar Heels (1-4, 1-2 ACC) made countless errors in their loss. Kicker Freeman Jones missed two field goals. UNC drove the ball to Virginia Tech’s 26-yard line, or closer, nine times and only scored one touchdown. The North Carolina defense allowed three third-down and one fourth-down conversion on the Hokies’ game-winning drive.
None was more magnified, though, than Carter’s — such is the nature of football. Earlier in the drive, the Tar Heels were backed up into a third-and-15 on their own 7-yard line. Quarterback Nathan Elliott stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike down the seam to tight end Carl Tucker, who rumbled 80 yards to the Virginia Tech's 13-yard line to the deafening applause of Kenan Memorial Stadium.
After Carter carried up the middle twice more for 11 yards, a VT offsides penalty set the stage for the perfect ending. On his career day, Carter would ice the game with a touchdown, from one yard out.
Instead, the 5-foot-9 back was stuffed on an I-formation run. Hokies defensive back Tyree Rodgers hit him low, and the ball popped straight up into the air. Jovonn Quillen recovered it at Virginia Tech’s two-yard line, with 6:13 left in the game. The touchdown drive followed.
“When we go into that meeting tomorrow, we’re going to point out every dang good thing he did in that game, and then we’re going to point out anything that was bad in the game,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “He knows. Michael Carter knows better than anybody right now. I guarantee you, that guy is hurting. He’s hurting.”
Teammates had nothing but compliments for Carter. He averaged 9.2 yards per carry and ran for a game-long 49 yards, twice. Add in his two catches for 19 yards, and he had 20 touches on the night for 184 yards — over a third of UNC’s total offensive production.
“You know, being the competitor that he is, obviously he’s going to feel hurt,” safety J.K. Britt said of Carter. “The good thing about it? In the locker room, nobody’s down on him. Everybody’s picking him up, because we know how great of a player he is. He helped get us to a point to win the game.”
Fedora on RB Michael Carter, who had 18 carries for 165 yards (9.2 ypc) but also fumbled at the one-yard line, which gave VT a chance for the game-winning drive it converted: pic.twitter.com/U5rjvkCl9w
“He’s a guy who has a lot of energy,” defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge said. “He’s the guy that keeps everybody up. So, to have him not be the same Michael, I think we all had to just rally around him — keep him up — because he’s definitely a catalyst for our team.”
“He played great, played tough, ran tough,” Elliott said. “Couldn’t be more proud of him.”
After football games, the UNC athletic communications staff selects players for postgame availability. Carter was not chased down for comment or forced into talking. The decision to speak was likely his.
So he did so, candidly, as he always does. Carter shouted out Rodgers, the defender who forced the fumble. He complimented his offensive line for constantly winning one-on-one battles. And he refused to indulge in his yardage total as a remedy for his mistake.
“I fumbled,” Carter said. “It was a pretty critical point in the game. And for me to be like, ‘Yeah, well at least I played a good game,’ it would be selfish of me. So, it doesn’t matter. I mean, I played pretty well. But, like I said, it’s not about me. It’s about winning.”
A bit of Michael Carter's postgame interview. He was visibly upset but still gave some candid quotes, as per usual pic.twitter.com/kxIctZl7JF
Minutes earlier, Fedora showed a rare glimpse of emotion as he spoke on Carter, and the film session and tough love.
“There’s no doubt in my mind Michael Carter will bounce back,” he said. “He’s going to work as hard as he does, every single day, because he can’t work any harder. He can’t give you more than he did. He works his butt off. He’ll be all right. He’ll learn from it, and he’ll be a better running back because of it, and we’ll be a better team because of it.”
Maybe fumbling at the one-yard line in a midseason game isn’t identical to losing in the 2011 NBA Finals. But Saturday night offered Carter a chance to think about a mistake — one that, to the best of his memory, he’s never made before in such a key moment — and take something away from it.
Based on his postgame comments, he seems to have acknowledged it.