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The Daily Tar Heel

Areas of improvement for UNC football after loss to Wake Forest

UNC Football Wake Forest

UNC-Chapel Hill freshman quarterback Sam Howell (7) runs the football Friday, September 13, 2019. 

The North Carolina football team's 24-18 loss to Wake Forest on Friday was nothing if a recalibration of expectations. After a thrilling home win over Miami, the Tar Heels were 2-0 for the first time since 2014. Fans streaming out of Kenan Memorial Stadium — who perhaps had a few too many White Claws, thanks to a new stadium alcohol policy — started that most predictable of chants:

The Wake Forest game was a sobering wake-up call. The Tar Heels did nothing for an entire half, got dusted by Sage Surratt, brother of UNC football's Chazz, battled through multiple injuries and lost to a good, not great conference foe.

Still, though, North Carolina had a chance to win it at the end. Hope is not lost. UNC will get Clemson, all right: the Tigers come to Chapel Hill on Sept. 28. Here's what head coach Mack Brown's team will have to work on in the meantime — namely, in a Saturday tune-up against Appalachian State:

Do something – anything – in the first half

Here's every UNC drive before halftime of Friday's game: Punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. The Tar Heels had two first downs in the first two quarters, and quarterback Sam Howell, who had just been crowned the No. 1 true freshman in college football by ESPN, was unceremoniously pulled after going 5-10 for 15 yards in the first half.

North Carolina gained just 71 yards as a whole in that span — which was all cool, as Wake Forest began the game with three punts of its own, but then the Demon Deacons found the end zone on three consecutive drives.

Halftime: Wake Forest 21, UNC 0. 

That won't cut it.

Get creative with depth issues

The Tar Heels sorely missed the talents of cornerback Patrice Rene and center Nick Polino, a pair of starters who went down against Miami and will be out for extended time. After being sacked seven times in UNC's first two games, Howell was sacked five times on Friday alone, while Wake Forest's Surratt racked up 169 yards and a touchdown against UNC's undermanned secondary.

With Polino, a senior leader of UNC's offensive line, out indefinitely, Brown and coordinator Phil Longo could look to utilize more dump-offs and short, quick passes to alleviate pressure on Howell and keep defenses off-balance.

Problems in the secondary will be more difficult to mask. Rene is out for the year with a torn ACL; North Carolina will need to rely on its younger corners, namely sophomore Trey Morrison and first-year Storm Duck, to step up. 

A more active front line could make things more difficult on opposing quarterbacks, too. The Tar Heels sacked Wake Forest's Jamie Newman just once on Friday.

Tell Sam Howell every quarter is the fourth quarter

After getting pulled in the second quarter, Howell returned for the second half and was much improved, especially in the fourth. He threw for 120 yards and a pair of scores in the period, helping the Tar Heels score 18 unanswered points and leading a furious rally that ultimately fell short.

It's unclear what has made Howell so dependable in the clutch this season, but whatever it is, Brown needs to find out. Instead of pregame warmups, have Howell play 45 minutes of regulation football. Have the whole team in on it, with players holding up four fingers before the opening kickoff. 

Whatever it takes to help Howell replicate that late-magic throughout an entire game — because sometimes, as was the case against the Demon Deacons, an exceptional fourth quarter isn't enough.


@DTHSports |

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