If there’s one thing the North Carolina football team’s first overtime game of the season demonstrated, it’s that the defense can — and will — step up when offensive production is at a standstill.
For a defense that has allowed its opponents to score over 30 points per game this season, this game might seem out of the blue for UNC. But when No. 25 Pittsburgh began stifling the Tar Heels each time they had the ball, resilience on the defensive side of the ball kept things close, despite the final outcome — a 30-23 loss.
“Last week, the offense was the reason we won the game; the defense made a few stops in the end,” head coach Mack Brown said. “Tonight, the defense would have been the reason we won the game and the offense had to make a few plays, and they made the plays to get us back in the game. They just didn't make the plays to finish the game.”
The first half offensive effort was “the worst” Brown had ever seen — with UNC failing to muster a drive that lasted more than four plays.
Five minutes into the first quarter, junior quarterback Sam Howell was sacked for an eight-yard loss. The Tar Heels punted the ball over to the Panthers, who returned the ball to the 20-yard line and scored a touchdown in a mere four plays.
On UNC’s next possession, Howell got sacked again for a nine-yard loss, which resulted in another punt. The ensuing Pittsburgh drive led to another four plays and another touchdown for the Panthers.
Howell got the ball again, and before the clock hit the three-minute mark, was sacked for a third time. Then, Pittsburgh scored three more points off a field goal — talk about getting into a rhythm.
Sound familiar? Looking back at UNC’s previous losses, the offensive line struggled with quarterback protection. Allowing six sacks against Virginia Tech, eight against Georgia Tech and four against Notre Dame — all adding up to over 100 yards lost.
This game was no different, five sacks allowed for 30 yards lost.