Sunday Storylines: The What Ifs
Carolina came up just short of pulling off a furious comeback Saturday. Erik Highsmith was unable to hold on to what would have been the go-ahead touchdown pass late in the game, and the Tar Heels dropped their second straight. But Highsmith didn't lose the game for the Tar Heels; a different outcome on several plays throughout the course of the action could have changed the outcome.
•In front of a hostile environment, the Tar Heels had serious issues with the center-quarterback exchange. Several times Russell Bodine struggled to get a shotgun snap to Bryn Renner, short-circuiting a drive. On the team's third possession, Renner had to fall on the ball and take a loss of four yards. Then, a snap over his head cost the team 24 yards, setting up a 2nd and 34. Late in the game, the team burned a timeout after Renner was begging for the snap deep in Carolina territory. All day long, Renner had to adjust to a high or low snap, throwing off the offensive rhythm. Those kinds of mistakes cost the team yardage and precious downs, and they must be corrected. "You know what? It happened in practice this week, too, and we didn't get it corrected," Fedora said after the game.
"We've just got to keep working on it," Renner said. "Shotgun is something we didn't obviously do last year a whole lot, but for the most part, Russell and Peyton (Jenest) did a great job. There were a few here and there that are on me and on him, and we can make those work, but we've just got to keep working at it."
•With just a glance at the box score, you might say that Carolina 'won' the penalty column, as the Tar Heels took six for 38 yards while the Cardinals were called for six and lost 53 yards. But one penalty in particular - Ebron's false start on 3rd and goal at the Louisville 3 - cost the Tar Heels crucial yardage on what could have been the game-winning drive. In fact, on that play, it appeared that Renner would have reached the end zone on a quarterback draw."We make it a point in our keys to victory, no self-inflicted wounds, and no pre- or post-snap penalties." Renner said. "We didn't execute in that category today."
•Within sight of the press box at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium stands what used to be Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. It's an abandoned theme park that, from a distance, looks like a world of fun. Up close, however, it's a ghost town. The roller coasters and ferris wheel are still there, but there's no one to enjoy them. The amusement attractions that provided so much excitement sit unused and unable to do their jobs.
During the first half of Saturday's game, it appeared that the Carolina offense was much like that abandoned theme park: not in working order. Lightning return man T.J. Thorpe injured his foot in training camp and has yet to play a down in 2012. Thousand-yard rusher Giovani Bernard was hurt in the opener against Elon and has played a single half this season. Jheranie Boyd, the senior wide receiver able to make plays with both his hands and feet, did not travel to Louisville. Finally, tight end Jack Tabb appeared to suffer a lower-body injury early in Saturday's game. Carolina still had some playmakers, sure; Eric Ebron is a budding superstar at tight end, Erik Highsmith is a veteran at wideout able to move the ball downfield, and Romar Morris was electric catching the ball out of the backfield. But one wonders what the Tar Heel attack could truly be like with the threat of Bernard, Boyd and Thorpe.
•At the end of the day, though, it is a loss that the Tar Heels will learn from. Facing a 29-point halftime deficit, they could have folded, but they refused to count themselves out. Louisville had the fireworks in the first half, sure, but there was another 30 minutes to play. The Tar Heels planted the seed of doubt in the minds of the Cardinals and made a terrific effort. "This team is not done," Fedora said. "We're in our third game of new systems in all three areas, but what we did learn today about the Tar Heels is there's a lot of fight in them. They've got something inside of them, and that alone will give us a chance. We'll get better, but we will definitely learn from this mistake, and we will get better from it. We will work harder in practice. It still comes down to how you prepare, and we've got to get better doing that."