Nothing the ‘Canes could have done in this game would have satisfied an agitated fan base. And yet they managed to throw a piece of blood red meat to the masses again, with a lackadaisical, lackluster offensive performance. Of course, you tell me before the game that the ‘Canes force 7 turnovers, have 450 yards, and Jacory Harris throws no INTs, and I tell you this is an epic blowout. Instead, the offense managed to muster only 21 offensive points. What went wrong? What continues to go wrong? Well, several things:
You have to start up top. How is it possible that we threw 25 times in the first half? Just incredible. He will not stick with the run. If it is true that some booster donated a boatload of money to pay Whipple’s salary, that guy must feel like the person who bought a Toyota for reliability only to discover the brakes don’t work. Way too much passing in the first half. For one glorious drive in 2nd half, he did run to set up the pass, and it was outstanding. Then, more shotgun. More disaster. By passing this much, and calling so many deep, low percentage plays, the offense is flatly inefficient. You can get away with this crap against Duke, but you cannot waste the sort of field position against anyone else on the schedule. The NFL plays we are running are too complicated. The back shoulder throws squeezed in front of the safety. That looks great when it is Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne. It won’t work consistently in college. The players aren’t good enough and don’t have enough practice time to make everything perfect. Perfection is required in the NFL. In college, simplicity rules the day. The more complex you make things, the more you increase the chances of a screw up, and screw ups short circuit drives. Screw ups are how you have great field position, 1 offensive turnover, 450 yards, and 21 points.
If this becomes a problem, we are in deep shit. Both of these fumbles were completely avoidable, boneheaded plays. The opening kickoff, Cooper bobbled it. That happens. But, instead of simply falling on it, or securing it then running, he picked it up like a loaf of bread and started running. He got hit before he ever put the ball away. Fumble, recovered by Duke. And then Damien Berry with his 2nd fumble in as many games. He inexplicably left his feet diving in the redzone, and was hit mid-air, with the ball squirting lose. Neither of really should have happened.
Here is an amazing stat. In 90 passes spanning the Ohio State, Pitt and half the Clemson game, Jacory threw 8 INTs. In 97 passes since his second INT against Clemson, he has thrown 1 INT, which was a force into coverage on a 4th down late against FSU where he waited as long as possible, then eventually had to force the ball because no one came open. That is an improvement from 1 INT in every 11.25 passes to 1 INT in every 97 passes. Ask any ‘Canes fan what Jacory’s biggest problem is, and they will say INTs. So, having seemingly corrected that problem (or dramatically improved it), what exactly has gone wrong to make the offense look worse, even if Jacory has fixed what most consider to be the biggest problem with his game?
My theory…Whipple’s offense needs a risk a taker. He calls high risk-high reward plays. And Jacory, running that offense, has been feast or famine. The offense completely doesn’t work with Jacory being a caretaker. He has cut the INTs way down, thrown the ball away, even tucked the ball and run (he had his second rushing TD of the season against Duke)..and the offense has ground to a halt. Sure enough, in that INT campaign (8 INTs in 90 passes), the Hurricanes scored a total 61 points in roughly 2 and a half games (not counting 2 special teams scores). In the roughly 2 and half games since, the Hurricanes have 48 points (not counting the defensive TD against Duke). And that 2nd period of 2 and a half games includes an entire game with Duke. The offense was creating more opportunities when Jacory was taking more risks. This neutered, care-taker version is not moving the ball at all. Jacory has 2 rushing TDs to 1 passing TD in the last 2 games. It’s bad enough that Whipple is calling NFL deep passes that require precision and throws into coverage. But it becomes downright disastrous when you couple that with a QB that is not going to consistently force those throws. The offense has stagnated. Jacory was abysmal in the first half, mostly on downfield, low percentage throws and play calls and completed only 36% of his passes. In the second half, there were a lot more underneath throws, he recovered to complete 80% of his passes, and 50% for the game, making his line look decent at 17/34, 224 yards, 1 TD passing, 1 TD rushing, and 0 INTs. The 2nd half run heavy gameplan is the way forward.
The one area Randy Shannon seemed to have cleaned up was penalties. Not anymore. 12 for 90 yards here, which is awful. Even worse was the nature of those penalties. A comedy of errors as the Hurricanes repeatedly lined up offsides and Leonard Hankerson false started twice. There are forced turnovers, a hold or pass interference where you get beat and don’t have a choice. And then there are ridiculously idiotic, unforced penalties the likes of which the ‘Canes repeatedly committed.
3rd and 4th down conversions
Combined, the team went 3-for-16 on 3rd and 4th down, which ultimately lead to the lackluster point total. And these were not all 3rd and 4th and longs…here is the list:
- 3rd and 11 from Miami 37: Incomplete pass when Hankerson dropped a perfectly thrown deep route.
- 3rd and 11 at midfield: 9-yard completion to Aldarius Johnson.
- 4th and 2 at Duke 41: 3-yard loss on run by Damien Berry.
- 3rd and 5 at midfield: incomplete pass
- 3rd and 9 at Miami 46: 17 yard pass to Hankerson.
- 3rd and 4 at Duke 49: Damien Berry rushed for 2 yards.
- 3rd and 9 at Duke 48: incomplete pass
- 4th and 9 at Duke 48: Fake punt…Ray Ray got stuffed at the line.
- 3rd and 3 at Duke 39: Jacory threw behind Benjamin, who was open on a little slant. His worst throw of the game.
- 4th and 3 at Duke 39: We went deep, incomplete.
- 3rd and 15 at Miami 31: incomplete pass
- 3rd and 5 at Miami 46: 7 yard completion to Hankerson
- 3rd and 18 at Miami 24: 5 yard run for Berry
- 3rd and 11 at Duke 47: 12 yard completion to Benjamin
- 3rd and 5 at Duke 30: incomplete
- 4th and 5 at Duke 30: incomplete
Several of those were manageable, but the team just self-destructed.
There were some good things in this game.
- Kelvin Cain – Just a strong performance for a true freshman. Especially considering how much coverage responsibility he was forced to take on. 1 forced fumble, 1 recovered fumble and several nice plays in pass coverage. He also didn’t miss any tackles. Sadly (or excitedly), he was much better than Colin McCarthy. It will definitely be disappointing if he isn’t starting next week.
- Asante Cleveland – We might have a TE. He ran proper TE routes. Have you ever noticed how Chase Ford is always double covered? That is because he doesn’t run routes properly, and settle down in holes in the coverage. Well, Cleveland showed the proper way to do things here. He might have only finished with 2 catches for 20 yards, but he managed to get wide open and cleanly catch the ball. Frankly, he should start given that he halved he production of Ford and Gordon (each with 4 catches total for the season) in only a handful of plays.
- Turnovers. Yes, it’s Duke. Yes, not all the turnovers were forced. But 7 turnovers is 7 turnovers, and for a team that came into the year with major question marks in this area, forcing 7 turnovers is a big step forward, regardless of opponent.
- Pass defense. Duke was actually the 15th ranked passing team coming into this game, but they only had 187 here (more than 100 yards short of their average) and the ‘Canes had 5 INTs, including a pick 6.
Obviously, if the ‘Canes don’t clean up a lot of the penalties, and work in some high percentage pass plays, next week has disaster potential. This game did nothing to inspire confidence going forward. A win is a win and all that jazz, but we all would have slept easier had the team come out and look like they gave a crap.