UNC can’t hang on against NC State. What we learned in Tar Heels’ loss to the Wolfpack

·4 min read

North Carolina overcame its slow start in yet another road night game. But it couldn’t make up for its horrific finish against N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium on Friday night.

The Tar Heels (6-6, 3-5 ACC) blew a 30-21 lead with 2:12 left in the game and fell to the Wolfpack 34-30.

Carolina’s defense played well for most of the game, but allowed a 64-yard touchdown pass with 1:35 left after it appeared to be miscommunication between the safety and cornerback. When the Wolfpack recovered an on-sides kick, UNC got a roughing the passer penalty on Ray Vohasek and a pass interference penalty on Storm Duck, which set up Emezie Emeka’s game-winning 24-yard touchdown catch with 1:09 left.

The loss was just UNC coach Mack Brown’s second in his last 25 games in ‘Big Four’ rivalry games.

The Tar Heels fell behind 14-0, matching their games at Pitt (17-0) and Virginia Tech (14-0) where they trailed by at least two touchdowns. Carolina did not have a first half lead in any of its road games this season. (It trailed Georgia Tech 13-7 and Notre Dame 17-13.)

A British night

UNC senior running back British Brooks rushed for 99 yards total last season and just 166 yards in the first three seasons of his career. He’s mainly been a star on special teams where only the coaching staff and his teammates appreciated his value.

He was probably best known for starting in the Orange Bowl last season after Michael Carter and Javonte Williams announced they were both skipping the game to begin preparing for the NFL draft.

That all changed on Friday.

North Carolina’s British Brooks (24) breaks open for a 40-yard run in the first quarter as N.C. State’s Joshua Pierre-Louis (4) works to make the stop on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.
North Carolina’s British Brooks (24) breaks open for a 40-yard run in the first quarter as N.C. State’s Joshua Pierre-Louis (4) works to make the stop on Friday, November 26, 2021 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C.

Brooks filled in for D.J. Jones as the backup to Ty Chandler. He did the same last week and led the team with 89 yards rushing against Wofford. But that was a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.

Brooks, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship, followed his personal best with his first career 100-yard rushing game against the Pack. He finished with 124 yards and averaged 8.3 yards per carry. He powered UNC’s running game, which posted a season-high in 297 yards allowed by the Pack

Making dad proud (in the wrong colors)

Josh Downs, whose father Gary Downs played running back for N.C. State in the early 90s, is now in Carolina’s single-season record book for both receptions and receiving yards against the Pack. Downs had eight catches for 75 yards, which brought his season totals to 98 catches and 1,273 yards.

Ryan Switzer held the mark with 96 catches in 2016. Hakeem Nicks had held the record for receiving yards with 1,222 in 2008.

The only thing that would have made Gary Downs more proud is if his son was posting those numbers for the Wolfpack. Josh Downs grew up a N.C. State fans from going to games and being around the program. His college decision came down to Carolina and N.C. State too, but he felt his skills fit with the offensive system the Tar Heels ran better.

N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary (13) is sacked by North Carolina’s Tomon Fox (12) and Raymond Vohasek (51) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against UNC at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, November 26, 2021.
N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary (13) is sacked by North Carolina’s Tomon Fox (12) and Raymond Vohasek (51) during the first half of N.C. State’s game against UNC at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, November 26, 2021.

Leary under pressure

The Wolfpack were tied for second in the ACC entering the game, after allowing just 19 sacks through 11 games. Carolina brought pressure that N.C. State quarterback Devin Leary had only seen when he was sacked four times at Mississippi State.

UNC linebacker Tomon Fox had 1.5 of his 2.5 sacks in the first half, including on when the Pack reached the UNC 31 with less than a minute left in the second quarter. That sack proved to be instrumental in taking them out of field goal range. When State did gain some of those lost yards back, they had to rush kicker Christopher Dunn on the field and he missed a 50-yard attempt.

Carolina finished with a season-high seven sacks, which also passed Mississippi State for the most against the Pack this season.

Kicking game failures

Carolina prided itself in the improvements it made in its punt blocking abilities this season. Giovanni Biggers had two of the team’s four blocked punts, which led the ACC. But the Wolfpack flipped that on Carolina’s first punt attempt.

Ben Kiernan’s punt was blocked and recovered in the end zone for State’s first score before it had an offensive series. It was eerily similar to how UNC began its road loss at Florida State last season. The Seminoles partially blocked a punt and scored a touchdown on the ensuing possession.

The Wolfpack blocked a second put in the second quarter. And when kicker Christopher Dunn recovered his own on-sides kick it set up the game-winning score for the Pack.

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