I try not to dwell too much on how NC State could be sitting here with 10 wins with a few more breaks here and there, a few more plays made, a few additional mistakes avoided. State is 3-3 in one-possession games this season, and while that’s an acceptable record in close games, man have those losses brought a lot of pain. All three of those losses hurt like hell.
But the Wolfpack can at least ease a bit of that pain by taking care of North Carolina on Saturday and wrapping up an eight-win season in the process. Nothing will fully compensate for the disappointing and brutal close losses this season, but that’d be a start.
UNC is a three-score underdog and has no post-season aspirations on account of its 3-8 record. The Tar Heels have been crushed by injuries this season—they have a list of players out for the year that is longer than most of Marvin Austin’s term papers.
In addition to massive attrition on both sides of the ball, UNC has not been able to competently replace Mitch Trubisky, and when you put those two things together, you end up with a down season. The Heels averaged 6.6 yards per play on the offensive side in 2016, but have managed only 5.3 YPP in ‘17. That’s a huge drop-off.
UNC has cycled through three different quarterbacks this fall, which is all that really needs to be said about the problem. LSU grad transfer Brandon Harris has been atrocious (1 TD pass, 8 INT), which pushed Larry Fedora to give the ball to underclassmen Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott. Surratt owned the job over the first half of the season, but Elliott has been the guy over the last month.
Both Surratt and Elliott have had their moments but overall UNC’s passing game hasn’t done much worth mention. Carolina has thrown 14 interceptions this season (it threw six all of 2016), and UNC QBs are averaging a very modest 6.7 yards per attempt. They are completing passes at only a 55% rate.
It’s not all on those guys, of course—whenever there is a rash of injury to this incredible extent, there’s going to be a detrimental trickle-down effect, and the quarterbacks receive the most attention amid a difficult situation. That’s how it goes.
Lose an NFL-caliber quarterback and struggle to adequately replace him while you’re decimated by injury and the results will be predictable. And it’s not like Carolina had the sort of defense that was going to pick up a lot of slack here even without injuries.
But this is perfect timing for Dave Doeren and NC State, which needs a strong showing on Saturday for the sake of appearances, if nothing else. Doeren has never beaten UNC in Raleigh, oddly enough, and there’s no better time to put an end to that.
This won’t end up the big year we thought was possible—and, turns out, was very possible—but some of this will be forgiven and forgotten with a decisive win over the Tar Heels.