Lucas: Rapid Reactions
1. If you had to pick out one play that turned Saturday's game, it would've come off the field and in the replay booth. Middle Tennessee thought it had capped a grinding game-opening drive with a touchdown, but it was overturned on replay. That opened the door for a key goal-line stand for the Carolina defense, which stuffed the Blue Raiders on first and goal and eventually opened the door for Tre Boston to make a nice play racing across the end zone to snare an interception later in the series.
That play by Boston took the visitors from thinking they had seven points, to thinking they had three points at minimum, to zero points. Larry Fedora likes to talk about game-changing plays: that's what that one was. "To have them drive all the way down to the one-yard line, and then you bow up and get a stop and get a turnover, that's huge," the head coach told Jones Angell after the game.
2. One area that will be tested against Georgia Tech in two weeks: the interior of Carolina's defense. The Blue Raiders gashed the middle a couple of times, and went back to it repeatedly, apparently feeling they had an advantage there. Even on a key third and seven late in the game, they tried a running play through the middle.
That will be an important play against the Yellow Jackets, who will run the fullback all afternoon at Grant Field if Carolina doesn't prove it can consistently stop it.
3. There's going to be some talk about the crowd, which was more sparse than you might like on such a gorgeous Chapel Hill afternoon. But that type of attendance concern is rampant across college football (and, truthfully, across major sports in general). Virginia Tech's 93-game sellout streak ended today. Florida State had to send out an email from Jimbo Fisher to try and spur ticket sales for their game next Saturday.
What's good about Saturday's attendance is that it showed athletic department officials exactly what the core football fan base is. Those were the people who were in their seats against the Blue Raiders (and, by the way, nice showing by the occasionally maligned students). They're going to be there no matter what. They're the ones who plan their falls around Carolina football, and don't make Saturday plans until 12 days before the game when the kickoff time is announced. The missing fans, on the other hand, might need a reason to come--whether that's a marquee opponent, more attractive starting time or gameday events surrounding the actual game itself.
And there are numerous plans in effect to try and appeal to all of those groups, from the new Tar Heel Town (seems like a solid improvement based on returns from the first game), to personnel additions charged with selling those seats you saw sitting empty on Saturday. It's one thing to have attendance concerns with no ideas on how to solve them. That's not the case in Chapel Hill. Saturday made the challenges that exist perfectly clear. Now it's time to go address them.
4. Short attention span reactions: Solid debut by Ethan Albright in his analyst role on the Tar Heel Sports Network. It's not always easy for someone with an in-depth knowledge of the game to appeal to both casual listeners and hardcore fans, but Albright bridged the gap...It looks like Carolina has found a weapon in kickoff specialist Nick Weiler, who has regularly found the end zone on kickoffs...Twelve different players caught a pass for the Tar Heels...Definite gaffe by the UNC captains, as during the coin toss they managed to talk their way into kicking off to start both halves. That's essentially the equivalent of a turnover...What a catch by Bug Howard in the fourth quarter for his first career touchdown, as seen here:
Adam Lucas is a GoHeels columnist and the editor of CAROLINA digital magazine, the official publication of UNC athletics.