North Carolina head coach, Mack Brown, called his team’s game against Georgia Tech a “test.” He explained, “Basically, this was a test for us to see if, after we spent so much energy against Clemson, we could come back and do it again. I thought they played hard tonight, they played with passion tonight, and did a lot of good things.”
After every game Brown has mentioned the fact that his team isn’t good enough to win if they play without passion. They only way they could win each week is to not just play hard; but play with passion. He called this win “huge” because it broke a few trends.
First, Atlanta has become a hard place for the Tar Heels to win a football game. This was only their second win at Georgia Tech since Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill ended in 1997. Atlanta had become what Charlottesville, Virginia used to be like for North Carolina, a black hole.
Second, Brown hadn’t felt like his team followed big moments like the Miami win with the passion needed to win the next week. Following the strong effort against Clemson, he was worried about his team generating the passion needed to beat Georgia Tech. In speaking with Brown last week, he mentioned that the most important takeaway or learning moment from the Clemson game for his team would be to beat the Yellow Jackets. Everything gained from the Clemson effort would be for naught if they lost in Atlanta.
Finally, Brown’s team won a second conference game and now sits at 2-1 in the ACC, which puts them right in the middle of the Coastal Division race. For a team that was picked last or next-to-last in the Coastal Division in preseason voting, they find themselves sitting in an opportune position.
Instead of trying to just make a bowl game, they have a chance to add another game onto their schedule before a bowl game. That would the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, which would most likely be a rematch against Clemson. However, there is a lot to work on and accomplish before that opportunity becomes a reality for the Tar Heels.
Our offense was rolling in Atlanta. #CarolinaFootball ? #BeTheOne pic.twitter.com/k3iKYcZd57
— Carolina Football (@TarHeelFootball) October 8, 2019
North Carolina returns home from Atlanta and enters their bye week, as they have reached the halfway point in their season. It seems like every single week Brown is asked what he has learned about his team. His answer usually focuses on big picture items as he continues to remake the program in his vision. Right now, that answer revolved around “…the fact that they want to be good. They understand the difference in when we played against Clemson, South Carolina and Miami and the difference in the Wake game and the App game where they thought they were there, but they weren’t.”
Let’s take it a step further and breakdown how the Tar Heels have gotten to this point, and how those factors will influence where they end up at the end of the season.
First, the Tar Heels have found their quarterback for the future in Sam Howell. It’s safe to say he has surpassed all expectations so far and that could be bad news for the ACC. After six games he leads the ACC in passing yards(1544) and passing touchdowns(15). Having his offensive line starting to find some consistency and a rushing attack that is averaging 163 ypg will only help Howell’s efficiency moving forward. North Carolina will go as far as Howell takes them.
Second, one of the question marks coming into the season was the wide receiver group. They had experience coming back but it was mixed amounts of experience due to injuries over the last two years. Dyami Brown has emerged as a guy who take the top off a defense at any moment. He is currently tied for second place in the ACC in touchdown receptions, and he is a highlight reel waiting to happen every week.
Beau Corrales has become Howell’s safety valve as he seems to come down with any ball Howell throws his way, particularly in red zone situations. As the season has progressed the play of Dazz Newsome and Toe Groves keeps improving to the point now where Howell has an array of weapons at his disposal. What was once a question mark for Brown’s team, this position group is now contending to be one of the best in the ACC.
Third, the linebacker group has performed far better than the most optimistic Tar Heel fan, or coach, could have predicted at this point in the season. Chazz Surratt has successfully made the transition from the quarterback position; and he may have been the best player on the field in the Clemson game. He’s currently third in the ACC in tackles.
Jeremiah Gemmel is right there with Surratt in total tackles, and he has become the captain of that defense. Add in senior Dominique Ross’s pass-rushing capabilities and you have one of the more high-performing linebacker groups in the ACC at this point in the season. The defense has played better than many predicted; and it is the reason Brown’s team has been in every single game all the way down to the final series. This linebacker group needs to remain consistent and stay healthy for North Carolina to have a chance of reaching Charlotte.
Six games into this season and the Tar Heels sit at 3-3. It may not seem like anything special to the casual outside observer, but it is to players and coaches in that locker room. If you had cornered Brown in his office back on August 1st and offered him a 3-3 record to start the season, he would have taken it in a heartbeat. More importantly, if you had told him he would have a team that believes they have a chance to do more, maybe even make it to Charlotte, he would tell you that’s why he returned to the sidelines.
The opportunity to keep changing trends is sitting right in front of Brown’s team. However, one thing hasn’t changed since week 1. The opportunity to rewrite their future depends on one thing. The passion to make it happen.