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September 25, 2011Someone had the audacity to start a thread on our premium message board with the name "Withers Chokes."
This is an absurd notion. No one choked in Carolina's 35-28 loss at Georgia Tech on Saturday. There were enough mistakes to lose the game, but this team fought until time expired, just as it has throughout two years of turmoil created by a few players' selfishness, and poor oversight and outright backstabbing by the administration.
"I'm disappointed with the loss," interim coach Everett Withers said, "but I'm very proud of this football team, the way they came back and fought in the second half. I think we'll learn a lot about ourselves when we come back and watch tape tomorrow.
"I don't think we came out with any significant injuries other than bumps and bruises. We've got a chance to correct what we did today and get better next week, and that's the bottom line."
Did anyone realistically believe this team could cruise to 12-0 with a first-year starting quarterback, a redshirt freshman running back, a defense with more inexperience than it's had in three years? If so, you were living with at least one foot in fantasy land.
College football fans can criticize the ACC all they want, but this is a competitive, big-time football league. Ask Auburn and Ohio State.
UNC has a talented football team, but it is also a team that is growing by the day and learning to play together each week. Personally, I would be genuinely shocked if Carolina does not bounce back to play well next week against East Carolina in Greenville.
"It's my first road game, but I can't make that as an excuse," redshirt sophomore Bryn Renner. "We didn't make enough plays to win; that's what it boils down to. But I did learn a lot. We definitely want to move forward, and I look forward to ECU."
One of the beauties of Renner is no one wants him to play well and improve more than he does. He'll practically live in the film room this week, and he'll soak up coaching like a paper towel on a wet countertop.
Although he did make a couple of crucial errors, he made plenty of darn good plays as well. The television commentators gave Giovani Bernard all the credit on a desperate toss, catch and long run for a crucial first down, but Renner deserves every bit as much credit for keeping his feet under the duress of a fierce pass rush, finding Bernard and getting the ball to him. Every pass play starts with the quarterback keeping his feet, finding receivers and then throwing accurate passes. Renner did it on that play, when he easily could have been sacked.
Seven sacks did not help his cause, nor that of the team on Saturday.
He made some big-time throws during a long drive on which he found senior wide receiver Dwight Jones time and again, despite Georgia Tech knowing Jones is Renner's go-to guy.
And it is becoming apparent that Renner needs to check down to H-back Eric Ebron more often. Ebron is a freshman who is a star in the making.
Renner will receive plenty of criticism for the two interceptions he threw, and while those were critical, he once again played well otherwise. That is important because it means his baseline continues to be really solid.
He went 17-of-25 for 204 yard, two interceptions and two touchdowns.
Bernard ran 17 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns, a long of 55 yards, with an average of 9.1 yards per carry. The biggest mistake Carolina made in regards to Bernard was not running him enough.
The Tar Heels offense hurried too much in the first half after opening the game with an impressive drive for a touchdown and helped Georgia Tech's defense.
They really did exactly what they said they could not do by failing to run enough, eat clock and keep the Yellow Jackets' offense on the sideline more.
The fact that they settled down the second half and fought back to eventually tie the game in the fourth quarter is a positive sign for the rest of the season.
This team has talent across the board, but it is also an eager group that accepts coaching. Such a combination is a positive equation for a successful season, so long as they can continue to keep injuries to a minimum.