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Tar Heels haunted by missed opportunities

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Some losses definitely hurt more than others, and Saturday’s last-second loss to Virginia Tech definitely qualifies as one of Carolina football’s more painful losses in recent memory. The Tar Heels thoroughly outplayed the Hokies in nearly every statistical category, averaging 7.2 yards per play against Virginia Tech while holding the Hokies to 4.9 yards per play, a difference of 2.3 extra yards gained per play. 

As is evident from that disparity, the UNC defense — bolstered by the return of more starters from suspension — delivered perhaps its best performance of the last two seasons. The Carolina defensive line consistently created havoc both against the run and the pass, leading to a stretch between the first and mid-third quarter of eight consecutive Hokie drives ending in no points (including a turnover). 

But Carolina repeatedly fell short at every opportunity to put the game away, including two missed field goals, a dropped pass on a sure 85-yard touchdown, a badly misplaced throw to a wide-open receiver in the end zone, an unlucky fumble just before crossing the goal line for a touchdown, and a failure to contain the quarterback on a fourth-and-long conversion on the Hokies’ final drive. Change any one of these outcomes and Virginia Tech never gets the opportunity to score a go-ahead touchdown with seconds remaining and never escapes Chapel Hill with a win.

FORTIN IMPRESSES BEFORE EXIT

True freshman Cade Fortin started at quarterback and brought a spark to the Carolina offense in the first half, as Fortin’s strong arm kept the Hokie defense honest. Even more impressive was the way Fortin handled his first college start, showing the ability to process information quickly and make quick decisions without appearing rushed. Although his final statistics (10 for 18 for 97 yards) were pedestrian, those numbers do not account for the aforementioned perfectly-thrown 85-yard touchdown that was dropped.

Unfortunately, in a development that seems perfectly in keeping with Carolina football of late, Fortin left the game late in the second quarter with an injury to his lower right leg — the same leg that was broken in his senior year of high school and required surgery. Asked on Monday, head coach Larry Fedora said he did not yet have an update on Fortin’s status for the rest of the year.

KELLY BRYANT VISITS CHAPEL HILL

Former Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant, who will be a graduate transfer for the 2019 season, visited UNC for the Virginia Tech game. If early chatter is to be believed, Carolina impressed Bryant on his visit and is now in a great position to land the quarterback who led the Tigers to last year’s College Football Playoff. The Tar Heels are one of several teams in the running for Bryant, including Arkansas — which is coached by Chad Morris, who recruited Bryant to Clemson, Missouri, and Louisville. 

BASKETBALL SEASON IS UPON US

Carolina basketball celebrated the start of a new season with another installment of Late Night with Roy on Friday evening, including the official unveiling of Roy Williams Court and new Smith Center jumbotrons.

In addition to lots of the usual festivities and dancing, the event featured a three-point contest won by Luke Maye and Andrew Platek (tie) over Cameron Johnson, who hit the same number of shots but did not get the benefit of the extra points from the “money ball.”

In scrimmage play, freshmen Nassir Little stood out with nine points, including an impressive dunk, while fellow freshman Coby White, a product of Greenfield School, failed to score but flashed an attacking style and outstanding athleticism that bodes well for his ability to contribute (and perhaps start) from day one. Together with a solid veteran core, that bodes well for a uniquely balanced Carolina squad in the 2018–19 season.

BASKETBALL RECRUITING

Late Night with Roy always marks a key recruiting weekend, and this one was no exception, as the Tar Heels hosted four top prospects, led by 2019 guard Boogie Ellis (the No. 25 prospect in the country according to the 247 Composite rankings) and 2020 commitment Day’Ron Sharpe. 2020 wing Ziaire Williams (Sherman Oaks, Calif.) and 2021 guard Tyler Rice (Columbia, S.C.) rounded out the visitors.

STAT OF THE WEEK

1 for 7: North Carolina scored one touchdown on seven trips inside the Virginia Tech red zone.

Jason Staples has covered college football since 2007. You can follow him on Twitter @DocStaples and check out more of his work at InsideCarolina.com.

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