UNC still can’t beat Florida State. Here’s what else we learned in the Tar Heels’ loss.

By C.L. Brown

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina crumbled to Florida State 35-25 Saturday in Kenan Stadium, despite emphasizing all week how they took the Seminoles for granted in last year’s loss in Tallahassee.

FSU (2-4, 1-1 ACC) recorded its first ACC win of the season, while the Tar Heels (3-3, 2-3) can write off any hopes of rallying to win the Coastal Division.

Here’s five things we learned from the Tar Heels’ loss to Florida State:

The curse of FSU?

Maybe it’s just not meant to be for UNC coach Mack Brown against his alma mater. He fell to a combined 0-8 against Florida State in his two terms as the Tar Heels head coach.

The Seminoles were the ACC’s marquee program in the 1990s when Brown lost six matchups against FSU’s legendary coach Bobby Bowden.

The Noles have been a struggling program the past two seasons when Carolina entered the game as the favorite. And Saturday’s loss can’t be chalked up to the Heels playing poorly in a night road game.

UNC soared in its previous three home games, averaging 49 points per game. But the Heels were not sharp Saturday in losing despite being a 17.5-point favorite.

Again with the running quarterbacks

Quarterback Jordan Travis rushed for 107 yards last year in FSU’s win over the Heels. He nearly had that at halftime on Saturday. Travis seemed to always make a play just when it looked like UNC defenders were closing in for a tackle. His 53-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave FSU the lead for good.

Travis finished with 121 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. He added another three scores passing on 145 yards.

Travis dissected the Heels defense just as Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims did in the Yellow Jackets’ 45-22 win. Sims rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns.

What happened to the discipline?

Carolina entered the game ranked fifth in the ACC in average penalty yards per game. The Heels had averaged just 52.2 yards and a little over five flags per game.

That all fell apart against the Noles from the start.

Receiver Josh Downs was called for a false start on a third down of the game’s opening drive when UNC had reached the FSU 30. Facing third-and-11, quarterback Sam Howell was forced out of the pocket and picked up just 1 yard. Carolina settled for Grayson Atkins’ 51-yard field goal.

UNC finished with a season-high 12 penalties for 110 yards including a defensive delay-of-game penalty for “disconcerting signals” that caused a FSU lineman to false start.

Losing first down

Carolina’s defense had trouble stopping the Seminoles because it could not get them into second-and-long situations. The Noles averaged 8.7 yards per play on first down. They rushed for 149 yards on 19 runs on first down. They completed each of their five passing attempts on first down. And they scored three touchdowns on first down plays including a 32-yard pass and Travis’ 53-yard run.

Passing game was one dimensional

Downs again led the Tar Heels in receptions and yards, hauling in nine passes for 121 yards and extending his touchdown streak to seven consecutive games. But the offense at times seemed like he was the only passing option.

Downs was targeted 16 times. The second highest targets for UNC receivers was Emery Simmons, who had seven targets but only caught one pass.

It certainly didn’t help that Howell had dropped passes. Khafre Brown continues to be in a slump. He was the intended receiver on a pass Howell had intercepted in the end zone, and it didn’t appear that Brown made enough of a play to attempt to break up the pass. Brown also had a big drop in the third quarter on a play where he had a lot of running room had he caught it clean.

Howell finished with a season-low 203 passing yards on 17 of 32 attempts.


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