Wednesday, January 15, 2014
Season wrap: North Carolina
By David M. Hale
The turning point in North Carolina’s season was actually a loss, the fourth straight for the Tar Heels. Reeling after a 1-4 start, UNC finally appeared to find its footing, leading No. 10 Miami nearly the entire game before a Dallas Crawford TD run with 16 seconds remaining completed a Hurricanes comeback.
It might’ve been the final dagger in a lost season for North Carolina. Instead, it was a building block. Freshman T.J. Logan got his first real taste of playing time, and he racked up 79 yards on 18 touches. Marquise Williams rotated in at quarterback and showed flashes of the potential that would carry UNC down the stretch. Eric Ebron had a career night, hauling in eight catches for 199 yards. By the next week, everything was starting to click.
North Carolina won five straight -- and six of its final seven -- following the Miami game, salvaging its season, making it to a bowl game and ending on a high note. More importantly, the Tar Heels identified a bevy of talented youngsters -- Logan and All-American Ryan Switzer chief among them -- that provide ample optimism for 2014.
Offensive MVP: Eric Ebron. He was arguably the best all-around tight end in the nation in 2013, leading UNC in catches (62) and yards (973). He was first-team All-ACC and a Mackey Award finalist, and he set the school record for single-season and career catches and receiving yards by a tight end. UNC’s most reliable receiving threat, 42 of Ebron’s catches went for first downs, the most by any tight end in the ACC, and eighth most overall.
Defensive MVP: Kareem Martin. It was a dismal start to the year for North Carolina’s defense, but Martin was a consistent star. He finished the season with 82 tackles -- third on the team -- while racking up 21.5 tackles for loss (fifth nationally) and 11.5 sacks (eighth nationally). Martin was the Walter Camp player of the week after dominating Pitt on Nov. 16 to get UNC back to .500, racking up eight tackles, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Best moment: Finishing strong in the Belk Bowl. It was a perfect finale for 2013 for North Carolina. Playing in nearby Charlotte, the Heels dominated Cincinnati in every phase of the game. Williams was reliable and, at times, exceptional, assuring UNC is in good shape at quarterback heading into 2014. The defense was sturdy, led by Martin’s sack of Brendon Kay in the end zone for a safety. The special teams were crucial, with Switzer returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown. By the time the 39-17 win was over, that 1-5 start to the season was nothing but a distant memory.
Worst moment: UNC's blowout loss to East Carolina. The season-opening defeat at South Carolina wasn’t encouraging, but at least it was forgivable. The 28-20 loss to Georgia Tech in Week 4 was concerning. But the blowout loss to ECU -- 55-31 in a game that was never close -- turned those concerns into an all-out catastrophe at North Carolina. The defense was in shambles (ECU racked up 603 yards) and the offense looked out of sync, with Bryn Renner being asked to do it all. It was a low point for UNC, but to the Heels’ credit, it was a loss they didn’t allow to define their season.