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Thursday, December 30, 2010
Instant analysis: UNC 30, Tennessee 27 (2 OT)

By Chris Low

North Carolina defeated Tennessee 30-27 in double overtime Thursday night in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.

Here’s an instant analysis from the game:

How the game was won: The Vols seemingly had the game won, but imploded in the final 31 seconds of regulation. The Tar Heels, with no timeouts left, connected on a 28-yard pass down the sideline and then picked up an additional 15 yards when Tennessee’s Janzen Jackson was whistled for a personal foul penalty for leading with his head. The Tar Heels tied the game on Casey Barth’s 39-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, but only after the officials put one second back on the clock after a review from the booth determined there was still one second remaining when North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates spiked the ball. The Tar Heels were penalized for having too many men on the field when their field goal team tried to run onto the field, but they still got one last play because there's no 10-second runoff in college football similar to the NFL. Another 15-yard penalty on the Vols occuring after Barth's game-tying field goal gave North Carolina the ball on the 12 in the first overtime. After both teams scored touchdowns in the first overtime, Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray was intercepted by Quan Sturdivant in the second overtime, and Tar Heels won it on Barth’s 23-yard field goal.

Turning point: Tennessee took the lead with 5:16 to play on Bray’s 8-yard touchdown pass to freshman Justin Hunter, but Daniel Lincoln’s extra point was partially blocked. That made the score 20-17 and left the door open for North Carolina to tie the game with a field goal, which the Tar Heels were able to do on the final play of regulation.

Turning point II: Giving up the 28-yard completion on North Carolina’s first play there at the end of regulation was unforgivable. The only thing that beats you there, especially with the Tar Heels out of timeouts, is a big play, and the only thing worse than that was giving up a big gainer that becomes even bigger because of an ill-advised personal foul penalty.

Player of the game: Bray’s late interception was a killer, but he has a great future and made some big-time throws against the Tar Heels. He finished 27-of-45 for 308 yards with four touchdown passes and three interceptions. Other than the interceptions, the other thing he can afford to cut down on are the throat-cut gestures and salutes.

Stat of the game: The Vols had three personal foul/unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the final 31 seconds of regulation and during the first overtime period.

Second guessing: The Vols got overly conservative at the end of regulation and decided to run the ball straight up the middle three straight times, which came back to bite them. Don't you have to try something there other than a run right up the middle? One first down, and the game's over.

Record performance: Bray had career highs in attempts (45) and completions (27).

What it means: The Vols (6-7) suffered through their third losing season in the past six years, which will be even more difficult for them to stomach when you consider they lost two games this season when they were actually celebrating at the end of the game because they thought they’d won. It was a similar scenario in the LSU loss back in October when the Vols had 13 defenders on the field at the end of the game, giving the Tigers one last shot. Granted, that last offensive play by North Carolina in regulation was quirky with the second being added back on the clock after a review. But ultimately, the Vols have only themselves to blame for not finishing the game. They had hoped to go into the offseason with some momentum. Instead, they go into these next few months trying to figure out how they let this game slip away in the final seconds in what was essentially a home game in Nashville. And with the loss, Tennessee has now lost four straight bowl games to ACC teams.