CFN Bowl Analysis ... Music
UNC 30 ... Tennessee 27 2OT
Apparently, North Carolina attended the Les Miles seminar on clock management.
Unlike the Pinstripe Bowl, when Kansas State got nailed with a silly unsportsmanlike foul for a salute in the end zone that all but killed the two-point conversion attempt, this had a wild finish that seemed like it should've been controversial, but it actually wasn't.
For all the weeping and gnashing of teeth that'll come from Tennessee, the replay officials got it right. There was still one second left on the clock, and even with the post-game handshakes, celebrations, and all, justice was served and North Carolina got to get its kick off. The bigger problem for the Vols was number of cheap hits and Tyler Bray's overtime interception that'll serve as motivation and a topic of discussion for the next eight months.
The disappointment felt by going from the high of the win to having to gear up for overtime will overshadow exactly how Tennessee put itself in the position to lose the game in the first place. Coaches like to stress how their teams need to do everything the right way to do as much as possible to eliminate the chaos variable, and with the inability to run the ball, and with one personal foul that was called on UNC's final drive in regulation, and a late hit that wasn't, the Vols didn't close like they needed to and North Carolina was able stay alive. But in the end, the way this game ended could be the best possible thing to happen to Volunteer football.
Kansas State was nailed for one salute in the end zone, but Bray was saluting and gesturing all night after making several big plays and didn't get flagged for any of it. He's an elite talent who'll be the face of the franchise for the next three years, and if being humbled a bit by an overtime interception, and if being slapped in the face by a disappointing loss, ends up being the catalyst that hardens Bray and the team through the adversity, then Vol fans, your team won.
But the real story here should be how North Carolina fought through its own adversity. In a full-circle kind of way, the Tar Heels started out their year trying to rally against an SEC team, LSU, with QB T.J. Yates having a huge game only to come up short. UNC had to try to overcome the stunning loss of several star defensive players to suspension, and against Tennessee, it had to get over the emotional loss of one of its defensive leaders and top playmakers, safety Deunta Williams, to a brutal leg injury, and had to try to close the season with a furious rally that ended up working this time, unlike in the LSU game.
Yeah, the cliché fits: this is what bowl games are supposed to be all about. It was a memorable game and a memorable season for both teams, and this might end up serving as the signature game of the bowl season. It could also be the game that shows what the two programs are made of and should be a positive sign for both teams going into next year.
- Lost in all the drama and craziness is that Casey Barth actually nailed the field goal. There's pressure, and then there's needing to stay focused through all the chaos. Both teams were all but walking off the field, and there was Barth warming up in case he got his chance. The 39-yarder was straight and true.
- North Carolina might have been hit with 12 penalties, but it was Tennessee that was the far chippier team. The eight Vol penalties could've easily been 15 or more with all the questionable shots taken.
- Deunta Williams is the nightmare scenario for every NFL prospect. A likely early third rounder, he could've easily have moved up on the charts and into the second round with one more great game and with a terrific workout. Now he'll be an X factor come April after injuring his leg.
- UNC QB T.J. Yates is hardly a top pro prospect, but he could be getting paid to hold a clipboard for a long time. He has the size, he has the arm, and he has shown throughout the year to have the moxie and the ability to rally the team when needed.
- Tennessee rushing yards: 27. Tyler Bray might be a talent to revolve the offense around, but Tennessee won't be Tennessee again until the ground game is fixed.
- The maligned Volunteer offensive line did a phenomenal job in the first half … in the first half. The North Carolina defensive front decided to set the dial to Aggressive in the second.
- North Carolina LB Quan Sturdivant had a phenomenal game and was a one-man wrecking crew at times against the run making 12 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss, to go along with his overtime interceptions. DE Donte Page-Moss might have set the tone for 2011 with a strong showing with 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and six tackles.
Tennessee looked a lot like the Irish flag in 2010, a lot of green in that orange and white. In Nashville, it caught up with them.
The Vols played 16 true freshmen this year, third most in the FBS. None meant more to their late-season rally than Tyler Bray, an emerging star at quarterback. At times, he was downright heroic, completing 26 passes, throwing four touchdowns, and looking anything like a rookie versus a rugged Carolina D. The Heels' poise and experience trumped youth, however, in a double-overtime thriller. It came in the form of Bray's senior counterpart T.J. Yates, who answered the bell with scoring drives immediately after Tennessee scores. It was senior LB Quan Sturdivant, essentially sealing the game with a critical OT pick. And it was senior RB Shaun Draughn, injured during the season, rushing for 161 yards and a long score. The future is bright in Knoxville, but in this game of swings, the poise of the Heels reigned supreme.
- Yeah, it's been a rocky year in Chapel Hill, but by keeping Carolina together and getting it to this point, head coach Butch Davis deserves a mulligan and a chance to return to the sidelines in 2011.
- While I love the upside of Bray, who plays as if he's channeling former Miami QB Ken Dorsey, he has to quit the antagonistic gestures after throwing touchdown passes. It's bush league and will catch up to him, especially in the SEC.
- Take that Mike Hamilton. This was supposed to be a home-and-home series until the Volunteer AD backed out, citing a desire to soften the early season schedule. Thanks to the Music City Bowl officials, UT could run, but was unable to hide from neighboring North Carolina.
- Not everyone was negatively impacted by Carolina's suspensions this season. DT Quinton Coples capitalized on his unexpected reps, showing again on Wednesday night why his NFL Draft stock is soaring.
By Matt Zemek
And you thought that the Pinstripe Bowl – aka, the Salute Bowl – would provide the full measure of controversy on a Thursday that began so innocuously.
No, the Yankee Stadium matinee with the ridiculous unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was just the warm-up for a long stretch of Music City madness. Once again, in this age of social media and instant communication, you've surely caught a whiff of this game and its denouement. There's no need to re-hash how North Carolina got to overtime and then defeated Tennessee. The story of this game – just like the Pinstripe Bowl – goes far beyond the immediate result.
What we realized in Nashville was that college football has yet another absolutely absurd rule which should be stricken from the books before the 2011 season begins. This game, on the heels of a game which involved another stupid rule, invites – nay, demands – a discussion of all the rules that need to be blown up before another college football season starts on Labor Day weekend.
Very simply, then: If you snap the ball with 14, or 16, or 18, or 20 men on the field as North Carolina did at the end of regulation, there should be an NFL-style 10-second clock run-off. It is ridiculous that the Tar Heels could be rewarded for committing a penalty. The rule is the rule, mind you – Tennessee was not robbed – but as is the case with so many other facets of college sports, either in a football rulebook or an NCAA manual, a lot of the rules on the books are bad. They need to go.
Why is it so hard to legislate college football and the larger realm of college sports, on and off the field? Why was there never a 10-second run-off penalty for having 14 men on the field? Why did coaches – like Kansas State's very own Bill Snyder – encourage the creation of unsportsmanlike conduct fouls for excessive celebrations that do NOT show up the opposing team?
Why did a legal catch of a forward pass require such convoluted and unnecessarily complex rules involving a "football move" and the completion of the act of catching? Whatever happened to having one foot down with possession of the ball, especially in the end zone?
Why should the clock re-start after penalties in the final minutes of a game just because the play involved was a completed pass in bounds? Why shouldn't the clock remain frozen for the benefit of the team that did not commit the penalty?
Why is defensive pass interference not a spot foul, and why is offensive pass interference not a 25-yard penalty on passes more than 15 yards downfield?
Please, college football (and college sports at large): There are so many rules that need to be eliminated or revised in 2011. Will enough coaches, rules committee members and other concerned football people step up to the plate and reform this sport's combination of on-field rules and off-field policies? This idiocy – which is hurting our sport – cannot be allowed to continue any longer. Good, hard-hitting, high-energy games like the Music City Bowl will continue to be overshadowed. Kids who play in these games for personal enjoyment and satisfaction will become more embittered and cynical in their own right... and that's not even counting college football's rightly disappointed fans and especially the ticket-buying members of the public.
Convene a college football rules summit after Spring Ball ends. Fix these rules. Make them simple. Make them sensible. Make them rules that honor REAL FOOTBALL. Allow us to be able to write about exciting games, not off-field controversies.
Don't be upset Tennessee fans; the call at the end of regulation was correct. I know it's painful, especially considering the debacle in Death Valley, but it's the truth. Shenanigans aside, the rest of the country got to see one of the future stars of the SEC Thursday night in Nashville.
Tyler Bray: 308 passing yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. He's a freshman and he's going to be around for a while, so if you don't know him already, you better get to know him.
While Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was taking home the Heisman and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray was getting all of the freshman hype, Bray quietly went emerged late in the season as one of the young stars in the SEC. You saw why against North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
When Bray and junior college transfer Matt Simms were battling for the Tennessee starting quarterback job this summer, the knock against Bray was that he's too skinny and needs to beef up a bit. That may be true, but if the last half of the season is any indication, it won't matter. Since taking over as the Tennessee starting quarterback on November 6, Bray has averaged 308 passing yards per game, thrown for 17 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, leading the Vols to four straight wins to close out the regular season and coming within an eyelash of beating North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
With fellow freshmen Da'Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter out there to throw to, Bray will have plenty of weapons as his Tennessee career progresses. Despite the losing record, the Vols made progress during the season, evolving from a second half pushover into a team that battled for four quarters. Don't be surprised if they take the next step in 2011 and contend for the SEC East title. Considering the question marks at Florida and Georgia, why not?