UNC fans may soon wish for such inconsistency, as the Heels managed to self-destruct and simply get blown off the ball as Wake Forest rolled to a 31-0 victory before a crowd of 31,476 at Groves Stadium.
The Tar Heels were last blanked in a 13-0 loss at Florida State in 1996.
"I don't have much to say about this game," said disappointed UNC coach John Bunting. "Our offense played well in the first half but it was discouraging not to score when we were moving the football. I was disappointed in our defense. It was also frustrating because a lot of people traveled with us, and I feel bad for them."
As has been the case in most of UNC's losses, this one was rather elementary.
The Tar Heel defense - ninth in the Atlantic Coast Conference in stopping the run - once again struggled. Wake's top-rated running attack certainly had its way for the most part, but UNC's struggles against the Deacons' passing attack was most perplexing.
Demon Deacon quarterback James McPherson entered the game with just two touchdown passes on the season. Yet by halftime he had doubled that total as he completed scoring tosses to tight end Ray Thomas for 17 yards in the first quarter and 32 yards to Jason Anderson to put the Deacs up 17-0 with 4:55 left in the first half.
UNC (2-6, 0-4 ACC) was intent on stopping the Deacons on the ground, and did a fairly decent job in the first half, holding Wake to 96 yards on 25 carries. This was especially promising considering the Heels were using somewhat of a makeshift lineup, which included considerable playing time by fullback Madison Hedgecock at defensive end. But their philosophy appeared to sacrifice defending the pass instead, and the combination of McPherson and reserve QB Cory Randolph totaled 152 yards in the first half.
"We were stocking the box," said linebacker Jeff Longhaney. "We were putting seven or eight men in the box trying to stop the run. You have man-to-man coverage on the wide receivers and we don't get pressure on the quarterback. He's got time to throw and there are no defensive backs anywhere in the country that can lock down receivers for five seconds."
For the day, McPherson tossed for 177 yards
"I don't know if Wake saw something in our corners or not, but they abused our corners," said an exasperated Bunting.
In the second half, UNC couldn't stop the run either. Wake had 149 yards on the ground in the final half - 106 in the decisive third quarter alone. Overall, it was a complete breakdown for UNC.
"We don't have many players on the front line," Bunting said. "If anyone wants to play linebacker or on the line for Carolina, now would be a good time."
Defensive ends Will Chapman is out for the season with a wrist injury and Isaac Mooring remains shelved with a broken hand. Defensive tackle Eric Davis was lost for the season in August, and the rest of the bunch is young and mostly inexperienced, necessitating Hedgecock's move to defensive end.
"We're not desperate," Hedgecock said when asked if the move was out of desperation. "We have more depth at linebacker than at defensive end. The team asked me to move and I was glad to help. On the first drive I felt uncomfortable, then I got into the rhythm of the game and my confidence grew."
Yet in the end, it was more an issue of a UNC team that doesn't have the horses on defense, and with a shuffled offensive line, which included true freshman Kyle Ralph's first action, the Tar Heels were outclassed.
Carolina quarterback C.J. Stephens didn't have a poor day replacing Darian Durant, who is out for the remainder of the season. Stephens completed 17 of 27 passes for 221 yards with an interception, but this one can't be put on his head.
"We didn't put any points on the board, so it's hard to feel like any of us did really well," Stephens said when asked about his personal performance. "We're all really disappointed in the way we played, but the sun will soon come up. It's time to go back to work (because) we have a lot of things to improve and that's our focus now."
Bunting wasn't dissatisfied in his quarterback's performance, which was his first start since 1998 when he was in high school.
"I think C.J. had a great first half," Bunting said. "I'm just disappointed we didn't do more with it (the successful possessions). "In the second half it was a different ball game. We just couldn't seem to get things going again. I really thought we'd score some points. I think we showed we can move the football. We just didn't capitalize."
UNC opened the game by moving 65 yards on 12 plays mostly on the ground but came up empty as Dan Orner missed a 32-yard field goal with 9:22 left in the opening quarter.
Wake (5-4, 3-3) then marched 80 yards on 11 plays to go up 7-0 culminating
in McPherson rolled to his left and found Thomas in the end zone for a touchdown
with 5:36 left in the first quarter. The Deacs tacked on 10 more points on Anderson's
score and a 30-yard field goal by Matt Wisnosky and led 17-0 at the half.
The Demon Deacons opened the second half driving 80 yards to take a 24-0 lead after Ovie Mughelli scored on a two-yard plunge with 11:36 left in the third quarter.
After a three-and-out for the Tar Heels, Wake quickly darted down the field again, carrying the ball six times in the seven-play drive, and scored on Chris Barclay's 9-yard run, one play after rumbling 13 yards on a fourth-and-two. The conversion gave the Deacons a 31-0 lead with 7:34 left in the third quarter. And from that point on, the most interesting thing on the field was a stretch of battle of the bands by both school's marching bands.
With UNC needing to win its final four games to qualify for a bowl bid, the Tar Heels will likely begin to shift focus to their future.
Bunting may not have said it, but it appeared pretty clear he knows exactly what he is facing.
His Heels have been an extremely resilient bunch since he arrived nearly two years ago. But they haven't face the possibility of the floor falling out from beneath them as they do now. Maybe offensive lineman Jeb Terry put it best if this club is going to have a resurgence.
"The effort is there, and no on one this team is a quitter."
Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina.
He hosts a late afternoon radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington
and can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.