Yes, the Tar Heels made plays at the end. And yes, NC State still scored plenty of points and Glennon threw for 467 yards and five touchdowns. But if his receivers weren't dropping passes left and right with no defenders around them, he probably would have broken both the single-game passing yardage and touchdown records.
Even if you don't count the drops that occurred on eventual touchdown drives, the Pack shot itself in the foot repeatedly by dropping passes with no Tar Heel defender anywhere in sight. Here are the most egregious of those drops and the impact they had on the game.
Trailing 25-14 early in the 2nd quarter, Thornton dropped a pass over the middle on 2nd and five that would have given the Pack a first down near midfield. Instead, two plays later the Pack is forced to punt.
On 2nd down and two later in the quarter, the Pack was driving into North Carolina territory as a red-hot Glennon threw darts to his receivers. Glennon threw another bullet to Rashard Smith, a pass that hit him right on the hands and bounced up for an easy interception.
Fast forward to the Pack's second drive of the third quarter, with the Pack once again near midfield. It's 2nd and nine and once again Glennon delivers a pass right on the numbers of Quintin Payton only to watch his receiver haplessly drop the ball. The Pack failed to convert 3rd down and once again was forced to punt.
The very next drive the Pack faces 2nd and 14 from the North Carolina 35-yard line – just out of the range of Sade. Glennon throws another pass that hits Tony Creecy on the hands but the back couldn't haul it in. The play may not have been a first down this time, but it forced Glennon into a long third down – resulting in a risky pass that's intercepted. If Creecy catches that, the Pack at worst has field goal attempt and at best continues driving for another touchdown.
That's four drives stalled or completely ended by a dropped pass. Four drives, as many as 28 points and reasonably enough to turn a loss into an extended six-game winning streak.
Fedora had his team fired up and his play book opened up at the start of the game. Reverses, trick plays and a healthy dose of Giovani Bernard had the Heels up big and looking unstoppable offensively. But a funny thing happened after the first quarter – that unstoppable offense started getting stopped.
The Heels coach, desperate to put his mark on the rivalry in first season, emptied his play book on a few drives. He burned the candle at both ends, to use the most child-friendly analogy, and the Heel offense seemed to burn out quickly. After 25 first quarter points, the Heel offense scored nothing in either the second or third quarter.
Those drops all took place during that stretch of time. That was the Pack's window to blow open the game, and they couldn't do it. They left the door open for North Carolina and Giovani Bernard spent the fourth quarter blowing those doors open.