Protect the football.
Despite dominating the game on offense, the Irish turned the ball over a whopping 5 times.
Despite that number, we still almost pulled out the victory.
Once again, I was right about the key to victory being our ability to protect the ball. Unfortunately, this young Irish squad wasn't able to protect the ball, and gave away what should have been a big road victory for the Irish.
For the most part, Clausen passed the test on this one, being patient with the ball and taking what the defense gave - to the tune of over 300 yards passing.
However, Jimmy's youth reared it's ugly head coming out of halftime, where Jimmy wanted to respond to the Tarheel's last minute field goal at the end of the first half. On the very first play from scrimmage, Jimmy tried to force in a throw into triple coverage, rather than throwing the ball away and living to play another down.
Result: 6 points going the other way.
It's often those mistahes that come back to haunt you, and in fact it was that score that ended up being the difference in the game, giving the Tarheels momentum and confidence to start the second half.
Win the field position battle.
Another loss in my keys to victory, the Irish gave up an average of 11 yards on field position this week, which is a full first down.
That is how, despite outgaining the opponent and largely holding their offense to field goals, they can be in the position to lose the game at the end.
Despite the pain of the loss, this game was everything I expected it to be.
The loss was a growing pain for a young team, caused not by a lack of talent or because of matchup problems, but instead caused by our own freshman and sophomore mistakes.
Not to take too much from North Carolina's victory, but I don't think anyone out there thought that UNC was the better team on the field for 60 minutes.
They were opportunistic and caused some timely turnovers, which was the difference in the game. And I'm willing to give them full credit for that.
But the Irish moved the ball up and down the field at will, and this would have been a blowout by the Irish if they could have gotten out of their own way, going -5 in the turnover battle.
I can tell you that, of all of the Irish losses in the past decade, this one hurts the least. Nobody expected these Irish to go much better than 9-3 or 8-4, and that is exactly the pace they are on at the halfway point. This young team is fun to watch, and anyone on the sideline has to be sitting around in awe of the youth on this team.
Just imagine for a moment what this team will look like in two years (barring losses due to injury, leaving early for the draft, or getting passed on the depth chart):
QB Jimmy Clausen, Sr. (four year starter)
RB Armando Allen, Sr. (four year starter)
WR Golden Tate, Sr. (four year starter)
WR Michael Floyd, Jr. (three year starter)
WR Duval Kamara, Sr. (four year starter)
TE Kyle Rudolph, Jr. (three year starter)
NT Ian Williams, Sr. (four year starter)
DE Ethan Johnson, Jr. (three year starter)
LB Harrison Smith, Sr. (three year starter)
LB Brian Smith, Sr. (three year starter)
LB Kerry Neal, Sr. (three year starter)
CB Gary Gray, Sr. (three year starter)
CB Robert Blanton, Jr. (three year starter)
That's just sick.