RALEIGH -- North Carolina's offense failed to make the trip with the rest of the team in its most important game of the season.
N.C. State beat Carolina 13-0 on Saturday at Carter-Finley Stadium, the fifth consecutive victory in the series for the Wolfpack.
Carolina appeared to have no coherent offensive game plan. Making the situation worse, interim coach Everett Withers inexplicably switched punters for this game. Thomas Hibbard had proven to be a far superior punter than C.J. Feagles, at least when Hibbard's protection gave him the time to kick the ball.
But the coaching staff replaced Hibbard with Feagles, and Feagles played poorly. He averaged 34.7 yards per kick, with a long of just 41. Carolina had poor field position throughout the entire game. His average was not a result of trying to punt the ball short of the goal line.
Tethered together with a sputtering offense, this spelled doom in the most important game of the season for Carolina.
Making matters worse, Withers had plenty to say before the game but little in the way of explanations afterward. He made derogatory comments about N.C. State's football program and its academic performance on the radio earlier in the week.
That would have been all well and good had the Tar Heels come prepared to play, but they did not.
"Until I can watch the film, I can't tell you anything about the X's and O's," Withers said.
He provided N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien with plenty to crow about.
"This was a great win," O'Brien said. "It's a great win for this football team. The kids in that locker room, and even the coaches on this coaching staff, have never lost to North Carolina.
"But all we did today was tie the record [with five consecutive victories against UNC]. Next year, we get to go try to set it."
Carolina's defense played well enough to win on Saturday -- had it gotten any contribution from the offense.
"As a defense we might have played all right," middle linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "It wasn't good enough because we gave up 13 points. When we did get the ball back, the offense has to capitalize off of that."
UNC gave its worst offensive performance so far this year, and in doing so made a poor Wolfpack team (5-4, 2-3) look better than it is.
Carolina gained 3 yards rushing. Part of that was due to the four quarterback sacks. Those yards are subtracted from rushing yards. But the inconsistency in the manner in which the Tar Heels tried to attack the Wolfpack with the running game hurt Carolina's chances.
"They had a plan and they carried it out," offensive tackle Jonathan Cooper said. "They had linebackers filling gaps. There were some errors and mistakes on our part.
"I just told one of my teammates that I can't really put into words how I feel right now: awful, disgusted, but also optimistic. I'm looking forward to the next few weeks."
Carolina never made a commitment to run the ball, nor did there seem to be any rhythm or reason to how the play calling unfolded. When Giovani Bernard ran quick hitters straight ahead, he gained yards. But all too often those plays were followed with east-west runs, playing into the strength of the Wolfpack defense.
Bernard carried the ball 18 times for 47 yards, but far too many of those runs were slow-developing plays that allowed N.C. State more time to attack Bernard.
"That is surprising right there, knowing we have a good rushing attack," Reddick said of the net 3 yards rushing.
The loss drops the Tar Heels to 6-4, 2-4 in the ACC with just two games left to play. UNC is off next Saturday and will return Thursday Nov. 17 at Blacksburg, Va., against Virginia Tech.
After that, Carolina will end the regular season at home against Duke on Nov. 26.
The Tar Heels are now in danger of finishing at .500 and possibly failing to play in a postseason game after starting the year 5-1.
"We shouldn't have to get each other pumped up for a game like this," Reddick said. "It is a big game on a big stage. You should go out and play to the best of your abilities. I'm real disappointed in our team effort.
"This was a big game for us, not only because it was a rivalry but for our season. We wanted to get to a better bowl game. This was a big game for us to move on with our chances. Now we just have to hold our heads high, get a lot of rest on the bye week and prepare for Virginia Tech, go down there and try to tear their dreams away, too."