CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – One team had a future top three NFL draft pick playing quarterback. The other team completed 37% of its passes.
That, in the wide world of sports, is called a mismatch.
And it was. On a day of self-sabotaging blunders, the difference in quarterback play between the Gophers football team and North Carolina's was as clear as the blue skies that provided a postcard setting.
That the Gophers were still within striking distance at the start of the fourth quarter given the disparity in quarterback play felt like a minor miracle. Alas, the Gophers flunked the litmus test by virtue of mistakes that piled up high enough to leave the visitors fuming in frustration after a 31-13 loss to 20th-ranked North Carolina at Kenan Stadium.
"Just not much went right," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
Especially on offense with Gophers quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis having a terribly shaky outing in his eighth career start. The sophomore misfired high and low and well behind his targets. When he did make an accurate throw, his receivers dropped too many of them.
Kaliakmanis completed only 11 of 29 passes for 133 yards. He threw one interception on a poor throw and was fortunate that he didn't have several more picks.
"Once again, it comes down to execution as a player," Kaliakmanis said. "There were things there that I missed. I feel like everybody showed up. Honestly, I didn't show up.''
His accountability is noble. Everyone had a hand in the mess, the coaching staff included, but Kaliakmanis' struggles underscore the offense's lack of identity and explosiveness through three games.
Freshman running back Darius Taylor was a bright spot again with 138 yards rushing, but he can't do it alone against worthy competition. The inefficiency from the passing game doomed too many drives.
Kaliakmanis has a strong arm, but everything is a fast ball right now. His touch and accuracy issues are a combination of different factors, according to Fleck.
"He's still learning how to be a really elite quarterback," Fleck said. "There's going to be some highs in his career and some lows in his career. He knows he didn't play particularly well. I know he'll respond and get better."
The first possession was emblematic of his struggles. The Gophers were moving the ball effectively, but then Kaliakmanis rushed a throw behind tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford over the middle. Spann-Ford tipped the ball twice, but a Tar Heels defender grabbed it.
Backup quarterback Cole Kramer threw one pass — and it was a momentum killer too. The Gophers found a little life trailing 21-13 in the third quarter. Kaliakmanis hobbled to the sideline with cramps in his legs after an incomplete pass.
Four plays later, on first down from UNC's 34, Kramer took a deep shot to Daniel Jackson but missed his mark badly, resulting in an easy interception in the end zone.
The reason that Kramer needed to be on the field left Fleck visibly annoyed after the game. Fleck was miffed that a handful of players suffered cramps, calling the number "too many."
"We can't be cramping up," he said. "It's unfortunate because that ultimately falls on me. I've got to figure out what we didn't do."
Fleck had his own sideline brain cramp when he failed to call a timeout when his defense looked disorganized on a third down in the second quarter. Fleck routinely calls timeout if he even gets a whiff that something looks amiss. He didn't this time, and the Tar Heels burned them for an explosive play that set up a touchdown.
The defense didn't look set after coordinator Joe Rossi made mass substitutions. That situation screamed for the head coach to call timeout.
Instead, tight end Kamari Morales ran unimpeded off the line and down the field wide open. That led to an easy 55-yard completion to the 1-yard line. The Tar Heels scored on the next play to go ahead 14-0.
UNC quarterback Drake Maye could have made that throw blindfolded.
The Gophers intercepted two of Maye's 40 passes to prevent the game from being a runaway, but Maye dissected a defense that doesn't get picked apart very often.
He finished with 414 yards passing and two touchdowns. He had completions of 55, 46, 39 and 38 yards — all to different receivers.
The Tar Heels also had a staggering success rate on third down: 12 of 17.
Again, it was a mismatch.
"We did not play our best football at all," Fleck said.
Not at quarterback or much of anywhere.