CLEMSON, S.C. -- A Carolina team that has clung to the precipice all season, slipped on Saturday during a 59-38 whipping at Clemson.
The Tar Heels (5-3, 1-3 in the ACC) self-destructed before 79,000 people at Death Valley and in front of a regional television audience.
If Chancellor Holden Thorp wanted mediocre football when he fired Coach Butch Davis one week before training camp began, he got it on Saturday.
UNC committed six turnovers and took a genuine hammering from the Tigers.
"As I look at the stats, the only one that really matters is the turnovers," interim head coach Everett Withers said. "You turn it over six times you're not going to beat anybody."
The Tar Heels just kept feeding a Clemson offense that is a scoring machine. The Tigers have now scored more than 50 points in consecutive games, and have beaten Auburn, Florida State, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Boston College and last week crushed Maryland in College Park beneath a 56-point barrage.
The Tigers scored 35 points against the Tar Heel in the third quarter alone.
"I'm shocked because I thought we had a chance to come in here and win," said wide receiver Jheraine Boyd, who caught two touchdown passes. "If we wouldn't have had those mistakes, we probably could have come out of here with a win.
"So, yeah, I'm shocked. I didn't think they could put that many points on us. But we made too many mistakes."
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 27 of 46 passes for 367 yards and five touchdowns.
When the Tar Heels failed to pressure him, Boyd shredded a UNC secondary that appeared incompetent on this day.
Boyd his four different receivers for touchdowns, and it did not seem to matter which defensive back he attacked. Clemson succeeded.
"Our plan was to spread it around today, and we did that," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
From the outset, it appeared the Tar Heels were going to try to beat Clemson in a shootout. UNC did not abandon the run because it never sought to establish it.
The fact that it kept leaving its defense on the field against Clemson's offense did not seem to matter, either.
Withers would only say the coaching staff thought they could attack the Tigers' safeties. But that cannot explain situations such as a third-and-1 on which quarterback Bryn Renner threw a jump ball down the sideline instead of Carolina running Ryan Houston for the first down.
UNC desperately needed to have the ball at that moment, too. What made it even worse is the play that was called did not even utilize play-action in an obvious rushing situation. Running back Giovani Bernard split to the right before the snap, leaving Renner in an obvious passing formation.
UNC went 2-of-12 in third-down situations.
"We were dropping balls and getting into third-and-long," Bernard said. "[Offensive coordinator John] Shoop always says third-and-8, third-and-9, that's tough to get a first down.
"It's a matter of making it third-and-1, third-and-2."
Not when you leave your 240-pound running back on the bench and throw a jump ball.
The question that will not be answered is what is happening behind the scenes at this moment with this team. The Tar Heels unraveled on Saturday. Davis is no longer around to hold together the team he recruited, and with a new athletic director now onboard, the players know the future they signed on for is not going to happen.
There will be a new coach, a new coaching staff, more than likely. And there will be a new start, like it or not.
The possibility of having a good finish and going to a bowl game still exists. Carolina has four games remaining. Wake Forest comes to Chapel Hill next week and then UNC must play at N.C. State, at Virginia Tech and finish the season at home against Duke.
The gradual decline of this team can either continue, or even quicken to a faster pace, or these kids and their coaches can rally.
Not even they know how it will go, but they do hold their fate in their own hands. They have to hope they grip tighter than they did the football on Saturday.
"It's a matter of ball security," Bernard said. "We have seen all season, even myself, I've bobbled the ball plenty of times. It's a matter of getting out here tomorrow and working on it, the little things, Coach Shoop and Coach Withers always talk about.
"We're going to bounce back. These last four games are crucial. This is going to decide after the season what is going to happen. Coach Withers has been talking about 35 days left in the life of this team.
"If we can have great days in these 35, then the bowl week will be just as good."