UNC Shakes Off Slow Start, Beats Temple 91-67 to Open 2015-16

It took a little while for them to shake off the preseason cobwebs on Friday night, but when they did, the No. 1 ranked Tar Heels cruised to a 91-67 victory over the gritty Temple Owls in the Veterans Classic Basketball Tournament held at the United States Naval Academy.

A career-high 25 points from junior forward Kennedy Meeks–who also had 11 rebounds–helped UNC start its regular season 1-0 despite the absence of star point guard Marcus Paige, sidelined with a broken right hand.

“Our whole thing before the beginning of the game was just to get the ball down low, and get it as low as possible,” Meeks said after the game. “That’s what we did. It was for all the bigs. It just so happened some of my shots were going through.”

The loss sends the Owls to an 0-1 start after they won 26 games a year ago.

Joel Berry filled in nicely for Marcus Paige, as the Tar Heels opened their season with a win over Temple. (J.D. Lyon Jr./UNC Athletics)

Joel Berry filled in nicely for Marcus Paige, as the Tar Heels opened their season with a win over Temple. (J.D. Lyon Jr./UNC Athletics)

UNC head coach Roy Williams was pleased with the way his team executed on offense, but was less than thrilled with what he saw on defense–especially during the first half.

“[Temple head coach Fran Dunphy] chose tonight to spread it and drive us a little bit because we had the advantage inside, and they made it very difficult for us,” Williams said. “Over the course of the game, though, I thought we did some good things as well.

“Scoring in the lane [it was] 42-14–we felt like we had an advantage with our big guys and we wanted to get it there,” the Hall-of-Famer added. “But we did want to guard better than we guarded.”

Temple jumped out to a five-point lead early in the game, and played the Tar Heels to a 34-34 tie as halftime neared. But sophomore Isaiah Hicks’ lay-up with 2:28 remaining kick-started a 13-2 UNC run that brought the score at the break to 47-36.

Key to that run were a trio of three-pointers, two from junior guard Nate Britt, and one a deep heave from sophomore Theo Pinson that went through three seconds before the buzzer.

PHOTOS: UNC vs. Temple

Britt and sophomore Joel Berry each filled in admirably for Paige running the offense–as Britt finished with 15 points and an assist off the bench, while Berry tacked on 14 points and dished out four assists.

“With [Paige] being out we just have to step up and everyone has to take on different roles,” Berry said. “And as you [saw] tonight we were able to do that.

Senior forward Joel James (42) fights for a loose ball. (J.D. Lyon Jr./ UNC Athletics)

Senior forward Joel James (42) fights for a loose ball. (J.D. Lyon Jr./ UNC Athletics)

“Kennedy and Brice [Johnson], I mean, Brice stepped up in the second half and Kennedy just played a great game the whole game,” he added. “So other guys are getting involved, and that’s what we need.”

Meeks’ tag-team partner in the post, Johnson recovered to finish with a double-double of his own. The senior scored 16 points and grabeed 10 rebounds after entering the break with just four points and three boards.

The margin of victory was impressive not only because of Paige’s injury, but because UNC also received just four points from sophomore wing Justin Jackson–expected by many to have a breakout campaign.

Leading the way for the Owls was a Clemson transfer, Devin Coleman, who put up 19 points–16 of which came in the first half.

Up Next:

Sunday marks the Tar Heels’ regular season home opener, as they return to the court to host the Fairfield Stags at 4 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • Britt was ejected from the game with one minute to play for leaving the bench during an altercation–which started when Johnson hung on the rim after a dunk, and was pushed to the ground by Temple guard Levan Alston.
  • The Tar Heels showed a much-improved shooting stroke as a team, going 7-of-12 from long range in the game.
  • UNC also outrebounded Temple 49-32, dominating down-low in all sorts of ways.
  • No Tar Heel player scored more than 24 points in a game all of last year (Paige in the ACC Championship Game against Notre Dame).



Minus Paige, No 1. Tar Heels Ready for Temple

The men’s college basketball regular season officially kicks off Friday night for the nation’s No.1 team—as the Tar Heels are in Annapolis, Maryland to take on the Temple Owls in the Veterans Classic.

UNC head coach Roy Williams will be without his star point guard– senior Marcus Paige—who broke his right hand last Tuesday in practice when he got it tangled in a teammate’s jersey.

With Paige set to be out for at least a couple more weeks, Williams is expecting the rest of the team to rise to the challenge—but doesn’t want anyone feeling like they have to be super heroes.

Nate Britt (0) is expected to split time with sophomore Joel Berry in place of Paige at point guard. (Todd Melet)

Nate Britt (0) is expected to split time with sophomore Joel Berry in place of Paige at point guard. (Todd Melet)

“I don’t want anybody to think they’ve got to raise their level a hundred levels,” Williams said during Wednesday’s press conference. “Because then all of a sudden you turn stupid.

“[I’ve been telling them] try to get at a different level than you’ve been playing at , try to play closer to your potential than you have, and give a little extra,” the coach continued. “I don’t want Justin [Jackson] thinking he’s Michael Jordan or Kennedy [Meeks] thinking he’s Shaq or anything like that.”

Sophomore Justin Jackson is expected to emerge as a breakout star this season out on the wing, while the Tar Heels boast one of the top returning frontcourts in the nation with junior Kennedy Meeks and senior Brice Johnson.

But it’s the guards—Joel Berry, Nate Britt, and freshman Kenny Williams—that will have to be heard from the loudest while Paige’s hand recovers.

“Joel [Berry] has been playing fantastic all preseason,” Paige told reporters in his first meeting with the media since the injury. “I’m excited to watch him develop.

“All the guards—Kenny Williams even—[their] chances are gonna go up tremendously in the next couple weeks,” he added. “So getting to see how they mesh and how they progress is gonna be really fun. And I think they’ve come a long way.

“This will be good to test them early and to also get them around 30 minutes a game to get experience so when we get rolling, they will have seen everything.”

This game will be no cakewalk either, as Temple returns six of its top eight scorers from a team that won 26 games a year ago. The Owls also have a head coach, Fran Dunphy, with 503 career wins and 15 NCAA Tournament appearances on their resume.

Opening against this kind of quality opponent has affected the way the Tar Heels have prepared in practice.

Jaylen Bond (15) and the Owls bring back a large portion of last year's 26-win squad. (Cooper Neill/ Getty Images)

Will Cummings (2) and Jaylen Bond (15) returned to Temple after being part of last year’s 26-win squad. (Cooper Neill/ Getty Images)

“If you’re playing someone like Temple, you’ve got to limit what you do [in practice] and do those things very, very well,” Williams said. “And [we] wanna be sharp offensively and defensively because part of the outcome of the game is gonna be how [we] play.

“Some of the times when you’re playing some people, but you’re just more gifted, you’re gonna win the game–so you’re not as concerned about that.”

Broadcast Information:

The game is set to tip off at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried live on WCHL’s airwaves, and televised on the CBS Sports Network.

Note of Interest:

Wednesday was National Signing Day for high school athletes across the nation.

UNC picked up commitments for next season from three members of the 2016 class:

  • Tony Bradley, a 6-10 forward from Bartow, Florida.
  • Brandon Robinson, a 6-5 guard from Lithia Springs, Georgia.
  • Seventh Woods, a 6-2 guard from Columbia, South Carolina.

Williams Obliterates Duke and the Record Book: UNC Wins 66-31

The way all the jaws were hanging to the floor in Chapel Hill, it almost appeared as if the fans at Kenan Stadium had just seen a ghost–and in some ways they did.

In front of a sell-out crowd on Saturday, the No. 21 UNC football team matched its longest winning streak since 1997 with an emphatic 66-31 blowout over the arch-rival Duke Blue Devils.

Senior quarterback Marquise Williams put together a statistical performance normally only seen in video games–starting with an 89-yard flea flicker touchdown pass to junior Ryan Switzer on the team’s first offensive play.

It was something that the UNC coaches determined they would run right out of the gate if they saw a specific coverage they were looking for.

“If the safety is not gonna fit, you can’t run that play because he can be the backside safety and run over to where the ball’s gonna be placed at,” Williams said after the game. “And I was just praying, I prayed last night before I went to sleep hoping this play is the first play and the safety just fits.

Ryan Switzer breaks away for his game-changing touchdown. (UNC Athletics)

Ryan Switzer breaks away for his game-changing touchdown. (UNC Athletics)

“God answered my prayer,” he added.

From there, the Tar Heels refused to take their foot off the gas pedal, smashing any and every record they could get their hands on before the clock hit triple zeroes.

Having obviously eaten his Wheaties before the game, Williams completed 23-of-35 passes for 494 yards–a new school record–and accounted for five touchdowns in all. He also rushed for 30 yards, to finish with 524 total yards by himself–the first Tar Heel to ever break the 500 yard mark–in what was arguably the best performance ever by a UNC football player.

“Quise was on the money with it today,” Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora said. “He did a really nice job. We got length on the outside, we got great quickness on the outside, so we’ve got great weapons in that area.”

UNC has now racked up eight consecutive wins, and has its fifth straight victory to begin ACC play. At 8-1 overall and 5-0 against conference opponents, Fedora has his squad sitting firmly atop the league’s Coastal Division.

Duke, meanwhile, has now lost two games in a row–dropping to 6-3 in all games, and 3-2 in conference play.

Coming into Saturday, the Blue Devils boasted the nation’s ninth ranked defense–a unit surrendering just 295 yards of offense per game.

But Williams and his uber-athletic group of receivers made scoring against the Duke secondary look like child’s play.

Along with Switzer’s crowd pleasing flea flicker touchdown, the Tar Heels scored in the first half on a 79-yard rainbow from Williams to Mack Hollins, and on a 49-yard dart to Bug Howard–a play that made the score 38-10 with just one second remaining before halftime.

MJ Stewart tackles Duke's Max McCaffrey. (UNC Athletics)

MJ Stewart tackles Duke’s Max McCaffrey. (UNC Athletics)

Hollins set a career-high with 5 catches for 165 yards, while Switzer also broke the century mark–ending the game with 107 yards on 5 receptions. Howard caught three balls for 83 yards, nearly making it three receivers above the 100-yard threshold.

Star running back Elijah Hood scored three times on 17 carries, gaining 69 yards. His main contributions came as a blocker, though, picking up the blitz on a couple of Williams’ long touchdown throws.

“We feed off explosive plays, and we’re an explosive offense,” Hood said. “So one big play, and you’re bound for more, I think, with us.”

At halftime, UNC had already amassed 486 yards of total offense–before eventually finishing with 704. It’s just the third time in school history that the Tar Heels have reached the 700-yard plateau.

The Blue Devils found success running the ball against Gene Chizik’s defense with running backs Shaquille Powell (13 carries for 98 yards) and Jela Duncan (13 carries for 115 yards)–but simply could not keep up with the Tar Heels’ break-neck scoring pace.

Duncan’s 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter brought the score to 21-10. That was the closest it would get the rest of the game.

“I heard one of the [Duke players] tell [Ryan] Switzer, ‘This is gonna be a long day,'” Williams said. “I started laughing when I heard a guy said that. I told Coach [Fedora], ‘We gotta keep going, we gotta keep going. The guy’s already feeling like this is gonna be a long game for ’em, so let’s keep going.'”

Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk struggled with his accuracy, completing just 18 of his 37 throws for 191 yards and two interceptions on the day. He did do some damage of his own in the running game, however, scrambling eight times for 74 yards–including a pair of touchdown scampers in the third quarter, one from 53 yards out and another from four yards away.

The 2015 group gets to hold on to the Victory Bell for another year. (UNC Athletics)

The 2015 group gets to hold on to the Victory Bell for another year. (UNC Athletics)

UNC continued to show no mercy, however, as Elijah Hood ran in two scores of his own in the quarter. Williams also found senior Quinshad Davis during the frame to make it four touchdown passes to four different receivers.

As has become the norm this season when the Tar Heels play at home, the fourth quarter was strictly a formality.

The backups, led by sophomore quarterback Mitch Trubisky, played out the final period–but not without getting in on the fun.

Trubisky ran in a score from two yards out to put UNC above the 60-point mark, the first time it has hit that total this season.

For the second straight year, the Victory Bell will reside in Chapel Hill–much to the delight of Mack Hollins and the rest of the Tar Heel team.

“All week at practice, the bell was [there],” Hollins said. “I was big into screaming, ‘Duke Week’ and ‘Ring my bell’, and all that stuff. So to have it on our sideline after, and to know that it’s ours for a whole ‘nother 365 [days] is a great feeling.”

Up Next:

The red-hot Tar Heels will play their final home game of the year next Saturday against Miami. As it stands right now, UNC controls its own destiny in the ACC Coastal Division, and is in the driver’s seat for a spot in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

Game Notes:

  • Marquise Williams’ 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was his 80th touchdown accounted for in a Carolina uniform, moving him past former quarterback Darian Durant (2001-2004) for the UNC school record in that category.
  • It took UNC just 2:01 with the ball to score its first two touchdowns.
  • The Tar Heels scored points on 10 of their 13 drives, and their 66 points were the most they’ve ever scored in an ACC game.



No. 1 Tar Heels Roll Past Guilford In Exhibition

No Marcus Paige, no Justin Jackson, no problem for the nation’s number one men’s basketball team on Friday night.

The Tar Heels handily defeated the Guilford Quakers 99-49 at the Dean Smith Center, in their only preseason exhibition game before next Friday’s regular season opener.

“I feel pretty good to play, do some nice things, without Marcus, without Justin, without Brice [Johnson],” UNC head coach Roy Williams said after the game. “[Johnson] did [play well] the second half, first half I don’t know where he was.

“A lot of kids got a lot of minutes, and I think it did help us. And I think getting in front of a crowd helped us.”

Paige, the team’s star point guard, broke his non-shooting hand in practice on Tuesday and will be out for three to four weeks. Jackson–the 6-foot-8 sophomore wing expected to have a breakout campaign–sat out the game with an illness.

Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson look on from the sidelines. (Todd Melet)

Marcus Paige and Justin Jackson look on from the sidelines. (Todd Melet)

Starting in place of the sidelined stars were sophomores Joel Berry and Theo Pinson. Each looked impressive in this one, showing that depth is clearly a strong point for this team.

Berry looked extremely promising filling in at point guard. The Florida native finished with 12 points and 7 assists while in control of the offense–a good sign for a team that will need someone to step up in Paige’s absence.

“He’s had a good preseason,” Williams said. “Other than Marcus, I’m not sure anybody’s played better this preseason than Joel Berry has. And so we need him to continue doing that.”

Pinson had 10 points in the game, all in the first half, while also contributing five rebounds and five assists as he continues to get healthy himself after a broken foot ended his season a year ago.

He displayed a much-improved shooting stroke as well, hitting a pair of three-pointers.

“The game’s slowing down for me,” Pinson said after the game. “Before as a freshman, [I learned] it’s different from high school. You just gotta go out there, and I’m not thinking about, ‘What play are we in?’–and stuff like that.

“I’m just out there playing basketball,” he added.

A main focal point of Williams’ criticism for four years now, Johnson–the 6-foot-9 senior forward–was quiet early on, posting just two points in the first twenty minutes. He ended up finishing with nine points and seven rebounds.

Six players finished in double figures for the Tar Heels, including 14 each by junior forward Kennedy Meeks and classmate Nate Britt–tied for team lead in that category. Britt enters the season as the team’s go-to option off the bench, and he proved more than capable, also dishing out nine assists.

Guilford roared out to an early 2-0 lead on a jumper by Will Freeman just 30 seconds into the game–bringing its entire bench to its feet.

But a pair of three-pointers by Pinson and junior Nate Britt gave the Tar Heels a lead they would never relinquish–as their size, speed, and strength simply overwhelmed the Quakers, a Division III school that plays in something called the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

Freshman Alston Thompson–at 6-foot-6–was the tallest player to see the floor for the Quakers on Friday–something exploited early and often by UNC.

Leading the way for the Quakers was junior guard Zachary Houston, who tallied 14 points as the only Guilford player to reach double figures.

Joel Berry (2) opened up some eyes with his stellar play at point guard on Friday. (Todd Melet)

Joel Berry (2) opened up some eyes with his stellar play at point guard on Friday. (Todd Melet)

The Tar Heels shot an astounding 62 percent from the floor and finished the game with a 47-25 rebounding advantage.

In what turned into essentially a playground pick-up game, UNC led the Quakers 52-24 at halftime.

The crowd was a little lifeless in the second half–until an alley-oop jam by Brice Johnson woke everybody up with just under nine minutes to play, and the home team up by 59.

From that point on, Williams rotated his entire bench in-and-out, getting everyone some valuable early season playing time as the team now turns its attention to starting the games that really count–minus Paige, the face of the squad.

“Everybody’s gotta try to play closer to their potential,” the coach said. “We can’t have any sloppiness. We’re gonna play next Friday night [and] it’s a different level team.

“We talked the other day about everybody picking their play up and doing a better job themselves, whatever job it is, regardless of how little they may think it is, or how unimportant they may think it is–they’ve got to do a better job of that.”

Up Next:

The regular season officially begins for the Tar Heels next Friday, November 13th at 7 p.m. UNC will travel to Annapolis, Maryland to take on the Temple Owls in the Veterans Classic Basketball Tournament.

Game Notes: 

  • UNC is now 24-2 all-time in games against Guilford.
  • Freshman guard Kenny Williams played like a seasoned veteran, putting up 12 points in his Tar Heel debut on  5-of-7 shooting from the field–including one three-pointer.
  • Perimeter shooting was the team’s Achilles’ Heel last season, but the Tar Heels finished Friday’s game 8-of-17 from downtown.
  • Junior Kanler Coker had a free throw attempt with 15 seconds left that could have put UNC at the 100 point mark, but missed–much to the dismay of the fans, who let out a loud groan.



UNC-Duke: This One’s Bigger Than the Bell

Each year since 1948 UNC and Duke have battled on the gridiron for the right to ring the Victory Bell on the way out of the stadium.

But when the rivalry is renewed in Chapel Hill on Saturday, the Victory Bell won’t be the only thing at stake—which is a far cry from years past.

Winners of seven games in a row, the Tar Heels lead the ACC Coastal Division, are 4-0 against conference competition, and bring a 7-1 overall record into Saturday’s grudge match against coach David Cutcliffe’s Blue Devils–who are 6-2 with a 3-1 conference mark.

Marquise Williams has been the catalyst of the Tar Heels' recent win streak, and of their Victory Bell win against Duke last year. (Mark Dolejs/ USA Today Sports)

Marquise Williams has been the catalyst of the Tar Heels’ recent win streak, and of their Victory Bell win against Duke last year. (Mark Dolejs/ USA Today Sports)

UNC will also sport a fancy number next to its name during the broadcast for the first time this season, as the makers of the AP Top 25 ranked head coach Larry Fedora’s bunch as the 21st best squad in the land this week.

“I haven’t really talked to them about that,” Fedora said on Monday. “Because our goal hasn’t been to be in the poll. That’s not what our goal is. We’ve got bigger goals than that. That just happens to come with it.

“But it really doesn’t change who we are,” the coach continued. “Who we were [last] Thursday night [against Pitt] when we weren’t ranked and who we are today, we’re still the same team.”

Last week Duke was ranked 22nd in the polls, but lost to Miami by way of a miracle last second kickoff return. That play robbed fans of both schools from seeing them play as ranked football teams for the first time in 76 years.

For once, Tar Heels like senior receiver Quinshad Davis, had no clue how to feel about a Blue Devil loss.

“It was a love/hate thing,” Davis said about the wild finish. “Because [we] love that they lost, but we hate that they aren’t going to be ranked when we play ’em, and it’ll be a big time game.”

Kenan Stadium has been sold out for this meeting for over a week now, as the anticipation reaches basketball-level heights here in the Triangle area. Now that the football rivalry is beginning to spread its wings just a bit, Davis and the rest of his teammates are itching to hit the field and show what they can do in front of a packed house.

“[The rivalry’s] always been a big deal with the football team,” the receiver told reporters on Tuesday. “But as far as the fan base goes it’s become a big deal because both teams are winning and both have a chance to win the Coastal this year.”

For seniors like Davis, offensive guard Landon Turner, and quarterback Marquise Williams—this game is especially huge because they’ve played in it during times where neither team was on anyone’s national radar. Back then, it was all about the bell.

Among the football players, this rivalry has always been huge.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Among the football players themselves, this rivalry has always been huge. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

And in Turner’s eyes, that message has not been lost, regardless of what the standings say.

“It’s kinda nice to see it be big for everyone else, but it really hadn’t changed how we feel about it,” he said. “It’s the Battle for the Bell, and I think both teams–both football teams, not basketball teams–are really understanding of that.”

Over the last 24 games between the schools located just a handful of miles apart, the Tar Heels have dominated, going 21-3 in that span—including a 45-20 win in Durham last year where Williams was fantastic, throwing for 276 yards and accounting for four touchdowns.

“We took care of business last year, but this year’s a new year,” Williams said. “I’m looking forward to keeping [the bell] here where it belongs.

The Charlotte native continued by acknowledging this is the senior class’s final chance at glory in this classic rivalry.

“It’d be great for my last year to keep the bell here, and have our fans ringing the bell after the game,” he said.

A win Saturday would keep the bell in Chapel Hill, while also playing a large role in sending UNC to a place it’s never been before—the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?


Broadcast Information:

WCHL will be broadcasting the game live on our airwaves, with kickoff set to take place at noon. ESPN2 will have the TV coverage.

Game Notes:

  • Junior cornerback Brian Walker, a key cog in UNC’s pass defense ranked third in the country in yards allowed, left the team last Wednesday. He is expected to seek a transfer in order to get more playing time.
  • With two touchdowns on Saturday, Marquise Williams would become the school’s all-time leader in that category, passing former quarterback Darian Durant–who accounted for 79 in his career (passing, rushing, and receiving.)
  • UNC is one of only 10 teams in the country to average more than 200 yards rushing (210.3) and 250 yards passing (259.8) per game.

Cash Expected to Make Huge Impact on UNC-Duke Matchup

When UNC quarterback Marquise Williams gets the ball on Saturday in the Tar Heels’ battle with Duke, he’ll be facing a defense ranked ninth in the country, and giving up just 295 yards per game.

As good as they are as a group, there’s one Blue Devil in particular that Williams will have to keep his eye on all day to have a shot at pulling out the win.

All week long the Tar Heel players and coaches have had to take questions about Duke senior safety Jeremy Cash.

Jeremy Cash has proven that he can take over games for the Blue Devils. (Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images)

Jeremy Cash has proven that he can take over games for the Blue Devils. (Streeter Lecka/ Getty Images)

The 6-foot-2 Miami native transferred to Durham in 2012 from perennial powerhouse Ohio State and has been working his way up NFL Draft rankings ever since—racking up 181 tackles and eight sacks over the past year and a half.

That body of work has some analysts projecting him as a first round pick—which should be more than enough to merit Williams’ full attention.

“Jeremy Cash is one heck of a football player,” Williams said at Monday’s weekly press conference. “I’ve been watching him a couple years now. He’s been doing a tremendous job what he’s doing at blitz packages or covering guys.

“He’s one of the top guys in the ACC,” he continued. “Or in the country.”

UNC comes into the matchup averaging 470 yards of total offense per game, so something will have to give this weekend.

Sophomore running back Elijah Hood is on pace to be the Tar Heels’ first 1000-yard rusher since current Cincinnati Bengal Gio Bernard accomplished the feat in 2012–and just the third to do it since 1997–but he says the offense may have to make a few adjustments this week to deal with Cash’s unique skill set.

“I feel like this week we might have something a little special because Jeremy Cash is particularly a special player when it comes to blitzing and getting tackles for losses,” Hood said. “There might be something we put in just in case, you know, make sure we’re alerted whenever he’s in the nickel or trying to come off the edge.

“He can be…kind of a disruption whenever he has the opportunity.”

Although Cash’s primary role is that of a deep safety, he also plays some linebacker and cornerback—in order to stuff the run and match up with opposing inside receivers–which means UNC’s slithery slot man Ryan Switzer may have a tough time breaking off the big plays he’s produced in recent weeks.

Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora wouldn’t disclose any of his game plan specifics, but did acknowledge the challenge in front of him.

“He is a really good football player,” Fedora said about Cash. “They put him in a lot of different places, they do a lot of things with him, and he’s really good. He’s the heart and soul of their defense.”

UNC's Ryan Switzer (3) will likely spend some time lining up against Cash this Saturday. (UNC Athletics)

UNC’s Ryan Switzer (3) will likely spend some time lining up against Cash this Saturday. (UNC Athletics)

Aside from last Saturday’s devastating loss to Miami, the result of a walk-off eight-lateral kick return touchdown, Cash and the Blue Devils have become contenders to win the ACC Coastal Division by limiting the type of explosive gains that have propelled the Tar Heels to the top of the division standings.

“They’re a sound fundamental football team,” Hood said. “They’re always in position. You don’t really see that many busts in what they’re doing or the way they’re attacking the [running] lanes. Their discipline and the way they execute in situations is something they do well.”

There’s an old saying in sports that talent recognizes talent.

So if there’s anyone that can speak to the ability of Duke’s super safety, it’s UNC’s own first round NFL prospect—senior offensive guard Landon Turner.

“I think his biggest thing is he just makes plays,” Turner said after practice on Tuesday. “It seems like he’s all over the field and he’s in every play.

“I can tell he’s definitely a leader on that side of the ball, and that’s tough to contend with,” he added. “We’re gonna have our hands full with that this weekend.”


Train Keeps Rolling: UNC Beats Pitt, Wins Seventh Straight

With the lights of Heinz Field shining bright and the ESPN TV cameras watching closely, senior quarterback Marquise Williams and the rest of the UNC football squad made a loud statement against Pitt on Thursday night.

The nation’s only one-loss team from a Power 5 conference to be left unranked this week, the Tar Heels defeated the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers 26-19 with another tough, grind-it-out performance.

“I’m happy we won a football game,” Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora said afterwards. “And did it on a short week. We went on the road, we played the number [23] team in the country, they were leading the Coastal Division, and so yeah, I’m happy we won the football game.

“There’ll be a lot of things we can get corrected, and that’s the great thing about it,” he continued. “It’s all correctable.”

UNC is now all alone atop the ACC Coastal Division, with its seventh straight victory bringing its overall record to 7-1, and making the Tar Heels a perfect 4-0 against ACC competition.

Mack Hollins dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the second quarter that brought the lead to 20-3 in UNC's favor. (UNC Athletics)

Mack Hollins dives across the goal line for a touchdown in the second quarter that brought the lead to 20-3 in UNC’s favor. (UNC Athletics)

Coming into Thursday, Pittsburgh’s only loss had been to Iowa, a team ranked 10th in the nation and still undefeated. Now, the Panthers fall to 6-2 with a 4-1 record in conference play.

Williams completed 14 of his 23 pass attempts for the Tar Heels, to the tune of 270 yards and two touchdowns–while also playing turnover-free football. He also carried the ball nine times for 52 yards, leading a UNC offense that jumped out to a commanding 20-3 halftime lead behind a barrage of explosive plays.

The first of those plays involved Williams breaking free of a sack, scrambling away, and lofting a 71-yard touchdown pass to junior Ryan Switzer in the second quarter–giving the Tar Heels their first lead of the night at 10-3. Switzer finished as UNC’s top receiver in the game, catching five passes for 126 yards.

“Their safeties were playing down all game, and we knew we could, me and Mack [Hollins], get behind them,” Switzer said. “Quise did a great job keeping the play alive, and I beat my man pretty bad, and he put it in a good spot.”

Two drives later, following a 31-yard field goal by Nick Weiler that put the Tar Heels ahead by two scores, Williams found 6-foot-4 junior Mack Hollins streaking across the field for a 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Hollins’ only other catch of the night was on a 49-yard streak route–a third quarter play that led to the third of kicker Nick Weiler’s four field goals on the night.

Elijah Hood, the Tar Heels’ sophomore tailback, continued to assert his will on opposing defenses, grinding out a tough 98 yards on 20 touches.

Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman nearly matched Williams’ effort going 27-of-42 for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. He also showed off his skills in the ground game, racking up 41 yards on 12 attempts rushing the ball.

Peterman’s top target, and future NFL draft pick, Tyler Boyd caught four passes on the Panthers’ opening drive on his way to 10 receptions and 89 yards.

UNC cornerback MJ Stewart attempts to tackle Pitt star receiver Tyler Boyd. (UNC Athletics)

UNC cornerback MJ Stewart attempts to tackle Pitt star receiver Tyler Boyd. (UNC Athletics)

In the second half the UNC defense held strong with a “bend but don’t break” mentality.

They were unable to stop Pitt from driving down the field, but did a tremendous job forcing punts and field goals when it mattered. The Panthers picked up a pair of touchdowns after halftime, including one with just 45 seconds left in the game, but the Tar Heels had built too big of a lead.

As they tried to mount a comeback, the Panthers continually threw in the direction of Boyd, but UNC junior cornerback Des Lawrence continually swatted them down–finishing the game with a total of four pass deflections along with seven tackles.

“I think our secondary did a heck of a job,” Fedora said. “Let me tell you, number 23 [Boyd] is a heck of a football player. We had him schemed up and he still made, I don’t know how many catches (10), but he’s a heck of a ball player and I’m proud of the way the secondary played.”

With the game largely out of reach during the second half, UNC’s offense seemed to get stuck in the mud a bit–but it didn’t seem to matter. Despite picking up just a pair of field goals after halftime, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik proved for the second straight week his bunch has what it takes to close out games.

As a result, this team is rattling off wins with no end in sight. This isn’t your older brother’s Tar Heel football team. That statement was made loud and clear Thursday night.

“[We] didn’t play our best ball, and we know that,” Switzer said. “But the most important thing is we came out of here against a ranked opponent on the road with a win. So it’s something we can build off of. There was a lot of energy in the locker room.”

Williams, the team’s unquestioned leader, said that, “We celebrate [this win] tonight and tomorrow, and that’s about it. Then we get ready to go. We gonna get ready to go against the Duke Blue Devils, and that’s a pretty good football team that’s gonna come into Kenan.”

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will have a couple extra days to recover as they move on from this game–the biggest of their season so far–to next week, the new biggest game of the season. Duke, currently ranked 22nd in the top 25 polls, visits Kenan Stadium to take on a UNC team that likely will make its first appearance in the polls next week.

It would be the first time in 76 years the two arch-rivals have met in football as ranked teams.

Game Notes:

  • Senior receiver Quinshad Davis caught three passes for 24 yards, giving him 183 receptions for his career. He passed Hakeem Nicks (181) as the school’s all time leader in that category.
  • UNC was again without one of its key cornerbacks, as junior Brian Walker did not make the trip for personal reasons.
  • In the first quarter, Marquise Williams became the fifth quarterback in ACC history to rush for 2,000 yards in a career (Tyrod Taylor, Josh Nesbitt, Woody Dantzler, Tevin Washington).
  • Last season UNC made just six field goals all year. Nick Weiler had four in this game alone.

Tar Heels Aim to Silence Doubters Against No. 23 Pittsburgh

Midway through the 2015 college football season, the ACC Coastal division is still up for grabs.

On Thursday night the Tar Heels travel to take on the No. 23 Pittsburgh Panthers for an important game between two of the division’s three remaining undefeated teams in conference play.

Both the Tar Heels and the Panthers come into this matchup with records of 6-1 overall, however Pittsburgh sits half a game ahead of UNC and Duke in the conference standings at 4-0, instead of 3-0.

Despite losing star tailback James Conner to a knee injury early in the season the Panthers have found another standout performer to lead them to this point—6-foot-2 junior receiver Tyler Boyd, a man Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora says will present a unique challenge to UNC’s much-improved secondary.

Tyler Boyd has presented many problems for opposing defenses this season.(Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Boyd has helped Pittsburgh by presenting many problems for opposing defenses this season. (Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

“[Boyd’s] a tremendous player,” Fedora said after practice on Tuesday. “I mean, they put him in the backfield, they move him all over the place. He’s a guy they’re gonna get the ball to, there’s no doubt about it.”

Through seven games Boyd has already caught 53 passes for 489 yards and four touchdowns. No other player in the ACC has more than 41 receptions, and only one—Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford–has more yards.

But for senior cornerback Malik Simmons and the rest of the Tar Heels pass defense, a group ranked second nationally in yards allowed, stopping Boyd will come down to one thing.

“It’s really just lining up with him to tell you the truth,” Simmons said. “Just finding him, seeing where he is—because that’ll dictate what they wanna do. They usually wanna go to him nine times out of 10, throwing, so we just gotta find him, play into our technique and we’ll be fine.”

The Tar Heels will finally have their full stable of cornerbacks for this game, with the return of sophomore MJ Stewart, who was suspended along with freshman Mike Hughes for their roles in an incident back on October 4th. This after Simmons, who had two interceptions last week, was forced to sit out the season’s first two games for a pair of misdemeanor charges during the summer.

Despite the off-field troubles, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik is pleased with the way his guys have responded on the field.

“I’m very proud of our secondary,” Chizik said. “I think they come to work every day with the intent to improve. I think it’s important to those guys to play well. They study the game, they’re very attentive, and they’re very much in tune to what we’re asking them to do.

“They’re not perfect, like none of us are–but I’m very proud with the way, collectively, they’ve been playing,” he added.

Tar Heels vs Cavaliers

Cornerback Brian Walker (5) has helped the secondary stay afloat despite three suspensions this season. (Photo via Smith Cameron Photography)

UNC has built a strong identity as an offensive team under Fedora, but it was Chizik’s defense that created five turnovers last week against Virginia to help win the game while the offense struggled to score points.

Redshirt freshman Robert Dinkins, a Tar Heel defensive end, says he’d be just fine if the same thing happened this week against head coach Pat Narduzzi and his hard-nosed Pittsburgh team.

“It feels great to be able to tell your brothers on offense that ‘Look you guys do whatever you can,’” Dinkins said. “’Even if y’all just score one field goal that’s gonna be enough for us. We just gonna make sure they don’t score as many points as y’all do.’”

The game also gives the Tar Heels another shot to prove themselves in front of a Thursday night national audience after coming up short in their first game of the year against South Carolina. On top of that, they also get a shot to prove the makers of the top 25 polls wrong for again leaving them unranked—the only one-loss team from a Power 5 conference to earn that honor.

“You can’t ignore us,” Dinkins said about what this game will show the nation. “We’re not gonna be ignored. We’re not gonna let you ignore us.

“We just gonna keep putting wins up on the board. On ESPN, you’ll see us. [If we get] the wins, eventually [the poll-makers] are gonna have to put us in there.”

Broadcast Information:

The game will be broadcast live on WCHL’s airwaves, and will be televised on ESPN with kickoff set for 7 p.m.

Game Notes:

  • The UNC coaching staff has said that the cornerbacks will be used in a rotation system with Stewart’s return.
  • In its seven games, the Tar Heels defense has allowed just 45 points in the second half.
  • Senior quarterback Marquise Williams needs three touchdowns to tie Darian Durant for the school record in touchdowns accounted for, passing, rushing, or receiving (79).
  • Quinshad Davis, also a senior, is one catch shy from tying Hakeem Nicks for the school record for receptions (181).

“Late Night With Roy” Gets Basketball Season Underway

Basketball season officially began in Chapel Hill on Friday night, as UNC hosted its annual “Late Night With Roy” event.

Hosted by TNT’s Kenny Smith, a Tar Heel and a two-time NBA champion, the event showcased the dancing and singing skills of the nation’s preseason No. 1 team, and even featured a little bit of basketball.

The annual Blue-White scrimmage, the grand finale, saw the White team pull out a 41-32 victory behind 14 points from junior forward Isaiah Hicks. Senior Brice Johnson led the Blue squad with eight points of his own.

Head Coach Roy Williams wore a crowd-pleasing pink blazer and watched the night unfold from his familiar seat on the bench. Despite offseason knee surgery Williams even busted out his own moves, albeit just for a second.

A special tribute to UNC alum and former ESPN anchor Stuart Scott brought a strong emotional moment to what was otherwise a light-hearted affair.

Sydni and Taelor Scott accept the Tar Heel Trailblazer award. (UNC Athletics)

Sydni and Taelor Scott accept the Tar Heel Trailblazer award. (UNC Athletics)

Scott’s daughters, Taelor and Sydni Scott, accepted a Tar Heel Trailblazer award in their father’s name from UNC Chancellor Carol Folt at center court. That followed a moving story from Sage Steele, a colleague of Scott’s at ESPN who fondly recalled the one time she got to host SportsCenter with him.

During that episode, which she said was back in 2007, Scott began by saying, “Welcome to SportsCenter, along with ‘S-Squared’, I’m ‘S-Squared.'”

In honor of that moment, Steele was presented with her very own UNC basketball jersey with “S-Squared” on the back.

Ten times in previous years Scott was the host of “Late Night With Roy.” Smith last hosted the event in 2005, which he pointed out by telling the crowd the last time he hosted the Tar Heels won the national championship. He said he came back to do it again this year because, “Coach called.”

The basketball itself was just a 20-minute scrimmage with a running clock. The White team featured a starting lineup with the night’s leading scorer, Hicks, along with Marcus Paige, Justin Jackson, Nate Britt, and Joel James. The Blue team consisted of Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, Joel Berry, Theo Pinson, and freshman Kenny Williams.

Perhaps tired from of a night consisting of numerous dance routines of all different styles, defense was not too much of a focus in the scrimmage.

It was a night for the fans. And there were plenty of them packing the Smith Center, each ecstatic that the long wait is over.

Basketball is back.

See more photos from Late Night With Roy.


Unleash the Beast: UNC’s Elijah Hood Leaving His Mark

Sitting at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in ACC play, the UNC football team is off to its best start ever under head coach Larry Fedora.

The key? Sophomore tailback Elijah Hood, who has proven during the first half of the season that he is the most important piece in the explosive Tar Heel attack.

“Everything’s better when you’re winning,” Hood said. “I mean, the food tastes better, the days are sunnier, everything gets a lot better when you’re winning for sure.”

Although Hood downplays the effect he’s had as an individual, entering the 2015 season Fedora and his staff made it known that in order for this team to win big it would need someone other than quarterback Marquise Williams to lead the team in rushing.

The UNC coaching staff has made a much more concerted effort to get the powerful Hood more touches by the goal line. (Grant Halverson/ Getty Images)

The UNC coaching staff has made a much more concerted effort to get the powerful Hood more touches by the goal line. (Grant Halverson/ Getty Images)

So far, Hood has been up to the task and then some–piling up 545 yards and six touchdowns on just 79 carries. His physical style has helped the Tar Heels establish an identity running the football, and Fedora has taken notice of his star’s unique ability.

“He runs really violent, real aggressive,” Fedora said. “Not to say that everybody doesn’t, but if you watch when he runs when he makes contact with somebody he’s usually delivering all the blow. He’s punishing the guy that’s trying to tackle him.”

The violent nature with which Hood runs has allowed him to put together quite the highlight reel. For example, last week against Wake Forest he took the team 65 yards for a touchdown on just two carries—all in a span of just 21 seconds.

Forced to answer questions about all the defenders who have been left lying in his wake this year, he recently told the Raleigh News & Observer that if you’re going to tackle him, “You better bring your buddies.” It’s clear this is somebody that takes pleasure in making grown men look silly.

“Running through a guy is amazing,” Hood said with emphasis on Monday. “It’s really good. Because it just demoralizes them. I mean, I ran over you. I ran right through you. That’s rough for a guy to take in.”

Despite his 6-foot, 220 pound frame, Hood doesn’t necessarily think of himself as an aggressive person. He credits the improvements he’s made in the mental side of the game for his sustained success this year. And growing up in Charlotte, he put just as much focus on becoming an Eagle Scout as he did a star football player—something that paints a far different picture than the one people see on Saturdays.

“The football field is definitely a totally different atmosphere than who I am [off the field],” he said. “When I’m out there it’s kinda when [I] let [my] animal out. Let the beast go. You get to unleash everything.

“I gotta think of myself as an animal out there,” he continued. “Just running hard, hitting hard, don’t be stopped.”

Amidst the chaos of a game, it can be extremely difficult for a running back to process all the movements necessary to break through the defense for a long gain. The pace of the game and athleticism of the players can make that task a challenge for even football’s finest players.

Hood giving out a free piggy-back ride last week against Wake Forest. (Photo: WSOC)

Hood giving out a free piggy-back ride last week against Wake Forest. (Photo: WSOC)

But for Hood, that small window of time between taking the handoff and getting tackled is where the animal inside him takes over.

“It’s all instinct whenever I get the ball,” Hood said. “You can’t really think about too much when you’re trying to play at that kind of speed. It’s usually just based off the angle that I see.

“If the guy’s real close and I don’t feel like I have time to set him up I’m just gonna lower my shoulder and accelerate. If I have a little bit more space to operate I might try something. Or sometimes even then, I might pretend like I’m gonna juke, and I’ll turn and run straight into you and catch you off guard.”

Entering the second leg of the season, the Tar Heels schedule becomes much tougher–and those opponents probably won’t be caught off guard by what Hood has to offer.

With games against rivals Duke and NC State still on the slate–along with road matchups at Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech—the Tar Heels may need to lean on their star running back more than they already have if they want to reach the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

But if, for some reason, those defenses haven’t been paying attention to what Hood’s been doing, now might be a good time to start—or else someone might get hurt.