Underdog Tar Heels Strive To Survive Hurricanes

The North Carolina football team, 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in ACC play, will take on the 5-3 Miami Hurricanes, also 2-2 in conference, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Sun Life Stadium.

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Both teams harbor realistic hopes of an ACC Coastal division crown, but neither can afford a loss this weekend.

Miami is playing formidable football these days. Coming off two dominating wins over Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes currently sit as 17-point favorites in the betting lines.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

But junior offensive guard Landon Turner says the Tar Heels are ready for the challenge. The Notre Dame game changed the team’s mindset.

“I think it [ND game] helped a lot. You play a high-caliber team like that and play very well. I think that spoke volumes and boosted our confidence up for the weeks to come. It was tough to lose. The loss hurt, but it was still healthy for us. We still came out of that game winning,” Turner says.

Miami’s star running back Duke Johnson has tallied a touchdown in seven straight games and has amassed 35 first downs in the past five outings. He’ll be a handful for the Tar Heel defense.

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says Johnson’s legs take pressure off the rest of the Hurricane offense.

“They’re getting better in the offensive line. They’ve got Duke Johnson and have the big kid behind him that comes in and does a great job. They’ve always had the guys that can fly on the outside. I think they’ve done a good job with the quarterback and bringing him along. It helps when you have an offensive line and Duke Johnson that can run the football like that to take some of the pressure off him so he doesn’t have to throw it all the time,” Coach Fedora says.

Miami’s freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has matured greatly in the past few games, playing with a newfound sense of comfort and confidence. Earlier in the year, the young signal caller was prone to coughing up the football, but he’s cleaned up his act.

“You watch his film as he goes, and he’s more poised every week. I watched the TV copy of the Virginia Tech game. He handled every aspect of it just like a junior or senior. He wasn’t rattled by the noise or hype. He did a nice job of managing the team,” Coach Fedora says.

The Hurricane defense has been up and down in 2014, but Coach Fedora says their experience has allowed them to be a much more worrisome unit than in years past.

“Defensively, a lot of these guys were playing three years ago. I think they have six or seven seniors starting on the defense. I think out of the eleven guys, there’s one sophomore on the defense. You have some age and experience. They’ve been through the battles together. They’re playing well on defense,” Coach Fedora says.

As for the Tar Heels, UNC junior quarterback Marquise Williams says the offense must get off to a faster start this weekend.

“As an offense, we’ve got to start out much faster. This past Saturday, we started off too slow. We’re just going to keep playing our style of football – smart, fast and physical,” Williams says.

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora says the keys to UNC’s success on Saturday will rest in special teams play and stopping the run.

“On special teams, we’re going to have to create another game-changing play. That’s going to have to happen. On defense, we’ve got to play with a lot of energy from the very beginning. We’ve got to stop the run. We’ve got to put the game on the freshman quarterback’s back,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Miami 9-8, but fell to the Hurricanes by a 27-23 margin in dramatic fashion a season ago. The two schools have battled to a 5-5 draw in their 10 games as ACC members since 2004.


Mack Hollins, Team Confidence Soaring for Tar Heels

There’s a much more positive atmosphere surrounding the Tar Heel football program following back-to-back ACC victories. UNC head coach Larry Fedora says the belief is sky-high for his 4-4 Tar Heels.

Coach Fedora was asked Monday what he points to as the key to UNC’s turnaround the past few weeks. His answer? Greater team unity.

There are no pointing fingers these days on the UNC sideline. Maybe that’s why the UNC defense has begun to play with more confidence.

Coach Fedora says getting back on the winning track has reinforced positivity within the program.

“It helps the morale of your team. I don’t think they’re lacking for confidence, but I think it’s a boost that you didn’t play as well as you needed to play and yet still found a way to win a football game. I think it reemphasizes that if you just keep believing in each other and keep playing hard, eventually something good will happen,” Coach Fedora says.

Larry Fedora (AP)

Larry Fedora (AP)

Good things have been happening – on both sides of the ball. When the UNC offense was sputtering in the second half in Charlottesville, it was the Carolina defense that rose to the occasion, limiting Virginia to a mere three points in the final 30 minutes of play.

A regular laundry list of players has stepped up to help spur on the Tar Heel success. Coach Fedora credits it to a team-wide buy-in that anybody can step in and make a big play.

“I think kids keep believing. They’ve bought in to that if we keep playing hard and keep believing in what we’re doing, something is going to happen and somebody’s going to make a play. We’ve had guys step up and make plays,” Coach Fedora says.

Walk-on wide receiver Mack Hollins is a special story. His two touchdowns, 120 receiving yards and onside kick recovery in the Virginia win earned him the title of ACC Receiver of the Week.

Mack Hollins hauls in a bomb (Zimbio.com)

Mack Hollins hauls in a bomb (Zimbio.com)

“It’s a great story for a kid to come in unknown and prove to everybody that he’s not only worthy of a scholarship, but he’s a great teammate and a guy that wants to contribute in everything. When he’s out there playing, he’s going hard on every snap and going to give you everything he has,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora says the over-achieving Hollins is a shining example of how hard work and maximum effort can help you achieve at the highest level.

“I expected him from what we saw in spring to contribute on the offense, but he’s big play after big play after big play. I don’t think anybody saw that coming but himself. Mack doesn’t lack for confidence and never has from the moment he stepped foot on campus. He was ready to prove he was as good as anybody or better. That’s what he’s done,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina’s red zone efficiency has been top-notch this season. The Tar Heel offense has scored 26 touchdowns in 34 trips.

Coach Fedora says cashing in on six points in the red zone was a point of emphasis in the offseason and cutting out the stupid mistakes has only aided his team in that regard in recent weeks.

“I think our guys have responded very well down in the red zone. We’ve quietly and slowly stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. I don’t want to talk about it a whole lot, but without you asking me about it, we’ve started doing that a little bit. That always helps you down in the red zone,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels will certainly need to maintain that level of efficiency and use their growing confidence to their advantage when they travel to take on the surging Miami Hurricanes this weekend.


‘Comeback Carolina’ Keeps Coastal Crown In Sight

UNC head coach Larry Fedora wasn’t pleased with the way his football team played Saturday in Charlottesville. But the Tar Heels snuck past the Cavaliers and in turn, kept alive their dreams of playing in the ACC Championship game.

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It was a complete team victory for Carolina. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones stepped up with a momentum-shifting interception late in the contest and wide receiver Mack Hollins snagged a pair of electrifying touchdowns.

But despite only coming in for a single play, backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky may have been the player of the game. After losing his helmet a play earlier, junior signal caller Marquise Williams was by rule, forced to sit out the following play and on a third down and 15 in the red zone, Trubisky took center stage.

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

The go-ahead score to T.J. Thorpe stunned the Charlottesville faithful, but for Coach Fedora, he wasn’t at all surprised by Trubisky’s heroics.

“We’ve got confidence in Mitch. We knew Mitch can go in and execute – that’s why we’ve done what we’ve done with him all year and why he’s played. This team has confidence in what he can do. He showed it,” Coach Fedora says.

But the game was sealed by an improbable gamble by Coach Fedora with the 28-27 lead. In a decision that was reminiscent of LSU head coach Les Miles, Coach Fedora elected to go for an onsides kick. The Tar Heels executed perfectly.

Coach Fedora, who’s now a spotless 5-0 against Virginia in his coaching career, says he had full confidence the play would work. He wanted the ball in his offense’s hands.

“It was there all day. It was a great time to do it. I wanted to have the ball in our hands when the game was over. Those guys did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite the dramatic road win that evened UNC’s record up at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in ACC action, Coach Fedora says he didn’t think his team played all that well.

“We didn’t play very well anywhere actually. What we had to do was find a way to win a football game. We did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

The stat sheet backs up Coach Fedora. The Cavaliers had six more first downs than the Tar Heels, gained more yards and dominated the time of possession. But UNC had the edge where it counts most – the scoreboard.

Coach Fedora says the victory was made more special in light of the disturbing conclusions drawn from the Wainstein Report that has a dark cloud hovering around the University.

“We got a lot of people that are getting blasted. There’s a lot of negativity out there. I can assure you, our University, our football team and everybody that’s a Tar Heel will be much stronger from this. We’ll overcome it,” Coach Fedora says.

And with the gutsy win, Carolina’s improbable drive to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte stays alive, at least for another week.


Tar Heels Survive Cavaliers 28-27

The North Carolina football team dispatched the Virginia Cavaliers 28-27 Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium to improve to 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in ACC play.

With the loss, the Cavaliers fell to 4-4 on the year and a 2-2 mark in conference action.

It was Virginia who darted out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks in large part to Kevin Parks’ sturdy legs. The senior running back rumbled down the field, giving the home team a 14-0 advantage at the 3:06 mark in the first quarter.

Then, the Tar Heel offense promptly answered right back. A Marquise Williams 52-yard dash cut the deficit in half, and a 57-yard bomb to Mack Hollins tied the game at 14-all with 55 seconds to go in the opening quarter.

The Cavaliers pushed ahead with a 5-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Parks, but yet again, the Tar Heels responded quickly. It was Hollins again. This time, the explosive receiver snagged a 63-yard strike from Williams to knot the game up at 21 points apiece.

Virginia added an Ian Frye field goal to edge ahead 24-21 as both teams trotted into the halftime locker room.

The third quarter was a defensive stalemate with the Cavaliers able to manage a 37-yard field goal by Frye to push them ahead 27-21 with 5: 39 on the third quarter clock.

In the fourth quarter, with UVA driving, UNC’s Nazair Jones intercepted Lambert’s pass and returned it to Virginia’s 38-yard line. UNC was in prime scoring position with 6:09 to play, down six.

UNC’s Williams was forced to sit out a play on third down and ten inside the UVA red zone. Backup redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky delivered. He threw a clutch touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe to push the Tar Heels ahead 28-27.

Coach Fedora’s gamble to employ an onsides kick with four minutes left to play paid off. Hollins recovered. UNC ran down the clock to close out the vital ACC Coastal victory with the help of an illegal substitution penalty on UVA.

Next up for the Tar Heels is another pivotal road game next Saturday at 5-3 Miami.



UNC Aims For Fifth Straight Win In ‘South’s Oldest Rivalry’

The North Carolina football team, 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the ACC, will travel up the road to Charlottesville and take on the Virginia Cavaliers, 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in a pivotal Coastal division matchup.

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UNC head coach Larry Fedora has a secret weapon. He’s been soliciting help from Carolina basketball skipper Roy Williams in recent weeks to get the Tar Heels back on track.

Coach Williams’ call in to the Larry Fedora Live show last week resulted in a UNC victory, so the two linked up again earlier this week in hopes of a similar result at UVA.

“I wasn’t going to call because I’m not superstitious, but Wanda [wife] thought it would be a good thing since I called last week. Since we won last week, she thought it would be a lot better if I called back. Larrry, great job and congratulations. Let’s do it again this weekend,” Coach Williams says.

Norkeithus Otis flattens a Cavalier in 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

Norkeithus Otis flattens a Cavalier in 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

Carolina has dominated the South’s Oldest Rivalry in recent years, having won four straight with an average margin of victory of 25 points.

But Coach Fedora says the Cavaliers are much better team this year thanks to a stingy defense.

“They’re a much improved football team, I can tell you that. I think they’ve got seven seniors over there on the defense. They’ve got confidence over there and are running hard to the ball,” Coach Fedora says.

UVA senior middle linebacker Mike Coley, in particular, has Coach Fedora concerned.

“They’re good up front. They play hard up front. They rotate about eight guys consistently. The Mike backer, No. 44, is a load. He brings it downhill and is going to test your manhood every time,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the more intriguing matchups will be Cavalier running back Kevin Parks, who’s amassed over 500 yards on the ground this year, up against the UNC rush defense.

UVA's Kevin Parks (Virginiasports.com)

UVA’s Kevin Parks (Virginiasports.com)

The Tar Heels successfully held down the Clemson rushing attack earlier in the season. Junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer is hoping the defense can rekindle that kind of form Saturday at Scott Stadium.

“They’re talented. They have a good running back in Parks, who is one of the better running backs in the ACC. We’ve got to do a good job of tackling him. They run similar schemes as Notre Dame and Clemson. We feel like we did a good job containing the rush against Clemson. Hopefully, we’re going to use some of the similar calls that we did against them and use it versus Virginia,” Schoettmer says.

As for the UNC running game, the Tar Heels received a welcome boost in that department from T.J. Logan and Romar Morris last weekend.

Junior quarterback and ACC Player of the Week Marquise Williams says a more balanced offense is much harder for teams to defend.

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

“That helps out. If you’re one-dimensional, it’s not going to work out too well. People can just line up eight in the box. It’s great that we have a two-dimensional style of football. We can run and pass. We’re doing tremendously well on both sides,” Williams says.

On a larger scale, the 119th meeting on the gridiron between two of the top public universities in the nation could go a long way into determining the ACC Coastal division champion.

But Coach Fedora says he’s not thinking about all that. He’s focused on the task at hand.

“I’m aware that it’s wide open. We’ve just got to take care of our business. I’m more worried about us right now than anything else going on. I know if we keep our head down and keep improving, maybe something good will happen,” Coach Fedora says.


Scouting Report: Virginia Coach Mike London

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with UVA head coach Mike London as his team prepares to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels this weekend in Charlottesville. London says the game is a ‘must-win’ ACC Coastal matchup. The two discussed the academic side of student-athletes, the Cavaliers’ leading rusher Kevin Parks and how best to defend UNC QB Marquise Williams.

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‘O.K. is never Okay': Larry Fedora Wants More from Tar Heels

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora says tasting success last weekend should motivate his 3-4 Tar Heels to want to experience more of it. And that’s a good thing for the Carolina skipper who knows there’s plenty to work on in all three phases of the game.

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Despite a four-game losing streak, UNC’s 48-43 win over Georgia Tech puts the Tar Heels right back into the ACC Coastal conversation.

The UNC defense has been playing with more intensity and aggression in recent weeks. But the scoreboard hasn’t got the memo. The Tar Heels have surrendered a combined 117 points in the past three contests.

And although Coach Fedora admits he’s by no means satisfied, he says it’s most important to see continual progress made each Saturday.

“O.K. is never okay. I still expect them to get better. I expect them to be better this week than they were last week. As long as we keep growing, than we’ll be alright,” Coach Fedora says.

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

The UNC special teams department has lacked the kind of fireworks put on display in 2013 and persistently advertised in the preseason.

Most notably, Carolina’s sophomore sparkplug Ryan Switzer has been bottled up by opposing coverage teams and contributed uncharacteristic mistakes of his own.

Coach Fedora says Switzer needs to stop trying to force the action and let the game come to him.

“I spent a lot of time talking to him [Switzer] this past week about not forcing anything in the punt return game. All we’ve done is try to force things, and we’ve gone backwards. We’ve been very poor in that aspect. I thought he did a good job the other day. […] There’s no reason to force it, just fair catch it and move on to the next one,” Coach Fedora says.

As frustrating as UNC’s No. 127 ranking in points allowed per game may be, Coach Fedora says the defensive intangibles like effort and attitude are unwavering.

“That is the hardest thing. It’s more about attitude and effort. I’m happy to say that we don’t face the triple option again this year. We don’t have to be concerned with it. I still think our attitudes, the way we’re practicing and the belief in what we’re doing is still good,” Coach Fedora says.

Marquise Williams is the centerpiece of the Tar Heel offense that ranks 17th in the nation in scoring. Williams was named an ACC Player of the Week for the second straight time Monday for good reason.

Marquise Williams celebrates with the Tar Pit after the GT win. (Elliott Rubin)

Marquise Williams celebrates with the Tar Pit after the GT win. (Elliott Rubin)

His record-breaking numbers over the weekend deserved that honor, but Coach Fedora says it’s the junior signal caller’s enhanced decision-making abilities that have proved most vital.

“I think he’s [Williams] gotten better and better every week. As you continue to make good decisions and when you don’t make a good decision and make something out of it, you gain confidence. Stay within the offense, take what they give you, and we’ll be okay. When you get outside of that, things happen,” Coach Fedora says.

Winning tends to breed more winning. Coach Fedora says the young Tar Heels’ confidence levels are growing as they figure out what it takes to emerge victorious on game days.

“For their confidence level and their ability to believe in each other and what they’re doing, we were getting to a point where we really needed it [a win]. It was all about finding a way to win the football game. When you find a way to win football games, you start realizing if you don’t screw it up, you got a pretty good chance,” Coach Fedora says.


Williams, Tar Heels Cool Under Pressure

When faced with a deficit and little time remaining on the clock, the UNC offense came up big Saturday night, snapping a five-game losing streak to Georgia Tech.

UNC signal caller Marquise Williams’ poise under pressure was paramount.

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Despite the torrid pace of the UNC offense, there was an overlaying sense of calm about the Tar Heels as Williams directed the game-winning drive that ended with a T.J. Logan touchdown dive.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says the team works through the two-minute drill every week. It showed against the Yellow Jackets.

“As he was going out with 3:07 left, he said, ‘We do this every week. It’s not big deal.’ He’s right. We work two-minute every week. We’ve been doing that since the first day that we got here. He’s comfortable with it. If you look at our guys, they aren’t helter-skelter. We go at that pace all the time. It’s very calm for them,” Coach Fedora says.

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

At times Saturday night, Williams’ play was beautiful to watch. The junior leader completed 38 of his 47 passes, totaled 390 yards and threw four touchdowns.

During one stretch in the second half, Williams completed 14 consecutive pass attempts, just one shy of the school record.

With 3:07 remaining on the Kenan Stadium clock, Williams thrived. He says his only thoughts concerned “moving the chains”.

“This is when the best quarterbacks perform – under pressure, when you’re down. We had three timeouts and 3:07 left. Don’t force anything and check the ball down. I knew we just had to move the ball down and keep moving the chains. We found ways to keep executing on the offensive side of the football,” Williams says.

Williams has always been known for his explosive dual-threat ability. But the way Coach Fedora was talking about his quarterback following the win over Georgia Tech, it’s his role as a game manager that made the difference.

“He really did a nice job of checking the ball down. He didn’t push the ball into any coverages he shouldn’t have. He did a heck of a job with the way he ran the ball as always and the way he threw it,” Coach Fedora says.

Williams is none short on confidence. He’s made his fair share of mistakes in his Carolina career that began when Bryn Renner went down to injury last season, but Williams says he draws inspiration from a couple NFL greats.

“That’s where the greats perform. You look at Peyton Manning and Tom Brady with the two-minute drive. I want to be something like that one day in my life. I thought, ‘Why can’t I do it?’ I look back at times that I turned the ball over in certain situations, but I have the opportunity to come back and redeem myself,” Williams says.

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

UNC O-linemen Caleb Peterson and John Ferranto team up with TE Jack Tabb on the strong side. (Elliott Rubin)

But there’s another factor contributing to Williams’ fine play the past two weeks at Notre Dame, a team that nearly knocked off defending national champion Florida State last week, and at home against the Yellow Jackets.

The young UNC offensive line is coming together. The addition of Jon Heck back into the starting lineup after recovering from injury and the maturation of the rest of the guys up front has led to more time for Williams’ decision-making and opened up wider rushing lanes for UNC’s stable of running backs.

Coach Fedora says he likes the progress he sees from the O-line and in turn, is delighted with the emergence of a running game.

“You’re talking two weeks in a row that we’ve had our starting five back up front with some repetitions under their belt. I think they’re doing a better job and with Marquise being able to run, it’s going to open up some things for the running backs. Those guys ran hard and did a nice job,” Coach Fedora says.

Perhaps Logan going in for the decisive touchdown Saturday night was fitting. It could be a sign of a different Tar Heel squad moving forward into the latter portion of the 2014 schedule, a team armed with an effective rushing attack.

Logan ran with a renewed fighting spirit last weekend, running over Jacket defenders while tallying up 77 yards on 14 carries to lead the Tar Heels on the ground.

Williams says all the hard work put in by the O-line is finally being rewarded.

“It’s been shaky all year. A lot of people were talking about how we couldn’t get a running game. Those guys kept feeling bad about themselves. Now, the offensive line is unbelievable. My hat goes off to them every Saturday. After we finish practice on Sundays, you see some guys out there blocking. I’m so grateful to have those guys. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do out there,” Williams says.

What’s more, despite an unimpressive 3-4 record and 1-2 mark in the ACC, the Tar Heels aren’t completely out of the Coastal race. Williams and company are heading back to the practice fields this week with tangible success to build on, emboldened by the momentum of an ACC victory.


Tar Heels Thwart Yellow Jackets 48-43

The North Carolina football team used T.J. Logan’s game-winning touchdown dive with 11 seconds to play to get past Georgia Tech 48-43 in Kenan Stadium Saturday night and improve to 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the ACC.

With the loss, the Yellow Jackets dropped to 5-2 on the season and 2-2 in conference play.

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Quarterback Marquise Williams completed 38 of 47 pass attempts for 390 yards and four touchdowns. At one point in the second half, Williams completed 14 consecutive attempts, one shy of the school record.

“We just had to play with confidence as an offense,” Williams says. “We told the defense as soon as they came off, we said, `We got your back.'”

Williams set the UNC record for completions in a game with 38 (previous was 33 by T.J. Yates vs. NC State in 2010). He also set the UNC record for completions in consecutive games with 62. The previous record was 61 by Yates in 2010.

“All night (Marquise) did a really nice job of taking the ball where it was supposed to go,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says. “He didn’t force it, and he checked down when we needed to. That’s why we moved the chains the way we did.”

The Yellow Jackets struck first with a Zach Laskey 3-yard touchdown to go up 7-0 with 5:47 to go in the first quarter.

The Tar Heels answered right back when Williams threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard to tie the contest at 7-7 with 1:14 remaining in the first quarter. Georgia Tech responded with a 27-yard field goal by Harrison Butker to snag back the lead at 10-7 with 10:47 left in the half.

A Williams to Ryan Switzer 68-yard touchdown pass pushed UNC ahead 14-10 with 9:13 to go in the second quarter.

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

Following some solid defensive effort, the Tar Heels struck again. This time, it was much the same. Williams used his legs to get down the field and then polished the scoring drive off with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Switzer to give UNC a 21-10 advantage with 2:51 left in the second quarter.

The Yellow Jackets didn’t waste any time responding. QB Justin Thomas slung a 12-yard touchdown strike to Tony Zenon to close the gap to 21-17 with 1:25 to play in the half.

To open the second half, Georgia Tech took advantage of their first possession and reclaimed the lead at 24-21 thanks to a 65-yard touchdown pass from Thomas to Darren Walker with 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Carolina answered right back with a scoring drive that was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run by Williams to push the Tar Heels into the lead at 28-24 with 8:13 on the third quarter clock.

The Tar Heels widened the gap yet again with another impressive drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown dive by running back Romar Morris that gave UNC the 35-24 lead with 2:36 to play in the third quarter.

Justin Thomas rallied the Jackets back into contention with a 46-yard scoring pass to Deandre Smelter to close the margin down to 35-31 with 14:50 left in the game.

The key play of the game came on a 4th and 6 at the GT 36-yard line. UNC’s Coach Fedora elected to go for it. It paid off. Williams hooked up with Mack Hollins for a 36-yard touchdown pass to give the home team a 42-31 cushion with 12:34 left to play.

Rameses watches on (Elliott Rubin)

Rameses watches on (Elliott Rubin)

The Yellow Jackets responded with a 14-yard touchdown dash by Zach Laskey. But a huge tackle by UNC defender Des Lawrence put a stop to Georgia Tech’s two-point conversion effort. The Tar Heels held a 42-37 advantage with 8 minutes left in the contest.

A 75-yard reverse by Smelter went to the end zone for a touchdown and gave Georgia Tech a 43-42 edge with 3:07 to play.

On the next possession, UNC bounced back strongly.  Logan took the ball in the end zone for the game-winner with a two-yard scoring dive to earn the Tar Heels the 48-43 win.

Georgia Tech had one final possession deep in its own end, but Thomas’ desperation deep heave fell incomplete and receiver Michael Summers dropped Thomas’ short pass.

Next up for UNC comes a trip up to Charlottesville next Saturday to take on the 4-3 Virginia Cavaliers in another critical ACC Coastal matchup.



Tar Heels Look To Avoid Habitual Yellow Jacket Sting

The 2-4 North Carolina football team will welcome 5-1 Georgia Tech to Chapel Hill this weekend for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday under the lights at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels will be searching for their first ACC win of the season.

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Saturday’s game is a classic contrast in styles. It’s the jumpy, up-tempo UNC offense up against the deliberate, ‘lull you to sleep’ triple-option assault of Georgia Tech.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says there’s pressure to score on every possession against the Yellow Jackets’ style of play that eats up so much clock.

“Georgia Tech does a tremendous job of possessing the ball. They stay ahead of the chains so they’re not in long-yardage situations on third down. They can still get to their entire offense, which is the triple option. Offensively, you go from averaging 14-15 possessions in a game to 9-10,” Coach Fedora says.

Marquise Williams airs one out (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams airs one out (UNC Athletics)

Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels have been preparing a little differently in practice this week – without a football.

“We don’t use a ball when we’re running the triple option. That way, the defense doesn’t know who has the ball because there is no ball. On every play, somebody should be wrapping the fullback up, somebody should have the quarterback and somebody should have the pitch. If they’re not, something is wrong,” Coach Fedora says.

UNC senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer says gap assignments are a priority against the triple option.

“You’re going to have to fit your gap and do your job. You can’t really worry about the guy next to you; just know that he’s going to be able to do his job. Everybody on this defense has a job to do. If we do our job, we’ll be fine on Saturday,” Farmer says.

Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson is worried about the dual-threat ability of Carolina junior quarterback Marquise Williams. Williams is one of only eight players in the country leading his team in both passing yards and rushing yards.

Coach Johnson says the Yellow Jacket defense will try to keep Williams constrained inside the pocket.

“You have to be mindful of your rush lanes. Where he really kills you is adlibbing. You have to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket and not letting him kill you on scramble plays,” Coach Johnson says.

A win this weekend would provide a huge confidence boost to the Tar Heels for multiple reasons.

First, UNC needs to put a stop to the immediate bleeding – a four-game losing streak. But perhaps more importantly, the Tar Heels must exorcise their triple option demons.

GT QB Justin Thomas (Sportsonearth.com)

GT QB Justin Thomas (Sportsonearth.com)

UNC has succumbed to Georgia Tech on five straight occasions and dropped 14 of the last 16 contests between the schools. In order to harbor any realistic hopes of winning the ACC Coastal this year and what’s more, in any future seasons, the Tar Heels must prove they can find a way past the Yellow Jackets.

Coach Fedora senses that urgency and says the Tar Heels will need to quickly adapt to the speed at which Georgia Tech runs the triple option. But the problem is he also says it’s impossible to adequately simulate Coach Johnson’s offense with a scout team.

“There’s no way you’re going to show them the speed of the game with the triple option in practice. We don’t run it. You’re not going to get a scout team to run the triple option as quickly and efficiently as they do. It takes some time at the beginning of the game to get acclimated to the speed of it. Hopefully, it doesn’t take too long. You’re only going to have so many possessions,” Coach Fedora says.

A quick start is always important, but against the ball-control running of Georgia Tech, it’s even more vital. An early first half lead reminiscent of the 14-0 margin opened up by the Tar Heels a week ago at Notre Dame, could completely change the complexion of the game Saturday night.