UNC Football Aims to Stay Focused Offensively

As the 6-6 UNC football team prepares for the Quick Lane Bowl against Rutgers, the offense looks to stay focused and establish some type of consistency, with hopes of finishing the season with a winning record for the third time under head coach Larry Fedora.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell says inconsistency plagued the offense throughout the year, and was the main reason they never reached the level of potential he believes this group could have achieved.  However, he still sees plenty of reasons for motivation on his side of the ball; recovering from the devastating regular season-ending loss to NC State being the most influential.

While it may be easy to conclude that players would have their eyes set on winter break after a frustrating season capped with a loss in the NC State game, junior offensive guard Landon Turner says that “nobody has cashed in on this season at all, we’re still 100 percent focused, it’s still 2014, so we’ll worry about 2015 when it gets here.”

Quarterback Marquise Williams spear-heads the UNC attack  (ACC.blogs)

Quarterback Marquise Williams spear-heads the UNC attack (ACC.blogs)

Closing the year with a win to rinse out the bad taste left behind from the State game seems to be the dominant theme in the locker room, but there are still other goals to be accomplished for some of the members of the offense.

With a touchdown catch against the Scarlet Knights, junior wide receiver Quinshad Davis would break his tie with Hakeem Nicks atop the school’s list of all-time touchdown receptions, leaving him all alone at the top with 22 for his career.

Also, the game will give promising freshman tailback Elijah Hood a chance to prove that he is fully recovered from the injuries that have cost him the last two months of the season, as well as an opportunity to impress coaches leading into next year’s campaign.

The Quick Lane Bowl will be shown on ESPN at 4:30 P.M. on December 26th from inside the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions, Ford Field.


Oakes’ Outlook: Bowls, Roles, and Noles


And so the Tar Heels’ disappointing 2014 campaign will come to a close in Motown. It’s a fitting end (a dreary and cold one in the Midwest at that) for Carolina in a season that began with its head coach, Larry Fedora, proclaiming “it’s time.” Time for what, exactly, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t a trip to the Quick Lane Bowl to face the equally mediocre 7-5 Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Grab your tickets, folks! Get ‘em while they’re hot. I hear you can grab a pair of upper deck tickets for $75 each. After all, who doesn’t want to spend Christmas in Detroit?

The only one who might be excited about UNC’s bowl destination is Eric Ebron. The ex-Tar Heel turned Detroit Lion won’t have to travel far to watch his former teammates play. Enjoy, Ebron. I’m sitting this one out.

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com

Photo courtesy of longshotblues.com



Strap yourselves in, Carolina fans. I’m setting the over/under for the number of times we hear the word “platoon” Saturday at 50. Place your bets!

If you haven’t heard, the Tar Heels head to Rupp Arena Saturday for a meeting with the No. 1 team in the land – the Kentucky Wildcats. I’m still waiting to hear back from John Calipari’s folks for an interview…then I can ask him which side he’d like on that over/under. He’s a betting man, right?

The real question in this game is whether the blue platoon or the white platoon gets more playing time. “What did you think about that platoon shift there? I don’t know, Calipari may have taken the blue platoon out a little too soon – they’re a more offensively-gifted platoon.” Just a taste.

But let’s face it: the result isn’t really in doubt. The margin of victory? Sure. UK is really good.

Just remember, we won’t be watching a war movie this weekend. This will be college basketball. It will be easy to confuse the two. You’ll be all “platooned” out when the final buzzer sounds around 2 p.m. Saturday.

FREE ADVICE: Get your earplugs ready.

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com

Photo courtesy of fashiontimes.com


Jimbo’s Genius

Has there ever been a more dominant team less appreciated (or, ummm….more disrespected) than Florida State?

29 straight victories. Defending national champions. Three-time defending ACC champions. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Tradition. Pageantry. Legends.

You can think whatever you’d like about Jameis Winston’s childishly foolish behavior off the field, but I choose to separate the product on the field from the transgressions off it.

And the product I’ve witnessed on the field since November 24th, 2012 (the last time they came out on the wrong end of a scoreboard) has been nothing short of spectacular.

And yet, as the Seminoles continued to rack up the victories this season, they began to slide down the College Football Playoff rankings. In effect, FSU was penalized for doing what? Winning. That’s downright laughable.

Dear committee members, I don’t envy your job. It’s a tough one, no doubt. But you’re missing the forest for the trees.

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

Photo courtesy of atlantablackstar.com

The goal of a game is to win. Score more than your opponent. Who’s done that better than FSU? Nobody.

Flash only takes you so far. Substance prevails. FSU has plenty of that. But this year, at least, FSU isn’t sexy. Americans like sexy.

Perhaps that’s why each week, without fail, prognosticators, pundits and so-called experts pick the Noles to lose. This will be the week, they say. The week they won’t find a way to escape.

Yes, some day, maybe very soon, it will all be over. The Seminoles will lose. Most people will be happy.

But until then, I choose to give credit where credit is due. I’ll embrace the gritty determination, the steely composure under pressure and the ability to flip the switch. I admire it all. Why hate? Appreciate!

This year’s FSU team undoubtedly has more cracks in the armor than last year’s dominant display of perfection – in every phase of the game. The defense has holes. Jameis is more errant with the football. But in a way, to me, that makes the 2014 Noles even more impressive.

They’ve persevered. They overcame off-the-field issues. They survived the media onslaught. They’ve taken everybody’s best shot each and every week. They’ve been hated, and they’ve handled that too.

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Photo courtesy of ngngsports.com

Sometimes you forget that these are 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids.

It’s far easier to get to the top than to stay there. Everybody wants to knock you off the pedestal, especially if you’re Jameis Winston – the guy everybody loves to hate. So what’s the magic formula to the Seminoles’ ability to stave off all challengers? There are lots of ingredients.

But the man stirring that potent concoction is Jimbo Fisher.

I still remember sitting a few feet away from the FSU head coach back in July at the ACC preseason media event in Greensboro.

There was something in the glint of his eyes and the infectious conviction in his words that made me a believer. Right then and there. Signed. Sealed. Delivered.

He let me take a peek behind the curtain. He talked for over 20 minutes on this thing called the “attitude of domination.” He discussed how in order to be special, you have to do something different that others aren’t willing to do. The throngs of national media members listened to the man preach.

Some coaches are X’s and O’s guys. And yes, Jimbo’s no slouch in that department. But I’m convinced that what sets him apart is not his football expertise.

No, Jimbo’s a philosopher. Behind those dadgum-its and goofy smiles, there lies a resolute belief system for success. I see how he gets his Noles to buy in.

We’ve grown so accustomed to Jimbo being asked the same questions by the TV sideline reporters after each and every thrilling come-from-behind victory this season. One of those questions is always, “How do you guys continue to come up with these fourth quarter comeback wins?”

Jimbo’s regular response? “It’s who we are.”

That resonates with me. And more importantly, it’s resonated in the hearts and minds of his players.

Through it all, the Seminoles have continued to live up to the University’s motto – UNCONQUERED. 29 and counting…

But yet again, everybody and their mother will be picking Florida State to lose when it takes the field in Pasadena against the mighty juggernaut that is Oregon in the national semifinals.

That’s just fine with Jimbo and the Noles. In fact, they like it that way.


Follow Matt on Twitter @moakes3


Fedora, Tar Heels Aim For Redemption, More Passion In Bowl Game

The Tar Heels will be bowling in Motown the day after Christmas. The 6-6 UNC football team will be looking to finish with a winning record for the third straight year under head coach Larry Fedora when Carolina takes on 7-5 Rutgers in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl.

***Listen to the story***

The 4:30 p.m. kickoff Friday, Dec. 26 will offer UNC a chance at redemption.

Coach Fedora found it hard to offer an explanation for his team’s lethargic loss to the Wolfpack to close the regular season.

Larry Fedora (AP)

Larry Fedora (AP)

“I wish I had more answers for you. I would probably feel better about myself if I did, but I don’t have a whole lot to say. You have to give all the credit to them,” Coach Fedora says.

The bowl game gives the Tar Heels an opportunity to wipe the sour taste of a sound rivalry game beating out of their mouths and head into the offseason and spring football with a positive mindset.

Coach Fedora says the Tar Heels will need to be full of motivation to succeed against Rutgers.

quick lane bowl

“To play this game, you have to play with passion, energy and enthusiasm all the time. That’s the only way you can do it,” Coach Fedora says.

With a couple weeks to prepare for the Scarlet Knights, UNC will be hoping its starting junior quarterback, Marquise Williams, who was knocked out of the regular season finale against N.C. State, will be fully fit and ready to go.

The good news for Tar Heel fans is that it appears sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer, who also left the game against the Wolfpack, has not sustained any serious injury and will be in Carolina uniform in Detroit.

Former star tight end for UNC, Eric Ebron, announced his pleasure with the bowl destination for the Tar Heels. Ebron, now a tight end for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, will be happy to cheer on his former teammates in the stadium where he now goes to work on Sundays – Ford Field.

Rutgers and UNC are no strangers to each other. The postseason matchup will be the seventh confrontation on the gridiron between the two schools and the fifth since 2006.

Former Carolina running back Giovani Bernard’s two touchdowns helped the Tar Heels scrape past the Scarlet Knights, 24-22, in the last meeting in 2011.

UNC will be hoping for a similar result in 2014.


Back to Drawing Board for Fedora, Heels

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora was at a loss for words following his team’s 35-7 blowout loss to their rivals in red. The Tar Heels came into the contest on a high off the dominant Duke win, but the roles were reversed Saturday afternoon.

***Listen to the story***

Carolina’s football team couldn’t match the physicality and intensity of the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday afternoon inside Kenan Stadium and as a result, finished the regular season with a disappointing 6-6 record.

Their Wolfpack rivals improved to 7-5 on the season and snapped a two-game losing slide to the Tar Heels.

***Click here for NCSU game recap***

Both UNC quarterback Marquise Williams and receiver Ryan Switzer were knocked out of the game by the relentless Wolfpack attack, and the enigmatic Carolina regular season came to a close with a resounding thud.

Coach Fedora wasn’t mincing any words after the game. He says he can’t remember a worse offensive output in his coaching career.

Mitch Trubisky was thrust into action Saturday (Elliott Rubin)

Mitch Trubisky was thrust into action Saturday (Elliott Rubin)

“You got to at least be decent up front, and we weren’t. We just didn’t have anybody make any plays. Give them credit. We didn’t match the energy level. That’s one of the worst offensive performances I’ve been around,” Coach Fedora says.

It’s hard to argue with the Carolina skipper. The Tar Heels only mustered 207 yards of total offense against the 454 yards racked up by the Wolfpack.

N.C. State shot out of the gates with high intensity and ruthless intention, dominating the line of scrimmage and delivering punishing blow after punishing blow to UNC signal caller Williams.

Carolina offensive lineman Landon Turner says the O-line’s struggles were all mental.

“I think before the game, everyone had plenty of energy. I think, mentally, somewhere down the line we lost some guys. It was more of a mental issue than a physical issue today,” Turner says.

The defensive line didn’t fare any better for the Tar Heels, giving up a whopping 388 rushing yards to the Wolfpack.

What’s more, N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett ran all over the Tar Heels, setting his school’s single-game rushing record for a quarterback with 167 yards.

The only bright spot for the Tar Heels came with 1:48 remaining in the contest. Quinshad Davis tied Hakeem Nicks for the all-time career receiving touchdowns record with his 21st score.

There was plenty of red inside Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

There was plenty of red inside Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

But that was no consolation prize for the junior receiver. Davis says his team didn’t respond at all to N.C. State’s aggression.

“We felt like we were ready to go. They just hit us in the mouth, and we didn’t react. That’s that,” Davis says.

What’s next for the Tar Heel football team? The demoralized Tar Heels will now await their postseason bowl destination, likely a lower-tier bowl game.

But in the meantime, Coach Fedora says the coaching staff will hit the recruiting trail and the players will focus on finishing up their coursework strong.

“The coaches will be on the road recruiting. Our guys have got their last few days of class, so they’ll be concentrating on finishing up well in the classroom. We will probably lift them and run them some just to keep them moving around, but really we’ll try to give their bodies a break here,” Coach Fedora says.


Wolfpack Thrashes Williams, Tar Heels

The North Carolina football team couldn’t match the physicality and intensity of the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday afternoon inside Kenan Stadium and was soundly beaten 35-7.

With the win, the Wolfpack improved to 7-5 on the season, while the Tar Heels dropped to 6-6 overall with the defeat.

NC State huddle  (Elliott Rubin)

NC State huddle (Elliott Rubin)

Both Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer were knocked out of the game by the relentless attack by the Wolfpack, and the enigmatic Carolina regular season came to a close with a resounding thud.

“Stunning is a good word. It was very disappointing. I was very surprised, actually. But, it’s what it was. No matter how you look at it, they dominated the line of scrimmage. It’s like what we did a week ago; it was the exact opposite this week. It’s hard to win a game when you don’t win upfront,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

The Wolfpack shot out of the gates with high intensity and ruthless intention, dominating the line of scrimmage and delivering punishing blow after punishing blow to UNC quarterback Marquise Williams.

“That was definitely one of our worst games as an offensive line. It wasn’t a lack of ability. I think it was more of a mental gap. We got in our own heads today,” junior guard Landon Turner says.

The defensive line didn’t fare any better for the Tar Heels, giving up 388 rushing yards to the Wolfpack.

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who set the single-game rushing record for rushing yards at his school with 167, capped off the 79-yard opening drive with a 17-yard touchdown run that gave the visitors a 7-0 lead with 11:02 on the first quarter clock.

Brissett followed that score up with another impressive drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end David Grinnage with 9:52 to play in the half.

UNC’s Thomas Moore missed a makeable 35-yard field goal attempt and the Wolfpack responded with a 4-yard touchdown dive from running back Shadrach Thornton to grab his team a 21-0 advantage at intermission.

Mitch Trubisky was thrust into action Saturday (Elliott Rubin)

Mitch Trubisky was thrust into action Saturday (Elliott Rubin)

The pounding on Williams didn’t stop after halftime. A venomous tackle left Williams flat on his back before being helped up and off the field early days in the third quarter.

A three-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Purvis at the close of an extended drive gave NC State an insurmountable 28-0 lead with 4:21 remaining in the third quarter.

To make matters worse, Ryan Switzer was pummeled on a punt return and stayed down on the ground for minutes before being helped off the field in the fourth quarter.

The only bright spot for the Tar Heels came with 1:48 remaining in the contest. Quinshad Davis tied Hakeem Micks for the all-time career receiving touchdowns record with his 21st score.

“Very, very proud of the NC State Wolfpack football team and our coaching staff and our players and the preparation. For two games in a row, we’ve dominated an in-state opponent, and that’s what it was – 388 yards rushing and held them to 30. It was a great performance, in all three phases, by a bunch of different people,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren says.

The demoralized Tar Heels will now await their postseason bowl destination, likely a lower-tier bowl game, after a disappointing 6-6 regular season finish.



Tar Heels Try To Tame Wolfpack In Home Finale

The North Carolina football team, 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the ACC, closes out its regular season with a 12:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday afternoon against its rival from Raleigh – 6-5 N.C. State.

***Listen to the story***

The Tar Heels have been led by the gritty, determined play of junior signal caller Marquise Williams, who was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for the fourth time this season Monday.

But according to Wolfpack defender Hakim Jones, Williams is a softy who “basically quits” when hit a few times.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says he doesn’t think it’s wise to question his quarterback’s toughness.

“I wouldn’t question Marquise’s toughness. You have seen all of our games. You’ve seen how he gets hit and what he does. I haven’t looked at a game and thought he laid down for any reason,” Coach Fedora says.

Williams back for the snap (Elliott Rubin)

Williams back for the snap (Elliott Rubin)

If he got his way, Coach Fedora says he’d like Williams to go down to the ground a little quicker. But the Carolina skipper says that’s not even an option for the tough-natured Williams.

“I would like for him to go down more than he does, a whole lot more. But that’s not who he is. It’s not his makeup or in his DNA. He likes delivering blows,” Coach Fedora says.

There will certainly be plenty of heavy blows delivered Saturday afternoon in this rivalry matchup featuring two teams who don’t like each other.

Jones calling out Williams may be foolish, but it definitely throws more fuel on the fire of this intense rivalry that N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren says is fun to be a part of.

“It’s a great rivalry. The distance between the schools makes it special. They’re always heated and a lot of pageantry goes into them. I love everything about it. It’s a big challenge for our football team. Any time you’re in a game like this as a coach, it’s a pleasure,” Coach Doeren says.

Per usual, Coach Fedora turned the UNC locker room red last weekend. He says his interior decorating is partly motivational and partly just for fun.

“We like to have a good time. Whether that’s juvenile or not, the kids have fun with it. I don’t think it’s what motivates them to play the game. It’s kind of a joke, but they’ve had fun with it in the past,” Coach Fedora says.

The Wolfpack offense has found its feet this season in large part thanks to the play of Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Coach Fedora says Brissett will make life difficult for the Tar Heel defense.

Jacoby Brissett (NBC Sports)

Jacoby Brissett (NBC Sports)

“That guy is really talented. He can beat you with his legs or beat you with his arms. He’s going to extend plays. He’s a special players, there’s no doubt,” Coach Fedora says.

The key to the game may come down to the running game. The team that has held the rushing advantage has won 19 of the last 22 meetings.

Luckily for the Tar Heels, running back T.J. Logan is running with ruthless intention at just the right time. His revitalization mimics the upward trajectory of the entire UNC team.

Senior linebacker Norkeithus Otis says his teammates have grown in confidence.

“We just keep working and believing in each other. We find ways to win games and keep fighting. A lot of the confidence has come up in all the guys,” Otis says.

The Tar Heels lead the all-time series with the Wolfpack, 65-32-6, and have never lost under the direction of Coach Fedora.


Fedora, Tar Heels Look To Send Seniors Out On Top

The 6-5 UNC football team follows up an emotional Thursday night win over Duke with another big-time rivalry game this Saturday to finish out the regular season. UNC head coach Larry Fedora, as always, is quick to remind his team that it’s N.C. State week.

***Listen to the story***

Carolina’s postgame spray-painting celebrations last week caused significant damage to the Duke locker rooms and practice facilities. UNC will be footing the bill for at least $10,000 worth of repairs.

Coach Fedora says he gave Duke head coach David Cutcliffe a call Friday morning to offer an apology.

“I was made aware of it on Friday and called David [Cutcliffe] to apologize. Obviously, the celebration got out of hand. I wish it wouldn’t have, but it did,” Coach Fedora says.

UNC players wasted no time painting the Victory Bell. (Elliott Rubin)

UNC players wasted no time painting the Victory Bell. (Elliott Rubin)

But for now, the Victory Bell chimes have grown quiet. The Tar Heels have turned their attention to another in-state foe – the Wolfpack of N.C. State.

UNC will be striving to make it three straight victories over its rival in red Saturday afternoon inside Kenan Stadium and remarkably, given the 2-4 start, be playing to finish with a 7-5 regular season record.

Yet again, much like last season, the Tar Heels have turned the corner and saved their best stuff for the second half of the season.

Coach Fedora credits the coaching staff and the leadership of the seniors for keeping the team together during the four-game losing streak.

“A lot like last year, I think our coaching staff did a tremendous job of keeping these guys together. There was never any finger pointing or any guys blaming anybody. Our seniors did a really good job of staying together and keeping our team together. Basically, we just kept playing and eventually started making some plays,” Coach Fedora says.

What specific unit does the Carolina skipper attribute this year’s turnaround to? He says it all starts and ends with the play of the big guys up front.

“We’re much better up front on the offensive line than we were at the beginning of the year. When we’ve had our five healthy guys out there, we’ve moved the ball pretty consistently. I think our D-line is also growing up and starting to play better. If we can continue that way, we’ll be a really good football team,” Coach Fedora says.

The junior leader of the young offensive line, Landon Turner, has largely been overlooked, but has been a sturdy anchor for the Tar Heels all season. Coach Fedora says Turner’s consistency and impactful leadership abilities have not been lost on him.

The Tar Heels bagged a road win at Carter-Finley last season (Elliott Rubin)

The Tar Heels bagged a road win at Carter-Finley last season (Elliott Rubin)

“Landon Turner is the leader of that group. He’s been the most consistent all the way through and since he’s got back from injury, he’s got better and better every week. […] He moves people at will,” Coach Fedora says.

As has grown custom for the UNC football program under the Larry Fedora regime, the football coach did a little interior designing in the UNC locker room over the weekend in preparation for N.C. State week. Red was the dominant color scheme.

Motivational tactics aside, Coach Fedora says above all, this regular season finale will be for the seniors.

“This team is excited and anxious to get back on the field, especially for this next one which will be our last home game – an opportunity for our seniors to go out in this stadium the right way. Our guys will do a great job in preparation this week and hopefully, we will do that,” Coach Fedora says.


UNC Apologizes After Damaging Duke Locker Room

UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham and head football coach Larry Fedora have officially apologized to Duke University after the Tar Heel football team did at least $10,000 worth of damage to Duke’s visiting locker room after Thursday night’s football game.

The Tar Heels won that game 45-20, and as per tradition, they got to spray-paint the Victory Bell with the team colors. But the players reportedly took the spray paint with them into the locker room – and proceeded to spray paint the walls and carpets as well.

UNC officials have said they’ll pay for repairs; estimates of the damage have run as high as $25,000.

Fedora and Cunningham issued an official statement of apology which reads:

“We would like to apologize to the Duke Football program and Duke University for some inappropriate actions after last Thursday night’s game in Durham. Our team took the celebration too far when they were painting the bell, resulting in damage to some of the facilities at Duke. We take full responsibility for our actions and will be paying for all costs associated with the cleanup. We view this as a rivalry built on mutual respect and we expect our players to behave better in a way that is more befitting of the rivalry.”

Larry Fedora also reportedly called Duke head coach David Cutcliffe to apologize personally.


Tar Heels Reclaim Victory Bell, Down Duke

The North Carolina football team dashed out to a commanding 28-7 halftime lead and went on to beat rival Duke 45-20 Thursday night at Wallace Wade Stadium to improve to 6-5 on the season and in the process, gain bowl eligibility.

***Listen to the story***

With the loss, the Blue Devils dropped to 8-3 on the season and handed the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets the ACC Coastal division crown and a spot in the ACC Championship game opposite Florida State.

Marquise Williams threw for 374 yards and scored four touchdowns to lead the Tar Heel offense to a torrid start, and despite a few hiccups in the second quarter that could have broken the game open further, turned in an impressive performance that the careless Blue Devils were unable to match.

Williams back for the snap (Elliott Rubin)

Williams back for the snap (Elliott Rubin)

In an encouraging sign, for the first time this season, the Tar Heels had a running back eclipse the 100-yard mark in a game. It was T.J. Logan who earned the distinction with 117 yards and a touchdown.

“I think we finally put together a complete game in all three phases – offensively, defensively and special teams. Other than the three turnovers we had offensively, it couldn’t have been a more solid game for us,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

In a surprising twist, the much-maligned Tar Heel defense rose to the occasion, coming up with big stops after the offensive miscues in the second quarter that gave Duke a chance to hang around in the game.

“It was huge. For the defense to go out there in those situations and hold them to no points after those three fumbles, that was big. And that gave a shot of adrenaline to the entire team,” Coach Fedora says.

Duke’s signal caller Anthony Boone tossed two touchdowns and threw for 262 yards, but he was sacked three times and gave away an interception.

“I don’t know if there are words that fit how you feel. I told the team after the game, I said ‘First thing I don’t want you to forget is all this winning that has led us to a Thursday night opportunity on national television playing your arch rival. Obviously it was a disaster from our standpoint,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe says.

***Listen to Larry Fedora’s postgame remarks***

On Duke’s first drive, UNC linebacker Jeff Schoettmer recovered a fumble. It got the Tar Heels rolling.

From there, the offense raced ahead. A 3-yard touchdown pass from Williams to Switzer got UNC on the scoreboard first, and then the defense pitched in again with a 10-yard fumble return for a touchdown by senior safety Tim Scott.

At the end of the first quarter, the Tar Heels had claimed a 21-7 lead over the Blue Devils. Duke got on the board with a 10-yard touchdown heave by Boone into the arms of Isaac Blakeney.

The Victory Bell (UNC Athletics)

The Victory Bell (UNC Athletics)

But that was the home team’s only score of the half to the dismay of the crowd. As for UNC, it added seven more points to its ledger thanks to a 1-yard Williams keeper into the end zone with 13:02 on the second quarter clock.

On the critical second half opening drive, the Blue Devils turned the ball over when Boone tossed an interception to MJ Stewart.

The Tar Heels took advantage immediately with an impressive offensive possession that ended with a one-yard touchdown by TJ Logan with 9:10 remaining in the third quarter.

Everything was going right for the Tar Heels. A season-long 30-yard field goal make by Thomas Moore to push the lead up to 38-7 with 6:23 in the third quarter, confirmed that. It was that kind of night.

UNC coasted from there, gliding to the rivalry win that earned  them back the coveted Victory Bell after a two-year hiatus.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a season-ending in-state matchup with the N.C. State Wolfpack next Saturday in Chapel Hill.



Tar Heels, Blue Devils Battle For The Bell

The North Carolina football team, 5-5 on the season, meets 8-2 rival Duke Thursday night in front of a nationally-televised audience at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Battle for the Bell kicks off at 7:30 p.m.

***Listen to the story***

With the short week, UNC head coach Larry Fedora says the Tar Heels have had to adjust everything about their preparation.

“It’s not normal. The whole week is different for you. The players have to do a great job of staying in the moment and make sure they have adjusted their minds to what day of practice it is. It’s a different situation for them,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora consoles the Pitt head coach last weekend (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora consoles the Pitt head coach last weekend (Elliott Rubin)

Duke is coming off a disappointing 17-16 home loss to Coastal division foe Virginia Tech, but still controls its own destiny in the race to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte.

The hungry Tar Heels, coming off a 40-35 victory  over Pittsburgh, would like nothing more than to knock their bitter rivals off their desired path to the Queen City.

But UNC junior linebacker Shakeel Rashad says the Tar Heels will be up against it with the efficient Duke attack bolstered by a rock-solid offensive line.

“They’re very efficient. They don’t really make mistakes. Their offensive line really works well together. They’ve got some great players at quarterback and receiver. They’re spread out all over the field, and they’ve got a lot of people who can make big plays on the offensive line that allows them to do it,” Rashad says.

Coach Fedora says it’s Duke’s speedy wide receiver Jamison Crowder that gives him the most cause for concern.

Crowder has 5,197 career all-purpose yards and recently became only the 11th player in ACC football history to reach the 5,000 yard plateau.

“That guy [Crowder] can do it all. He’s got great speed and catches the ball really well. They use him in the return game, too. He’s a special player. Watching him for three years, he’s a dang-good player,” Coach Fedora says.

Jamison Crowder hits his stride (GoDuke.com)

Jamison Crowder hits his stride (GoDuke.com)

Blue Devil head coach David Cucliffe says preparing for Coach Fedora’s up-tempo and high-powered offense in just a few days has been a stern challenge.

“I have the upmost respect for what they [UNC] do. They do it extremely well. Coach Fedora is one of the brightest offensive minds in the game. I’ve followed his career all the way back, whether it was Florida, Middle Tennessee or Oklahoma State. He’s been on the cutting edge. They present a lot of problems. There’s no question they’re difficult to get ready for in just a few days,” Coach Cutcliffe says.

There will be an intriguing position battle in the contest with dynamic signal caller Marquise Williams going up against the much-improved Duke quarterback Anthony Boone.

Boone had a rough outing against the Hokies last weekend, but says he’s confident his team will take better care of the football against the Tar Heels.

“It’s not really a huge concern. We’ve had pretty good success as far as not turning the ball over and creating explosive plays. We’ve just got to go out there and be who we are and not try to speed it up too much or worry about what they’re doing. We’ve just got to go out there and execute our offense,” Boone says.

UNC’s Rashad says not having the Victory Bell out at practice the past couple seasons has been painful and has only fueled his teammates’ ambitions to reclaim the prize.

Marquise Williams escapes a defender (Elliott Rubin)

Marquise Williams escapes a defender (Elliott Rubin)

“It’s something that’s really important around here. This game means a lot to a lot of people. It means a lot to us. I remember my freshman year; we had the Bell out here at practice that week. So not seeing it out here the last couple years, you’re reminded of it,” Rashad says.

On the gridiron, UNC holds a 58-38-4 advantage in the all-time head-to-head series between the two schools.

The 101st meeting promises to be a compelling one, but the underdog Tar Heels will certainly need to put together a complete four quarters of clean, disciplined football to recapture the Victory Bell in enemy territory Thursday night.