The defense, Ryan Houston and Casey Barth.
That about covers it. I could really stop right here and save myself the trouble of finishing the rest of the recap.
The defense came to play, building off a stellar performance in Blacksburg to completely shut down the Duke offense. And when I say shutdown I mean Duke has fewer yards total than Ryan Houston had rushing the ball. Duke came in with the 5th best passing offense in the country averaging 325 yards per game. UNC held them to 113 yards passing along with 12 yards on the ground. The Heels did everything right on the defensive side of the ball holding to redzone drives to FGs and intercepting Duke QB Thaddeus Lewis following an atrocious INT from T.J. Yates.
On offense, it was all Ryan Houston after Shaun Draughn was taken out of the game following the first play with a shoulder injury. The took away UNC's change of pace at running back and Duke was effective in snuffing out other attempts to run on the edges with Greg Little. So basically the plan was to hand the ball to Houston and let him grind it out. Most times there were no real holes to run in, Houston just pushed the pile. Which was good because T.J. Yates sucked. I'm sorry. I know that he is doing his level best but this is not a question of effort. This is clearly a skill issue or maybe its confidence or maybe he eating chicken wings on the sideline while the defense is on the field making his fingers greasy. Whatever the case, Yates cannot hit a wide open receiver if his life depended on it unless that receiver is Zack Pianalto. For whatever reason his passes to the TE are fine but when Greg Little is standing on the four yard line with zero Duke players within eight yards, Yates sails it high. That happen so many times I lost count and the last one resulted in an INT. After that John Shoop said "screw it" and ran the ball for the rest of the game save one slant pass to Erik Highsmith.
Also of note is the fact Casey Barth has apparently turned into a reliable kicker. Barth hit four FGs, one from 41 yards which was a season long. Barth kept the Heels in the game while the defense kept Duke out of the endzone long enough for the Blue Devils to get tired of trying to stop Houston. After a rocky start to the season it was good to see Barth kick the ball with consistency.
Despite the obvious offensive issues, it is a win over Duke and UNC moves to 6-3 with only one win needed for a bowl bid. As long as that win is over NC State, most UNC fans will be very happy. You also have to hope that this was just a bad game for Yates and he play more like he did in the late stages of the Virginia Tech win. The other concern is whether Draughn will be available going forward. UNC is more effective in the running game when they can switch up Houston and Draughn. With both of them the Heels can run outside and inside stretching the opposing run defense a bit. When Houston is the only option everyone knows where the runs are going. A better defensive line than UNC saw today will be able to contain Houston. Still, a good win for the Heels and a lot fun watching folks fly through the air as they are ejected from the Duke bandwagon that was ground to a halt today by the Tar Heel defense.