Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE
At least it was entertaining right?
This game played out much like it did versus Louisville minus the gaping halftime deficit. The Heels played poorly in every phase of the game for the better part of three quarters. The defense, which on paper looks pretty decent, did not force a punt until the second half and was run all over for most of the game. This was a Duke offense that averaged 111 yards per game on the ground but went for over 200 against UNC. Couple that with Duke's Sean Renfree carving up the Tar Heel secondary with surgical precision, it was a little surprising the Heels found themselves hanging onto and then losing the lead in the final three minutes.
On the other side of the ball, Bryn Renner was totally ineffective until the fourth quarter. The only semblance of an offense UNC had was Giovani Bernard. The redshirt sophomore ran for 143 yards and one touchdown, had 66 yards receiving and came up with an incredible play sprinting downfield to pick up an Erik Highsmith fumble and take it into the end zone to give UNC a 30-26 lead. Renner did end up 19-32 for 198 yards and two touchdowns but spent most of the game looking out of sorts. TE Eric Ebron had 68 yards receiving and a couple of big catches late to assist the Tar Heel rally. Much like the Louisville game, when UNC needed to step up and rally, the Heels did so to the point of even securing the lead. However the defense had zero answers for Duke's offense when it counted and was one play short of winning the game.
Unfortunately for UNC, this is another game where the offense was largely impotent through the first half. Duke played with more energy and was clearly better prepared to take the field. These slow starts have been commonplace at this season. Even against Virginia Tech, a game UNC dominated, saw the first three possessions produce very little. Between the early ineffectiveness and far too many red zone possessions settling for just a field goal, the Heels find themselves in a hole far too often. Being behind means having to expend great effort to climb back into the game only to come up short.
And it should be noted that UNC did do much better on the penalty front. UNC committed two over the course of the game however one of those ended up being extremely important given how close the game was in the end. On Duke's first possession, a Tar Heel interception that had been return to inside the Duke 20, was wiped out by a roughing the passer penalty on Kevin Reddick. Duke rolled downfield and scored after that making it a 10-14 swing and changing the complexion of the game.
The bottom line is UNC was outplayed in every respect. Duke did a variety of things well on both sides of the ball and the Blue Devil defense had a lot to do with Renner being uncomfortable. UNC figured out enough to claw back into the game but in the end, a porous defense which surrendered 510 yards was where it all fell apart for the Heels. Duke is now bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 and UNC welcomes NC State to Chapel Hill looking to end a five game losing streak to the Wolfpack.