What a difference 5 days makes.
Less than a week after giving up record-setting numbers on the defensive side of the football, UNC put together a pair of goal-line stands and the offense was humming on all cylinders as the Heels drilled Virginia 37-13 on Thursday night.
There were a number of impressive take-aways from this game - the bounce-back from the Georgia Tech loss; winning a second straight time at Scott Stadium after not being able to win there for three decades; the interior line play on defense; slowing a Wahoo squad that had built quite a bit of momentum in the last two weeks and ending their bowl hopes; Bryn Renner's scalpel-like efficiency; or Quinshad Davis' record-setting night. Take your pick.
Quite frankly, given how well Virginia had played on back-to-back weeks against two teams with winning records, and how awful UNC had been on defense against the Yellow Jackets, there was plenty of cause for concern about Carolina being flat and worn out against the Cavaliers. Plus, the Heels were without four key players (Casey Barth, Eric Ebron, Gene Robinson, and Sam Smiley) who were casualties of the Tech game, so UNC had to be on guard that GT did not beat them twice. Much credit has to be given to the team and to the coaching staff for putting last week's game in the past and having a solid, effective game plan in place to chop down the 'Hoos.
Even more credit has to go to the offense for putting up 37 points despite a somewhat pedestrian night by Giovani Bernard. Gio had only 57 yards rushing on 15 carries, and another 47 yards and a touchdown receiving. Nothing to sneeze at, but we have been spoiled to dominating performances and this was simply not one.
Nevertheless, here is this week's feel-good, bounce-back edition of the Good, Bad, and Ugly Report:
Quinshad Davis: The freshman receiver had already emerged as one of Bryn Renner's top targets, but against the Wahoos he tied an ACC record for most receptions in a game with 16. He also set a school freshman record with 178 yards receiving. UNC put him back in late to gain a share of the record and threw to him to break it but Marquise Williams threw the ball into the ground on a short screen.
Bryn Renner: Glad to see the return of the good Bryn Renner, who was a tidy 29-36 passing for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. Renner has thrown for 300+ yards for three straight games and has again cracked the 3,000-yard mark. Prior to 2010, no UNC QB had ever thrown for 3,000 yards, and now it has happened in three straight years (T.J. Yates had a school-record 3,418 yards in 2010).
Defensive Interior: After being man-handled versus GT, the inside guys came to play against UVa, living in the backfield and making strong plays on the two huge goal-line stands. The first one cannot be overstated as the Cavaliers had 4th and goal at the 1 with a chance to tie the game at 20. Instead, Kevin Parks was stopped for a loss in the backfield, and UNC began a season-long 97-yard drive to go up 27-13 and essentially end the game. Sylvester Williams in particular had a monster game, with 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and a sack.
Defensive Secondary: This unit is in the "bad" category with an asterisk. Granted, UNC held Virginia to only 13 points after giving up 68 just five days prior, but the secondary continues to get burned badly. Receivers were constantly behind the defensive backs, and a Cavalier receiver dropped a sure TD pass in the second half without a Tar Heel defender within 7 yards of him. Then again, for the second straight week, a defensive back had a pick six. So, the grade averages out to "bad".
3rd Down Conversions: UNC was a miniscule 4-12 on 3rd down, and only 1-6 in the second half. The only saving grace here was Virginia was only 2-15 on 3rd down, which has been a defensive weakness for Carolina this year. Then again, UVa was 3-6 on 4th down, negating some of that advantage.
So, Carolina rights the ship and welcomes Maryland to Kenan next weekend in what is sure to be an anti-climactic game. A UNC win puts them back at the magic 8-win threshold, which was the high-water mark of the Butch Davis era. It also marks a chance to finish first in the Coastal Division although a trip to Charlotte is not in the cards. Still these would be lofty, admirable baselines to set for the Larry Fedora era going forward.