Whaddya know, something finally clicked.
The easy, cynical perspective of this game is to say that this was just Boston College. A 3-3 team under a first year coach that had only ventured outside the confines of Chesnut Hill only twice this season. They almost certainly won't make a bowl, so is there anything important in a win?
That view overlooks the Eagles' offense, which included the ACC's leading rusher in Andre Williams and a senior quarterback ready to take advantage of any opportunities a porous UNC defense would provide.Couple that with a Tar Heel team coming down from an emotionally draining game against Miami, and this could have easily been a disaster.
Instead, UNC came out strong, recovering a fumble on the second play from scrimmage and quickly scoring to go up 6-0. And after a small lapse that allowed Williams to run 56-yards untouched for a touchdown, the defense locked down, sacking Chase Rettig three times and holding him to 57 yards in the air. Boston College was forced to rely entirely on Williams, and although he had a typically good game, the Carolina defense kept him from open field runs, and held BC to less than one first down per drive. And it wasn't just the stars like Kareem Martin (5 tackles, two sacks) who were shouldering the load; true freshman Mikey Bart picked up his first career sack on a critical fourth down stop.
While the offense's performance was never going to be truly impressive — the only defense allowing more yards than BC's coming into the game was, well, the Tar Heels — UNC finally found themselves a scoring rhythm. The spot substitutions of Marquise Williams were abandoned for complete drives helmed by the sophomore quarterback. The change also took the pressure off of Bryn Renner. The two QBs combined for 282 yards passing and three touchdowns, two of which were to Bug Howard, a receiver many Carolina fans couldn't name before the game. Williams in particular, with more time to breathe, played better than I'd ever seen him, rifling passes into impossibly small spaces nd breaking out for a 23-yard run to set up UNC's second touchdown. In fact, Williams was Carolina's leading rusher, exposing again the weakness in the Tar Heels' rushing game. Carolina tried four different players as the primary running back, as well as twice handing off to tight end Eric Ebron; none of them totaled more than 33 yards rushing. T.J. Logan had even less success on the ground, but compensated with 51 yards receiving, second only to Ebron.
Running game aside, the only concern was Renner taking a ferw ill-advised sacks, one of which pushed the heels out of scoring range. Obviously, the offensive line remains a concern. But the defense finally gelled, with few big mistakes and an amped-up enthusiasm. If I see the same from them in the coming weeks, I'll feel much better about this season and UNC's future. If the team can't hold this level of intensity for a rivalry game against N.C. State next week however, I might have to go the stereotypical route and jettison the entire team for basketball season.
That's a concern for next week, though. For now, we can enjoy the most complete game the Tar Heels put together all season, one that kept them from a winless October and the first step towards salvaging a season. The back half of the schedule is significantly easier than what UNC has suffered through so far. If they can build off of this win, they can still find themselves in a bowl come December, and build a strong foundation for the coming years.