Well, it wasn't always pretty and at times it seemed like UNC was just asking NC State to take control of the game, but Carolina overcame an early pair of derps by Bryn Renner and Eric Ebron that allowed the Pack to stake a 10-0 lead without much effort. State was playing with energy and passion and UNC seemingly couldn't get out of its own way. Marquise Williams entered the game and led Carolina on a long scoring drive to calm the nerves, and then State gave the Heels a huge gift with an ill-advised failed fake punt deep in their own territory, allowing Renner to put Carolina in front 14-10. The Pack's all-world kicker Nicklas Sade chipped in a pair of field goals to quickly allow State to regain the lead, but some trickeration in a receiver pass from Ryan Switzer to Quinshad Davis for a touchdown gave UNC the lead for good and State would not sniff the red zone again.
Statistically the game was a wash. UNC led first downs 21-20 and total yardage 427-388. State had a slight lead in time of possession, 30:24 to 29:36 and ran 77 plays to UNC's 76. Both teams were putrid on third down, with Carolina 5-15 and NCSU 6-17. The primary difference is that the Heels kept State out of the end zone. State only scored one touchdown, and that after the Renner interception left them on a short field. Otherwise the Pack had to settle for four Sade field goals, which proved to be the difference in the game.
With that said, This is Our GBU Report:
UNC's Defense: Who would have thought? Carolina's much-maligned defense has risen to the occasion in the last three games, allowing only four touchdowns. Moreover, Carolina has not allowed a passing touchdown in 15 quarters, since the first period of the Virginia Tech game. If UNC somehow runs the back half of the schedule and makes a bowl game, it will be on the shoulders of the defense.
The two QB system: I have to admit I was not a fan of UNC's quarterback rotation, and I still don't like it when they switch out on the same series, but it seems to be working. Part of the reason it is working is that the two QBs have moved beyond being "the passing QB" and "the running QB". Williams has found a passing groove (though I still cringe when he throws it, especially into triple coverage) and Renner scored his touchdown on a read option. This has given UNC's offense an much-needed wrinkle.
Tommy Hibbard: UNC's punter has quietly emerged as one of the best in the ACC. Three of his 8 punts on Saturday were inside the 10 (and a fourth was downed at the 11), including his last one with Carolina clinging to a one-possession lead.
The youth movement: As also noted by GoHeels.com's Turner Walston, UNC's freshmen and sophomores are leading the team in many performance categories on both sides of the ball. Freshmen and sophs accounted for 130 of UNC's 169 rushing yards, 11 receptions, and three of UNC's four touchdowns. Sophomore Jeff Schoettmer leads the team in tackles, and freshman Brian Walker ended State's hopes with his first career interception. The future looks bright for Carolina's young contributors.
Thomas Moore: Bless his heart, Carolina's kicker - a staple in the good section all season - had a day to forget, badly missing a 42-yard FG attempt and an extra point to end his own personal streak of made extra points at 69. Doesn't help that UNC is down to their 3rd-string long snapper. Here's hoping this was just a blip on the screen and Moore returns to form next week.
Offensive line: How bad was it for this group? In the second quarter, UNC burned the redshirt of freshman Lucas Crowley in order to move Russell Bodine to guard. The O-line was responsible for 4 of UNC's 8 penalties (Bodine had 3 himself), though fortunately none of the line's penalties resulted in called-back touchdowns this week. More on that later.
Penalties. The penalty bug showed up again for UNC, with 8 penalties for 80 yards. A bigger issue were the holding penalties, as there were four holding calls and another one that was declined. Center Russell Bodine had three of those calls, although at least one was kind of shaky.
Logo antics. In general, this is much ado about nothing, but on the other hand, the former coach in me hates this kind of stuff. You hope that a team wins and simply walks off the field, but you're also dealing with 18-22 year-olds who play with emotion. I would have preferred UNC simply yelled "scoreboard" rather than "our state" and jumped all over the co-opted mid-field logo. But these kinds of things happen in rivalry games, whether it is State doing the same thing in 2000, or Dan Orner running into the inflatable Duke helmet in 2002, or Steve Spurrier taking a team picture under the scoreboard in 1989. These kinds of things happen in rivalry games and are "the worst thing ever" until the next worst thing ever happens.
Looking back over the last 8 games, it would appear more and more that the ECU game was an anomaly. In the other four losses, UNC was competitive and had second half leads against Miami and Georgia Tech. The offense is clicking a little more and the defense has been playing well. UNC now has a better-than-even-money shot to go 3-1 over the last four games and make a bowl, which seemed like a long shot at 1-5.