Defense and special teams, just the way everyone thought UNC would win this game.
For most of the game, the Tar Heel offense wasn't that sharp. Marquise Williams was inaccurate with his passes with a pair of overthrows on what should have been touchdowns. After a three and out to open the game then a missed field goal following a muffed punt by the Bearcats, the Tar Heels leaned on freshman running back T.J. Logan for 40 of 68 yards. Romar Morris capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 UNC early. After tacking on a safety UNC got the first of two big special teams plays of the day. Logan would take the free kick 78-yards for a touchdown and a 16-0 advantage.
The story of the first half was really the defense. Cincinnati could get very little going thanks in part to three Tar Heel sacks. One sack killed an early first quarter drive, the second resulted in a safety and the third pushed the Bearcats into a long field goal which was missed. Meanwhile UNC's offense wasn't necessarily productive but did enough in concert with the defense and special teams to give the Heels a 24-3 halftime lead.
The second half opened with the Bearcats using Shaq Washington at quarterback and gashing the Tar Heel defense with running plays up the middle before Brandon Ellerbe recorded UNC's fourth sack of the day effectively ending another Bearcat drive. Then came Belk Bowl MVP Ryan Switzer who did this:
First of all is the decision to not fair catch the punt with multiple Bearcat players around him. Switizer actually tried that earlier in the game and got dropped for a loss. This is a player who obviously believes he is running it back every time he touches the football and is willing to try it even at great risk. This was Switzer's fifth punt return for a touchdown on the season which sets an ACC record and ties the NCAA record. It also gave Switzer the UNC career record for punt return touchdowns edging out Johnny Branch and some guy named Charlie Justice. Since Switzer is only a freshman, it can be assumed he will only add to that mark, providing teams actually punt to him over the next three seasons. The Switzer return gave UNC a 29-3 lead.
Cincinnati responded with its first touchdown of their own to make it 29-10 and UNC also found the end zone to extend their lead back to 26 points. However it wouldn't be a UNC football game in 2013 if there wasn't some effort to make it harder than it needed to be. On the subsequent possession Shaq Washington popped off a 52 yard run to put the Bearcats at the Tar Heel nine and an early fourth quarter touchdown made it 36-17. On the ensuing kickoff T.J. Thorpe committed a potentially devastating turnover which set the Bearcats up at the Tar Heel six. UNC's defense came up with stops on three straight plays then dodged a bullet on fourth down when Brandon Kay overthrew Washington in the end zone. While UNC certainly got a break on the bad pass from Kay, the previous three plays, including a big hit by Jabari Parker on third down to force the fourth down play, were huge stops by the defense.
After getting the ball back, UNC went on a nine plus minute drive ending with Thomas Moore's first field goal of the season of 40 yards or more. For an offense more used to going fast, this drive was well executed and effectively sealed UNC's first bowl win since the 2010 Music City Bowl. Logan led UNC's rushing attack with 77 yards on 15 carries plus the free kick return for a touchdown. Eric Ebron closed out his final season at UNC 27 yards short of the 1000-yard mark.
North Carolina finishes the season 7-6 having salvaged what looked like a catastrophic season to record the programs third straight winning season. UNC's ressurrection from 1-5 in mid-October was driven by underclassman, especially at quarterback, running back and in the receiving corps sans TE Eric Ebron. Finishing the season 6-1(with the only loss by two versus Duke) and collecting UNC's first bowl in Charlotte in four tries, the team has momentum heading into next season.