What a difference a few weeks makes.
This time last month, UNC was headed for a 1-5 start and being labeled one of the country's big disappointments despite being competitive against one of college football's tougher schedules. The disappointment reached a crescendo when Carolina lost a heartbreaker to Miami in the last minute after leading most of the game. The question was whether or not the loss to the Hurricanes would inspire the Heels or crush them.
UNC won its third-straight game in convincing fashion with a 45-14 win over a slumping Virginia team by scoring on offense, defense, and special teams. While UNC's wins have come over teams with a combined 10-18 record, they have also outscored those three teams 106-40. In other words, they are winning the games they are expected to win by solid margins.
Without further delay, here is this week's GBU report:
Marquise Williams: Carolina's sophomore QB made the most of his time in the spotlight, throwing for two touchdowns, running for another, and even receiving a touchdown pass on a gadget play from Quinshad Davis. But for Duke's DeVon Edwards, who had two pick-6s and another return touchdown, Williams would likely have been the ACC's player of the week.
Offensive balance: Word of the day in Chapel Hill was balance. UNC had 214 yards passing and 201 yards rushing. Carolina's 16 pass completions were spread out among 12 receivers, and seven Tar Heels had at least 25 yards rushing. It was nice to see some sort of running game again as well.
Freshmen: It was a great day for UNC's talented freshmen: Ryan Switzer had a punt return touchdown, Dominique Green had a interception return for a touchdown, and Khris Francis caught a screen pass for a touchdown. Bug Howard and T.J. Logan chipped in another 105 yards of total offense. Add the contributions of the sophomores - Williams, Davis, Romar Morris, T.J. Thorpe, and Jeff Schottmer, just to name a few - and the future looks bright for Carolina football.
Scoring defense: UNC has given up only 40 points in this 3-game winning streak, and only two passing touchdowns in its last five games. With the offense on the uptick, the defense is giving this team opportunities to win.
Offensive line: We have accepted that this group is not all that good, but right guard Landon Turner was the only starter not whistled for a penalty of some sort in the game. They also gave up two sacks and seven tackles for loss. The bright spot, however, is that UNC actually achieved 200 yards rushing for the first time all season.
Penalties: Carolina set season highs in both penalties and penalty yards, as they were flagged 13 times for 102 yards, and two more penalties were declined. Moreover, there were all types of penalties - holding, false starts, illegal formations, ineligible men downfield (caused by a mixed-up formation), interference penalties. The only positive is that there were no late hits or personal fouls. Against the teams UNC has left, that number of penalties will really hurt their chances.
With that, UNC's march to bowl eligibility continues. The Tar Heels will now head to Pitt to face a Panthers team that just bested Notre Dame and is fighting to become bowl-eligible themselves. All three remaining games for Carolina are winnable, but none are guaranteed. UNC must continue the improvement of the past month if they want to be playing in December.