It was more of the same and it wasn't.
UNC got off to a great start leveraging a pair of turnovers for points. The first was a fumble recovery on the Notre Dame 34-yard line. Three plays later UNC was in the end zone. Ryan Switzer popped off a 24-yard reception and Elijah Hood ripped off a pair of runs for pay dirt. The defense followed the turnover up with another stop to force a punt and UNC promptly moved the ball into Notre Dame territory only to have Nick Weiler miss a 32-yard field goal. Before anyone had time to even be disappointed, linebacker Jeff Schoettner picked off Irish QB Everett Golson for his second interception return for a touchdown this season and a 14-0 Tar Heel lead.
The good defensive vibes didn't last long. The Irish reeled off three touchdown drives in succession gashing the Tar Heel defense for big chunks and a 21-14 lead. Trailing for the first time in the game, UNC embarked on a 16 play drive taking 5:40 and ending with a Marquise Williams touchdown run from three yards out. Weiler's kick was blocked but UNC had stemmed the tide. The defense appeared to stem it even further on the next Irish possession forcing a punt with 2:36 left.
With UNC getting the ball to start the second half, the worst case scenario on this possession should have been Notre Dame not getting the ball back with a chance to score. What actually happened was Elijah Hood fumbling the ball giving the Irish the ball on the UNC six yard line. One play later and Notre Dame extended the lead to 28-20 having tacked on the two point conversion. Despite the sudden turn of events, UNC responded with enough touchdown drive to close the deficit to two. UNC's two point conversion attempt out of the weird kicking formation failed and the Heels went into the half down just two.
The offense stalled to open the second half and Notre Dame making quick work on the ensuing possession. A 35-yard pass play from Golson to WR William Fuller was the big play giving Notre Dame a 35-26 lead early in the third quarter. At this point it felt the world like the #6 team in the country had weathered the storm. UNC did get a productive drive largely on Williams running but opted to punt from the 33 yard line which ended up netting 13 yards on the touchback. After a defensive stop, the offense stalled again missing an opportunity to get back into the game. But again the defense stepped up and the next possession UNC managed a field goal to draw within six points.
At this point UNC needed a huge break and got one. Everett Golson fumbled the ball and Brian Walker recovered to set the Heels up on the Irish 13 yard line. UNC picked this moment to break out a trick play. Williams pitched to Hood who dropped it off to Quinshad Davis. Davis found Williams open on a wheel route in the end zone to give the Heels a one point lead late in the third quarter.
UNC had the game's momentum and even got a reprieve after giving up a 3rd and 21 play for a first down by getting a stop on the next set of downs. UNC was back to receive a punt and leading by one. As usual UNC had been penalty prone and those penalties continued to happen at the worst possible time. On the punt, UNC was flagged for "roughing the snapper" which gave Notre Dame a first down.
In college football, the snapper is protected and can't be contacted right away. Norkeithus Otis pushed the snapper after he stood up and the officials deemed that was too soon. Notre Dame capitalized on the penalty and drove for touchdown to retake the lead at 43-36 following the two point conversion.
The call didn't cost UNC the game, the continued dreadful state of the defense did that. Still, playing the #6 team in the country and struggling to do anything well on the defensive side of the ball, UNC can ill-afford penalties, especially ones of the 50-50 variety that acts as a turnover. Oh and I'll just leave this right here.
Roughing snapper? rule is you can't contact the center on punts until after 1 second. The center lifted and was pushed. No foul.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) October 11, 2014
Even after the dubious roughing call, UNC had a shot to tie the game up. Williams led another productive drive bringing UNC into Notre Dame territory at the 33. On 3rd and 4, a flushed Williams tried to make a play with shovel pass to a covered receiver and the floating pass was picked off ending the drive. Notre Dame followed the turnover with a soul sucking, nearly five minute drive to push the lead to 14 points. UNC allowed two 3rd and 6 conversions on that drive, one on a pass interference penalty.
The Heels managed to tack on a seventh touchdown but the onside kick failed snuffing out any hope of a potential miracle finish. With the loss UNC surrenders 50 points for the third time in a season, a first in UNC history. Notre Dame racked up 519 yards of total offense and 300 yards through the air. Yet, the defense still got stops, forced three turnovers and afforded the offense plenty of opportunities to win. The problem is the margin of error is still too thin, especially considering the game in the second half rode on a weird roughing the snapper penalty and the Williams shovel pass interception.
Speaking of Williams, the junior quarterback carried the offense and it just so happened it was the first game of the season Larry Fedora didn't use Mitch Trubisky at any point. For the game, Williams was 24-41 for 303 yards, two touchdowns and the one ill-timed interception. He also ran for a career high 132 yards and a score plus added a touchdown reception. It was the second time in Williams' career he had passing, rushing and receiving touchdowns in the same game. The decision to throw the pass was bad and costly. However, UNC isn't even in the position without the rest of Williams' play. WR Mack Hollins continues to impress with 84 yards receiving and a touchdown.
UNC showed some signs of life in this game but as is usually the case when attempting to pull a big upset, you really need to catch all the breaks. UNC didn't and the Heels fall to 2-4 with a date against Georgia Tech looming next weekend in Chapel Hill.