This season NC State had played seven ACC games. In those games the Wolfpack gave up 30, 30, 41, 56 and 56 points. The only two decent defensive games NC State played came against two of the worst teams in the league: Syracuse and Wake Forest. Heading into this game, it was reasonable to expect UNC's defense would regress to the mean after last week's solid performance. However no one thought the Tar Heel offense would go completely off the rails. That's what happened thanks to NC State dominating the Tar Heel offensive line, hitting Marquise Williams repeatedly and knocking him out of the game on the way to a 35-7 drubbing of UNC at home.
UNC's model this season has been heavily predicated on the offense scoring enough points to overcome any deficiency by the defense. As NC State used 45 rushing yards from QB Jacoby Brissett on the Wolfpack's first drive to take a 7-0, it was clear the offense would need to stay on serve for UNC to have a shot at winning this game. After Brissett's 17-yard run put the Pack ahead, the next five possessions of the game set the tone.
During a span that consumed the remainder of the first quarter and into the second UNC's defense force two punts and the offense had possession of the ball three times. UNC had drives of 3, 25 and 68 yards with the last drive ending on a missed field goal attempt from 35 yards by Thomas Moore. Following the missed field goal, NC State got a 58 yard romp from Shadrach Thornton to put the Wolfpack in the red zone. Brissett found David Grinnage from two yards out to put the Wolfpack up 14-0. UNC's squandering of those drives put the Heels behind schedule in a game where the Wolfpack's rushing attack would completely control the contest.
The game wasn't technically over at this point but nothing UNC was doing on either side of the ball inspire hope that the Tar Heels would rally as they had done versus Virginia and Pittsburgh. UNC opened the next drive with a false start, got a Ryan Switzer 13-yard reception to move the chains but had the drive ended when Williams was sacked for a 12-yard loss on third down. After one of Tommy Hibbard's six punts on the day, Brissett broke open a 60-yard run then dashed in from four yards out to make it 21-0.
As much as it's low hanging fruit the make this game about the defense and NC State rushing for 388 yards will do that, the lack of any offensive production pushed the dynamics heavily in the Wolfpack's favor. Without sustained offensive drives, UNC couldn't keep NC State off the field. The Wolfpack(unlike Pitt) resisted the temptation to put the ball in the air unless it was the right call. Brissett had just 11 pass attempts on the game. NC State was able to run the football at will and was comfortable doing that with continued success. Since UNC was unable to match points, control some of the clock, force a tunrover or create any sort of game pressure the Wolfpack was content to keep plugging away.
The final nail in UNC's coffin came in the third quarter after Williams was injured on NC State's third sack of the game and the subsequent Wolfpack possession following a UNC punt ended with a touchdown to put NCSU up 28-0. With UNC's defense hamstrung, Williams out and the offense wholly incapable of getting traction against the Wolfpack defense, the final result became inevitable. Adding injury to insult, Ryan Switzer was knocked down attempting to field a punt and left the game to join Williams in the locker room.
With the game well in hand at 35-0, a late drive allowed UNC to avoid being shut out by NC State for the second time in four years. That drive, which ended with Mitch Trubisky hitting Quinshad Davis for a 13 yard touchdown reception, was the totality of the highlights for UNC in this game. Davis' touchdown reception gave him 22 for his UNC career and tied Hakeem Nicks for most career touchdown receptions in UNC history.
Ultimately this game, like UNC's win over Duke, made little sense based on what we knew about these teams. It was also the exact opposite of what happened a week ago. UNC went to Durham well-prepared and playing above their heads on defense. NC State, to its credit, came into this game and did the same to the Tar Heels. UNC's defense struggling wasn't a surprise but NC State rushing the ball to that extent certainly didn't match anything seen this season save when the Wolfpack beat Wake Forest. The no-show effort by the Tar Heel offense is just another entry in the book of the unexpected which has come to define this rivalry.
As for UNC, this was an opportunity dashed. The Tar Heels put together two solid wins over Pitt and Duke, had a shot at going 7-5 and finishing 5-3 in the ACC. The previous two wins looked like real progress in a season that had been up and down. With this loss, it feels like one step forward, two steps back or just another season of UNC football.