It really was looking like deja vu all over again.
It was a night game with a special theme. UNC had wrested control of the game when a questionable 3rd down play was looming large. Carolina's opponent was driving and after a 1st-and-goal, it looked like defeat was once again going to be snatched from the jaws of victory. And then the inexplicable happened - a Tar Heel defender who had been roasted all night came up big and UNC survived.
Tim Scott's game-saving interception put the "bend, don't break" defensive philosophy to a gut-wrenching test, but there were signs of guts from the Tar Heels that were hard to be found this time last season. Down 21-7 and without an offensive touchdown late in the 3rd quarter, Carolina out-scored the Aztecs 24-6 in the last 19 minutes for their first 4th quarter comeback since the Gio Bernard punt return game vs. NC State in 2012.
So allow us to breathe through our eyelids like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands and explore this week's GBU Report:
Marquise Williams: Williams went 20-29 for 255 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air and added a team-high 63 yards rushing. Williams generally made good decisions and made good things happen, often after picking up a shotgun snap off the turf.
Receivers: The talented stable of Tar Heel receivers helped make their quarterback look good. Ryan Switzer again led the team in receptions but Quinshad Davis got off the schneid with a touchdown reception and is now 4th all-time in career touchdowns at UNC. Meanwhile Mack Hollins is becoming this season's Mr. Touchdown with his second in two games on a 91-yard strike from Williams, which is the longest UNC pass play for a TD in Kenan Stadium history.
Brian Walker: A guy you likely had never heard of until the Aloft Hotel incident, Walker was suspended for the Liberty game but made the most of his first game back with two interceptions, including a 100-yard return for a touchdown.
Takeaways: UNC is second in the nation with nine forced turnovers in its first two games. Carolina took advantage of SDSU quarterback Quinn Kahler's jammed eyelids for three picks, which generated 10 points and the game-sealer against the Aztecs. SDSU's last two drives ended in interceptions, which saved the game for UNC.
Stripe-out: OK, I am an old alumnus and gimmicks like this don't do much for me. Yet this one was well-done, especially given there was not a corresponding shirt giveaway to ensure the stripes were correct. It looked great on TV and hopefully pulling in nearly 60,000 fans for a game against a team no one has ever thought of playing will encourage the TV overlords to throw some more late-day and night games UNC's way instead of being locked in at the noon hour for what seemed like forever.
Rushing offense: Carolina's running backs only chalked up 68 yards rushing combined on 19 carries, or only five more yards than Marquise Williams gained by himself. Given all the talent in the UNC backfield, you would think more of an effort would be made to establish the running game.
Mitch Trubisky: The talented freshman looked not quite ready for prime time against Liberty, and his one series against SDSU also ended in disaster. Trubisky locked in on Ryan Switzer on a crossing route and his pass was tipped and intercepted, which later led to an Aztec touchdown. It would seem the QB controversy is over, especially since Williams looked more like the player we saw late last season. Given how tough UNC's schedule is over the next four games, it is going to be tough to work in a series like this for the rookie, especially if this is going to be the result.
Overall defense: Given the big game-turning plays of Brian Walker and Tim Scott, it is easy if you forget UNC surrendered 509 yards of total offense. The Aztecs averaged nearly 7 yards per play and had four drives over 70 yards, but thanks to timely interceptions only two of them ended in points.
Punt returns: Looks like the book is out on how to punt to Ryan Switzer: pin him to the sideline. Switzer fielded three punts for minus two yards.
Thomas Moore: The senior kicker missed yet again from over 40 yards and has still only made one kick of greater than 40 yards in his entire career, and that was as a freshman. Moore was given the hook in favor of Nick Weiler, who kicked the entire second half on both extra points and the one chip-shot field goal. Moore is a great kid but the numbers don't lie.
Time of possession: OK, sometimes numbers do lie. The Aztecs had the ball a full 15 minutes - an entire quarter - longer than the Tar Heels. Imbalances in time of possession are not uncommon for UNC under Larry Fedora, given the quick-strike nature of the offense, but rarely is it this far out of balance. Carolina got by with it - this time - but with games at ECU, at Clemson, at Notre Dame, and home vs. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech in the next five games, keeping a thin defense on the field an entire quarter longer than the offense is going to bite the Heels.
Tackling: Stop me if you've heard this before, but UNC is a poor tackling team. They were poor tacklers under John Bunting, Butch Davis, Everett Withers, and now Larry Fedora. There were so, so many missed tackles and bad form when they did get bodies on. Again, looking at the murderer's row of the next five games, Carolina will need to shore this up and quickly.
Still, a win is a win and again this is the kind of game UNC was losing at this point last year. The Tar Heels lived dangerously but got just enough key plays to scratch out a victory. Carolina now gets an open week to heal and adjust before beginning a brutal five-game stretch.