After a slow start, UNC got into gear and crushed Wake Forest 50-14 to move to 2-0 in ACC play. Here are a few things we learned.
UNC's offense is legit
Through five games the Tar Heels offense had been every good. Even the lack of points production versus South Carolina was belied by the fact UNC had over 400 yards of total offense and gave the ball away in the red zone three times. UNC has shown the ability to put put big numbers in a short period of time. The big knock was UNC had not face a "real" defense. The best opposing defense UNC had seen so far was Illinois which was in the national top fifty in relevant defensive stats.
The arrival of Wake Forest at Kenan Stadium meant UNC would face a defense that had shown the ability to slow teams down to some extent. Wake Forest was 15th in yards per game allowed, 35th in yards per play allowed and was 19th in points per game allowed giving up just 17.0 through six games.
And none of that mattered against UNC who not only put up 50 points and over 500 yards of total offense on Wake Forest in a little over two quarters. The first quarter was fairly putrid from an offensive productivity standpoint with the Heels producing just 60 yards, turning the ball over twice and failing to score a touchdown. The second quarter saw UNC put 29 points on the scoreboard using multiple weapons to do it. The third quarter was largely quiet with UNC not scoring until late in the period followed by back-to-back scores during the five minutes of the fourth quarter.
For the game UNC possessed the ball for 22:56, 6:15 of that was the Tar Heels' last possession which was designed to burn clock. That means the Tar Heels needed just 16 minutes and change to put 50 points on the scoreboard. Needless to say the Larry Fedora offense may have finally begun operating as advertised.
The Tar Heels also got a balanced attack with Marquise Williams producing as a dual threat, Elijah Hood racking up big yards on the ground and one of the many talented receivers, in this case Mack Hollins, coming up with a huge game.
Marquise Williams can be very good and very bad all in the same game
Williams got off to a horrendous start, so much so him being pulled for Mitch Trubisky would not have been surprising nor elicited any complaints. Williams first interception was as bad as it gets with him clearly thinking the receiver was doing one thing and said said receiver doing something else. The result was the ball thrown directly to a Wake Forest defender and ending what had been a promising opening drive.
The defense got a stop and on UNC's next possession, Williams was dropped for a two yard loss then had a pass tipped for a second turnover in as many passes. While interceptions off tipped passes aren't always the fault of the quarterback, in this case the pass was ill-advised. Williams locked in on Quinshad Davis running a slant to the middle of the field. Davis was well covered the window was tight, especially given some of Williams' accuracy issues. Had the ball not been picked off it likely would have been broken up given the coverage.
As bad as Williams was in the first quarter, he figured it out through the rest of the game. After going 3-7 to start the game for just 38 yards and throwing to two interceptions, Williams put together a solid game. In the second quarter WIlliams was 4-5 for 127 yards and a touchdown including a 61 yard pass to Mack Hollins. He also got his legs into the act with six carries for 26 yards and a touchdown following three carries for two yards prior to that. The rest of the game was more of the same with UNC's offense scoring on three straight possessions from the end of the third quarter into the first five minutes of the fourth.
This isn't the first time Williams has gone from early struggles to All-ACC caliber play in the same game. There are times when he puts a whole game together and other instances, like this one, where he needs to bounce back from some early adversity. Ultimately, UNC's offense is better served when Williams is playing well and his ability to do that consistently might be the difference between winning the Coastal Division or not.
The defense continues to play well
It wasn't entirely clear heading into this game how the defense would respond to the loss of M.J. Stewart and Mike Hughes plus the attrition on the defensive line due to injury. For the most part UNC played well on the defensive side of the ball. Junior Gnonkonde had an outstanding game from his defensive end spot with two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss. Shakeel Rashad forced a fumble which set up UNC's first score of the game to go along with seven tackles.
Wake Forest was fairly productive in the first half with 248 total yards and 14 points. The Tar Heels also struggled to get off the field with Wake Forest going 6-for-10 on 3rd down conversions in the first half. In the second half, UNC slowly put the brakes on the Demon Deacon offense which managed just 62 yards, 0 points and 2-for-8 on third down conversions after halftime. Granted the Demon Deacon offense isn't prolific but it is another example of Gene Chizik making adjustments at halftime to effectively shut a team down.
Wake Forest's 14 points gave UNC opponents a total of 104 points scored through six games. UNC had given up 126 points after three games last year and through six games had surrendered 260 points. A year ago UNC was 119th in scoring defense giving up 39 ppg. At the halfway point the Tar Heels have given up 17.3 ppg.