Seems like we've seen this movie before - UNC opens up a little sluggish and struggles before pressing the "turbo" button and blowing the game wide open.
Two games ago, the Heels allowed Delaware to stuff the opening drive down their throats and only led 20-14 late in the 3rd quarter until reeling off three touchdowns in about 9 minutes of game time to cruise to a 41-14 win. In the last game, the Carolina ship was on the rocks, down 21-0 to Georgia Tech before scoring 17 points in five minutes of game time and rolling the Jackets 38-10 in the last 31:30 of the game. And on Saturday, UNC had a number of self-inflicted wounds, trailing Wake Forest 7-0 in the second quarter before ripping off 22 points in a just-over three-minute span to put all the points on the board that they would need to down the Deacons, outscoring Wake 50-7 over the last 3 quarters.
UNC finished with an ultra-efficient 50 points on only 59 plays and racked up 538 total yards against a fairly stout Deacons defense that came into the game ranked 15th in FBS in total defense and did not allow a touchdown last week against Boston College. UNC came into the game as the ACC's best in offensive yardage and scoring offense and did nothing to diminish those rankings. Carolina's defense was stout enough on its own, only giving up 14 points and skunking Wake in the second half.
With that in mind, here is this week's GBU Report:
Mack Hollins: When the Mack decided to return, he did so with a flourish. After finally getting on track in the Delaware game, Hollins continued his resurgence with a three-catch, three-touchdown, 103-yard receiving night. His touchdown grab off a helmet ricochet off a Deacon defender was SportsCenter-worthy.
Marquise Williams: Another oft-repeated theme of this season is the slow-starting Williams struggling before getting it together and looking like one of the ACC's best quarterbacks. Williams opened with interceptions on UNC's first two possessions but finished 14-20 passing for 282 yards and the three TD tosses to Hollins. He also rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown. But he also took a couple of sacks and continues to have happy feet and make questionable decisions for a 5th-year senior. As the Greensboro News and Record's Powell Latimer tweeted:
Seriously - nobody oscillates between total disaster and All-ACC faster and more frequently than Quise Williams.— Powell Latimer (@PowellLatimerNR) October 17, 2015
Elijah Hood: Hood continues to show why he is good at football. He had 101 yards and a touchdown on only 8 carries. Which begs the ongoing question for UNC fans - why only 8 carries?
Junior Gnonkonde: Gnonkonde picked right up where he left off against Georgia Tech with a team-high nine tackles and two sacks. The defensive line has been a weak point for the defense that has been compounded by injury, so the emergence of Gnonkonde (and the successful debut of Jalen Dalton) is refreshing.
Defensive Improvement: As I tweeted Saturday night:
UNC opponent scoring in 1st 6 games last year: 29, 27, 70, 50, 34, 50 Record: 2-4 1st 6 games this year: 17, 14, 14, 14, 31, 14 Record: 5-1— Doc Kennedy (@DocHeelfire) October 18, 2015
Granted the schedule has been much more forgiving this year than last, but what a difference it makes when your offense doesn't have to out-score the other team each week.
Kicking game: This is one of those situations where the stats don't tell the whole story. After being ineffective for much of the season, punter Corbin Daly was replaced Saturday night by Hunter Lent. Lent's line for the night was three punts for a 50.0 average, which looks great if you didn't actually see the ugly ducklings those punts were. If the Heels get into a defensive struggle, they are going to need to flip the field and Carolina's punters are struggling. Also, the usually reliable Nick Weiler had two kickoffs that didn't reach the end zone and one that was out-of-bounds.
3rd-down defense: Through the middle of the 3rd quarter, Wake was 8-12 on 3rd down (and should have been 9-12 had a receiver not simply fallen down) before going 0-6 the rest of the game. UNC has to do a better job of getting off the field, especially in 3rd-and-middle and 3rd-and-long situations.
Fair catch foibles: As the N&O's Luke DeCock points out, the most-remembered play of the game won't be Hollins' deflected reception, but the completely botched fair-catch-that-wasn't by Ryan Switzer. Beyond the play itself, which does little for the ACC's reputation of officiating ineptitude, the game's outcome was far from sealed at that point and the blown call seemingly got into the heads of the team as well as the crowd, who let the zebras hear it for much of the rest of the game. For a team that is showing a new-found resilience, fans have to hope setbacks like that can be put aside and have the players re-focus.
With the win, UNC moves to 5-1 and has won five straight for only the 3rd time since 1997, but for the second time under Larry Fedora. But this may be a more telling stat about the state of football since Mack Brown's last year in Chapel Hill:
UNC is 2-0 in ACC play for the first time since 1997.— Brian Barbour (@tarheelblog) October 18, 2015
Nevertheless, Carolina will enter the most important four-game stretch in the program's history in a long while starting next week. After entertaining a desperate Virginia squad next week, Carolina will get its co-Coastal Division leaders in back-to-back weeks with a Thursday night trip to Pitt followed by a visit from Duke to Kenan, with a chaser of lurking Miami in Chapel Hill. This stretch will show whether or not the Heels are Coastal contenders or pretenders.