Survive and advance.
That maxim from the NCAA basketball tournament sums up Carolina's effort against Virginia in Kenan Stadium on Saturday. The Heels were facing a less-than-inspiring Wahoo team with a Thursday night game at Pitt followed by the hated Duke Blue Devils on tap, so it is not surprising UNC put up a less-than-stellar effort. But in a formula well-known to UNC fans by now, Carolina started out slow, got it together enough to put some distance between itself and its opponent, and the defense pitched its second-straight second-half shutout to pick up its sixth-consecutive win.
Carolina's offense wasn't as good as it has been in the past few weeks, but it's quite a luxury UNC has when four touchdowns is an off performance. But the story of the game, and in fact UNC's season, has been the defensive improvement, particularly after halftime. UNC has given up 24 points in the second half to its five FBS opponents this season. This has been a huge asset given that it sometimes takes the Tar Heel offense a little bit to get up and rolling.
Nevertheless, though it wasn't Carolina's sharpest performance of the season, UNC did hold serve at home against a division opponent and through the magic of gifs, here is this week's GBU Report:
Elijah Hood: Reminder - Elijah Hood is good at football. Hood actually rushed the ball 21 times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Here is some slo-mo footage of Hood carrying the ball against a Cavalier defender.
Marquise Williams: But for an early interception, for the most part the game featured Good Quise. Williams was an efficient 21-26 passing for 226 yards and added 71 yards and a touchdown on 12 rushes. Just another day at the office.
Shakeel Rashad: The senior linebacker has developed into one of the league's best. He had 10 tackles and an interception in the end zone. Doing work so good even the POTUS was impressed:
Second-half defense: Virginia's drive chart in the second half says it all:
That's five turnovers and a punt on six second-half possessions for the Wahoos. That's getting it done. In other words, this is what the Tar Heel defense said to UVa each time in the second half:
Punting: As Nick Weiler has settled UNC's place-kicking woes, punting has become an adventure. Corbin Daly had stunk it up so badly he lost his job to Hunter Lent. After a 15-yard punt against Virginia, UNC went back with Daly who had a pair of nice punts. We'll see how long this lasts because most times Carolina has to punt it feels like this
Turnovers: Because UNC's defense rose up in the second half, this did not become an issue but it seems to be something rearing its head each week. This was UNC's third game with at least two turnovers. Clearly it cost the Heels the SCAR game but Carolina was fortunate that the Hoos could only turn those into six points. UNC will definitely need to clean that up going forward.
Penalties: UNC had a season-high 13 penalties for 135 yards. UNC had false starts, holding, offensive pass interference, defensive pass interference, late hits, pretty much the entire bingo card. Here's hoping this is a one-off as another area in which UNC has really improved is in stupid penalties, given that every penalty pretty much feels like this
It was clear at the beginning of the season that UNC's schedule was back-loaded. The thing is, no one counted on the next two weeks being the Coastal Division playoffs. Carolina remains the only unranked one-loss Power 5 team as they travel to Pitt to take on the ranked and Panthers, who are unbeaten in the ACC, for a Thursday night game. Then the week after the Heels welcome Duke, who is also ranked and unbeaten in the league. But this is what divisional champions do - win big games. We will now see if UNC is legit or not based on the next two weeks.