In the biggest game at Kenan Stadium since 1997 and with control of the Coastal Division hanging in the balance, the Tar Heels answered the bell and trucked Duke for a 66-31 win. Here are some thoughts on that.
The Tar Heels destroyed a defensive unit ranked in the top five nationally.
There was plenty to be shocked about in this game. After all the consensus was UNC would probably win but the assumption was it would be a touchdown or less affair. Coming into the game Duke was ranked #4 in yards per play allowed at 4.16. In eight games the most yards Duke had surrendered in a game was 452 in four overtimes versus Virginia Tech. In regulation games, Miami's 391 and 5.75 yards per play last week was the most the Blue Devils had given up.
The Tar Heels laid waste to those marks in the first half alone. UNC's first half totals were straight offensive football porn. The Tar Heels had 38 points, 486 yards of total offense to the tune of 10.5 yards per play. Most of the damage was done in the air with Marquise Williams hitting big play after big play to his talented receiving corps. At halftime UNC had three receivers with at least 80 yards receiving and a touchdown apiece. The ground game was less productive at 82 yards but the danger Elijah Hood presented as a rusher forced Duke to make some decisions on defense. In some cases, like UNC's 89-yard touchdown play to open the scoring, it ended poorly.
From there it was simply open season on Duke which simply couldn't cover all of UNC's weapons and the Tar Heels took advantage of every opportunity.
Marquise Williams was nearly unstoppable
It is clear at this point UNC ceiling is as high as Marquise Williams makes it. When he plays poorly, the offense suffers. When he plays well, the offense is very good. For the most part Williams playing well means his passing is average to good and his legs allow him to make some big plays. Today was quite the opposite. He was on the mark with his passes to the point what he did running the ball simply didn't matter. Williams was also smarter with his decisions. On three occasions he was pressured and had no options so he threw the ball away. A year ago when UNC beat Duke 45-21, Williams committed three turnovers which may have kept the score down. This year was that game without the Williams miscues.
After one quarter of football it was evident Williams wasn't intent just on setting the Duke defense ablaze but the UNC record book as well. The fifth year senior had 209 yards passing in the first quarter on 7-11 passing and a touchdown. The second quarter was almost as good with Williams going 11-17 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. His 404 first half yards were a UNC record for most passing yards in a half.
Going into the second half Williams needed just 36 yards to break T.J. Yates single game passing mark set in 2010 versus Florida State. It didn't take long as Williams completed a pair of passes to Quinshad Davis and Mack Hollins to set a new Tar Heel record much to the chagrin of Yates.
494 in 3 quarters?! @1MjWilliams2 jeez don't take all my records bro!— T.J. Yates (@TJ_Yates) November 7, 2015
Williams finished with 524 yards of total offense, also a UNC record breaking his own mark set versus Old Dominion in 2013. He is the first UNC player to ever go over 500 yards of total offense.
The ride for Williams this season hasn't been the smoothest. His three red zone interceptions versus South Carolina cost UNC a game that, in hindsight, UNC should have won easily. He has had his erratic moments but when UNC hit this stretch of "playoff" type games, Williams has been outstanding. As long as he can keep it rolling, UNC's chances of really making this a special season remain very good.
UNC played like a ranked team
The history of UNC football is such that it is very difficult for fans to really believe the team has made that step forward as a legitimate Top 25 team. Yes, the run to 7-1 was impressive and the Tar Heels stepped up last week to get a key win on the road against a good Pittsburgh team. However playing Duke was fraught with all kinds of concern. The Blue Devils would be motivated after last year's beatdown by UNC and last week's beatdown by ACC officials. The persistent question regarding UNC football is can the team stay focused and continue to win games it should?
The answer today was a resounding yes. Not only did UNC take care of business in a critical division game but the Tar Heels also followed through over the whole course of the game. As good as UNC was in the first quarter Duke managed to find some life and cut the lead to 21-10. UNC failed to get points on the next drive despite having the ball at the Duke two. Larry Fedora said after the game he was the "idiot" who called the Elijah Hood run on fourth down because he didn't realize what down it was. UNC turned the ball over on downs giving Duke the ball down just 11 points.
The UNC defense stepped up in a big way to get a three and out and UNC followed with a field goal to push the lead back out to 24-10. From there it was a simple matter of UNC putting the boot on Duke's throat and crushing it. The Tar Heels did just that outscoring Duke 35-7 over the next 11:39 of game time. UNC's 24-10 lead with 4:26 left in the first half ballooned to 59-17 with 4:47 left in the third quarter.
The game felt over long before that point but it was impressive nonetheless. On a day when the defense struggled to stop Duke's offense, the Tar Heel offense made sure any hope the Blue Devils had was snuffed out in decisive fashion.
-UNC's Coastal Division scenarios are as follows. UNC clinches the division with a win over Miami and a Pittsburgh loss or UNC winning two of its final three games.
-UNC is 8-1 for the first time since 1997 and another win would give the Tar Heels a nine win season for the first time since....1997.
-This was the third time UNC has scored over 60 points in the Larry Fedora era and the first time against an FBS school.
-UNC's 66 points is the most the Tar Heels have ever scored on Duke.