It's no surprise that UNC's offense has found its groove and is humming along. You would expect as much two-thirds of the way through a season where the Tar Heels returned 10 starters. And it's no surprise that Carolina defeated rival Duke, as the game was played in Kenan Stadium on homecoming and the Heels were a touchdown or so favorite.
The surprise was the near-totality of the destruction of the Duke defense that came into the game as one of the nation's best.
Carolina ran over, around, and through a vaunted Blue Devil defense that had not given up more than 400 yards in regulation this season (the only time Duke surrendered over 400 yards was the four-overtime game versus Virginia Tech) and won their eighth-straight game in a 66-31 win that wasn't really as close as the final score indicated. UNC had eclipsed the 400-yard mark by halftime and finished with 704 for the game, the third-highest total in school history. And speaking of 704 and school history, senior quarterback Marquise Williams of Charlotte (area code 704), continued his own personal assault on UNC's record books.
UNC set the tone on their first play from scrimmage, with a flea-flicker that set up an 89-yard pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer. Carolina was up 21-3 before Duke really got off the bus, and after seeming to settle in and cut the lead to 21-10, the defense rose up to force two punts and an interception, leading to a 17-0 spurt in only 2:35 of possession, blowing the game wide open and sealing the Blue Devils' fate.
Herewith is the #beatemdown edition of the GBU Report:
Marquise Williams: What can you say? Williams had 494 yards passing and four touchdowns to four different receivers, to go with 30 yards rushing and a touchdown. His 524 total yards are a school record, and he achieved that in less than three quarters as he didn't play the last series of the third quarter or the entire fourth quarter. Williams now has four of the top 5 single-game total yardage records at Carolina, and he broke his own record in this game. The 494 passing yards were also a school record, eclipsing UNC alumnus T.J. Yates, and Williams also passed Yates for second place on UNC's career total yardage list. Yates took to Twitter to comment on Williams' record-setting day:
494 in 3 quarters?! @1MjWilliams2 jeez don't take all my records bro!— T.J. Yates (@TJ_Yates) November 7, 2015
Williams now trails only Darian Durant by about 550 yards in the Carolina record books, and with three more regular season games plus one or more post-season games, Williams should end his career as UNC's most prolific offensive player ever. His struggles against SCAR and the debate on whether it was time to move on to Mitch Trubisky seem so long ago now.
Turning turnovers into points: Carolina forced three turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble - and turned all three into touchdowns. A 21-0 advantage in points off turnovers goes a long way toward blowing a game open.
Spreading the Wealth: UNC's 28 pass completions (23 by Williams, 5 by Trubisky) were made to 12 different players. That kind of balance makes it hard to zero in on one receiver.
Punting: UNC found a way to ease its recent punting woes - don't punt. Joey Mangili did kick it away twice, for a 45.5 yard average.
Rushing defense: As good as UNC's defense was, and the bend-not-break did a good job keeping Thomas Sirk in check, the Tar Heels still gave up 327 yards on the ground, including 115 to Jela Duncan, 98 to Shaquille Powell, and 74 to Sirk. And it's important to remember that UNC still gave up a season-high 533 yards and 31 points to the Devils. Those numbers are lost in the UNC offensive juggernaut.
Not scoring from the one-yard line: In the second quarter, after UNC had just been gashed for a 66-yard touchdown drive on just two runs, the last 52 yards by Duncan, the Tar Heels began a 14-play, 74-yard march towards the end zone. The drive had been stalled and Nick Weiler had missed a 47-yard field goal but a Duke penalty gave Carolina new life. Elijah Hood rushed down to the one yard line and the UNC offense could not punch it in from there in two plays. Larry Fedora later said he would have made a different call on the final play but he didn't realize it was fourth down. Not a particularly good look that your bruiser back can't gain three feet on two plays or that the head coach was confused on downs. Granted UNC held Duke to a 3-and-out and came back with a field goal, but for those who wished UNC could have hung 70 on the Blue Devils, here are the four points they came up short.
3rd down conversions: UNC gave up 6 of 13 third down conversions to Duke, and the Blue Devils were 2 for 2 on fourth down conversions, making an effective 8 of 13 times the defense failed to get off the field. Included in those 8 conversions were a 3rd-and-7, a 3rd-and-15, and a 4th-and-8. Carolina also gave up plays of 7, 8, 11, 18, and 26 on 3rd and 4th downs. In a tighter game, that is guaranteed to hurt the Tar Heels.
With the win over Duke, Carolina's magic number to clinch the Coastal Division is now two. A win over Miami and a Duke win over Pitt will allow the Heels to clinch next week. Meanwhile Miami is 2-0 under interim coach Larry Scott and after UNC are probably in the best position to compete for the divisional berth in Charlotte given they have all divisional games left. Carolina simply needs to take care of business at home and then manage at least a split of its final two games to make it to the ACC Championship Game unless, heaven forbid, Carolina defeats the Canes and Duke beats Pitt to give the Heels the crown.