The Tar Heels went on the road into a tough environment and bounced back in a big way to beat the Hurricanes. One week after the embarrassment that was the loss to Virginia Tech at home, UNC proved that performance to be the exception and not the rule.
Here are three things we learned from Carolina’s win over the Hurricanes.
Defense had their time to shine
Everyone has been hard on the Tar Heel defense this season, and rightfully so. The frustration that comes with seeing them unable to get off the field on 3rd and long, multiple missed tackles, and wide open running lanes for opposing running backs has shaken people’s confidence in the group.
At some point, UNC was going to need to lean on their defense to win a game. That happened a little bit when Carolina needed the defense to stop Pittsburgh in order to set up a game-winning drive. The defense held up their end of the deal, but it was still the offense that needed to put points on the board at the end.
The Miami game was different because the highly touted UNC offense needed the defense to come through again and again in the second half. The Tar Heels failed to score after halftime, and the defense was asked to repeatedly keep the Hurricanes off the board. UNC’s defense held the 16th ranked team in the country to ten points after the half. It was unquestionably their best game as a unit this season.
Step Up: Wide Receiver Edition
Ryan Switzer has been Mitch Trubisky’s safety blanket all season, racking up the yardage whenever the team needed him to the most. For all the wonderful things that Switzer has accomplished, his stat line from Saturday won’t be one to point to years from now: nine receptions for 17 yards. It was enough to give him the most in Carolina history, but it wasn’t enough to really ignite the offense on Saturday.
In the virtual absence of Switzer, Trubisky was able to find Bug Howard ten times for 156 yards against the Hurricanes. Howard’s longest reception of the day was 40 yards, coming in just behind Mack Hollins’ lone catch for 49 yards on the day.
Now that Hollins’ season is over with a broken collarbone, Howard, Austin Proehl, and Thomas Jackson will need to fill the void left by Mack’s ability to stretch the field as well as anyone. Switzer cannot do it alone, and defenses are going to be highly focused on stopping him. The other guys did enough to win Saturday, and they’ll be called on to do it even more in the coming weeks without Hollins.
Coastal still up for grabs
When the Tar Heels lost to the Hokies in Kenan Stadium a week ago it looked like UNC’s chances to get back to the ACC Championship game may have ended. For the first time in more than a season, Carolina didn’t control their own destiny. They’d need help to get back to the top of the Coastal.
That help came on Saturday in the form of the Syracuse Orange. Syracuse topped Virginia Tech on the road, opening the door once more for UNC to find their way back to the championship game later this year.
UNC still needs to take care of business themselves, though. NC State took Clemson to the wire before a missed field goal and overtime allowed Clemson to come away with a win on their own field. That won’t be a game the Tar Heels are able to overlook.
Should the Heels win the Coastal and return to the championship game, they’ll be heading back to the state of Florida. They’ve done pretty well there so far this season.