The Tar Heels needed this one. It wasn't the biggest game they have played so far, and its not even the biggest game yet to play. Regardless, to stay on track for a back-to-back Coastal Division title, they needed to avoid a stumble on the road against Virginia. The Cavaliers coming in at 2-4 were looking to upset Carolina on the back of junior quarterback Kurt Benkert, who has 14 touchdowns on the year. Trubisky and the Tar Heels were not overlooking UVA, especially on the road in the 120th installment of “The South’s Oldest Rivalry.”
This game started out slow, remaining scoreless late into the first quarter. UVA punted five straight times to open the game, and the Carolina offense could not get much going either. UNC had great field position to start their third possession of the game, and looked to be knocking on the doorstep late in the first quarter. T.J. Logan fumbled the ball on the one yard line and sunk the offense’s hopes of breaking through.
Elijah Hood had himself a quality day on the ground with 16 carries, 107 yards, and one touchdown. He was especially effective getting to the outside, and turned the corner a few times with some key blocks. Finally with 33 seconds left in the 1st, Hood punched it in for his only touchdown of the afternoon. The Wahoos would answer with their best drive of the game, and one of the weirdest fake/trick plays I've seen. Virginia’s Evan Butts side-snapped the ball to backup quarterback Matt Johns on 4th and 3 from the UNC 11. Butts then casually ran straight into the end zone and got the ball back from Johns for the touchdown. It was an interesting play on what should have been a kicking situation, but it wouldn't be the only trick pulled on Saturday.
With 2:52 left in the first half, Larry Fedora pulled out the ol’ flee flicker that he’s been known to use. This time, it was a hand-off to Ryan Switzer by T.J. Logan who was lined up in the Wildcat formation. Switzer then pitched it to Trubisky for the 40 yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard. With that play, Carolina stole back the momentum before the half.
After receiving at the start of the 3rd quarter, Carolina fumbled at its own 47 after a screen pass to Ryan Switzer. The call on the field was not clear at all from the officials, as they ruled Switzer down by contact with no whistle. The play was reviewed, and eventually overturned giving the ball to Virginia with great field position.
The UNC defense had a great game overall, but came up huge after the second turnover. Instead of allowing UVA to tie the ballgame at 14, #45 Mikey Bart came up with a sack on second down. The next play, sophomore linebacker Cole Holcomb stormed into the backfield and delivered a huge tackle for loss to force the Wahoo offense off of the field. This stop set up a 10 play, 79 yard drive by the Heels, culminating with a touchdown catch by walk-on Thomas Jackson. It seemed then that Carolina meant business.
From then on, Virginia could not get much going on the UNC defense. The Tar Heels held the Cavs to three third-down conversions on 19 attempts. Furthermore, quarterback Kurt Benkert was limited to his lowest passing production of the season, just 126 yards. UVA even took out Benkert and gave Connor Brewer a chance to make something happen. He was not very effective, and the Cavaliers finished with 143 yards through the air, well below their season average of 289.
Everyone got involved on offense on Saturday for the heels. Bug Howard, wearing #13 today for injured teammate Mack Hollins, had 7 catches for 109 yards. Logan and Hood each had a touchdown, and Austin Proehl stepped up in Hollins’ absence. The game busted open for the Heels late in the third. With his father watching from the sideline, Proehl had a big catch to set up Logan’s touchdown with 1:31 left. Later in the fourth, he had a nice route and grab for a 46 yard touchdown to put it away for the Heels.
This game was big for Carolina for a number of reasons. First, everyone including the team was wondering how they would respond without Mack Hollins. The new three-headed monster of Howard-Switzer-Proehl did their job, accounting for 257 yards of offense. The Heels will need continued production and confidence down the road out of Austin Proehl. Next, the UNC defense made some big strides today shutting down the UVA offense, while gaining more and more confidence in the process. The secondary was flat-out punishing the Cavalier receivers late in the game, making sure a comeback was out of reach. They’ll need to build on that mindset, and continue to put away teams for good at the end of the game. Finally, UNC Football is one step closer to playing for an ACC Championship. Keep an eye on Virginia Tech and Pitt, but with a little help these Heels are poised for a run to the championship. Carolina rolls on Saturday 35-14.