Except for the first half of the first quarter, that was largely a frustrating game for the Tar Heels. Carolina came out guns blazing with back to back touchdowns. Duke fans were probably thinking “here we go again…”, while UNC fans were thinking the exact same thing except with exuberance and joy. Then, Duke started to move the ball, putting together back to back quality drives of their own to knot the score at 14.
A good balance of play calling, power running, and short passes all contributed to the Blue Devils’ success. For the Carolina defense, it wasn’t about giving up home run plays. This game was characterized by failing to get stops on second and third down, and letting Duke’s momentum snowball. All four of their touchdowns were plays originating from inside the ten yard line.
So what about the Carolina offense? If there’s one player that shined despite the horrible showing from the Tar Heels overall, it’s Elijah Hood. On Carolina’s first two drives, that both resulted in touchdowns, Hood had five total touches. These included consecutive big gains, one for 20 yards after being pinned inside the five yard line, and the next a 12-yard run to get the drive going. Since those plays early in the first quarter, Hood was only handed the ball once until early in the third quarter.
Elijah Hood had 133 total yard of offense, and 13 true carries in the one-point loss to Duke. Some say Hood was not used enough, and I would tend to agree. The passing game was not working for Trubisky and the offense, evidenced by the fact that Elijah was Carolina’s leading rusher AND leading receiver. When he got the ball, he produced. Averaging more than five yards a carry, many UNC fans are left wondering about his lack of involvement in key situations. Specifically, the two drives in the second half that ended in Nick Weiler field goals could have been extended further in the red zone by pounding the ball to Hood. Unfortunately, the offense settled.
Regardless, Elijah Hood did all that he could do to give his team a chance to win. From the beginning, you could see a will to win in his style of play. Coming back from an injury earlier in the season, Hood has looked like a different runner. He continued that trend tonight, power running and refusing to let his team down. One of his best plays came in the second half when he barreled over a Duke defender for 13 yards into Blue Devil territory. Just one of his impressive plays that at least gave UNC a chance to win.
In the end, Duke prevailed for various reasons. It will be interesting to see how the team responds to loss like this, and what the program as a whole can learn. Hopefully after watching the tape, the coaching staff will be able to see Elijah Hood’s value a little clearer, and call plays accordingly. For now, Carolina football will try to move on and look forward to The Citadel on Saturday.