The first four possessions went right for the North Carolina Tar Heels: two UNC touchdowns and two Duke punts. After that, the Duke defense made adjustments and their offense found their groove on the ground. This frustrating loss in Durham cost the Tar Heels a chance to keep the Victory Bell and a return trip to the ACC Championship Game. On top of those factors, Carolina seemed to lose control of their offensive game plan and ability to make timely plays on defense.
There will not be too many highs in a rivalry game loss, especially one where the defense played on its heels and the offense was shut down in the second half.
T.J. Logan on the Return
Running back T.J. Logan was able to return three kicks in the game, including a 75-yard return in the second half. Logan’s effort on that return was spoiled however, as UNC was only able to score a field goal when starting just outside the red zone. These kick returns were the first for Logan since the win at Florida State.
New Targets for Trubisky
Carl Tucker, a 6-2 redshirt freshman tight end, caught his first career touchdown pass against Duke. Jordan Cunningham, a junior wide receiver that transferred from Vanderbilt, has now caught passes in three straight games. Brandon Fritts, a sophomore tight end, caught two passes and now has catches in two straight games. With a batch of senior receivers leaving after this season, it is encouraging for the future that younger guys are seeing some action in the passing game.
Tar Heel Fans Travel
There was a large crowd of Tar Heel fans in Wallace Wade on Thursday, and early on in the game especially, they were letting their presence be known. It was my first time in Wallace Wade since their capital expansions and upgrades, and the Duke program has done a lot to improve their facilities.
Stagnant and Stifled Offense
The Tar Heels have counted on their offense to bail out their defense many times in the past couple of years. Not so tonight. Give credit to David Cutcliffe and the Duke defense for making the necessary adjustments to limit the Carolina attack. The first UNC possession after Duke’s second punt was a three-and-out. They were able to get behind the Blue Devil defense on the next possession on the 54-yard touchdown pass to Tucker, but that was the last time UNC had anything go right on offense. The rest of the game, Carolina had possessions end with three punts, two interceptions, and two field goals.
Duke Running the Ball at Will
Duke running back Shaun Wilson and quarterback Daniel Jones ran for over 200 yards combined against the UNC defense. Once the Duke offense found their rhythm, it seemed as though either Wilson or Jones would get at least five yards on the ground on first down every drive. Missed tackles and inopportune penalties kept Duke drives alive. Only once after the first quarter did a Duke punt lead to a Carolina score on the next possession, when a Nick Weiler 36-yard field goal gave Carolina its last lead at 24-21.
Lost the Turnover Battle
As mentioned in the game preview, a key to victory for Duke would be to win the turnover battle. They did just that, as they picked off Mitch Trubisky twice and did not relinquish the ball while on offense. One interception was a great defensive play on the line of scrimmage and the other was poor judgement by Trubisky and the Blue Devils being able to take advantage. Two dropped balls by the Carolina defense could have led to the first interceptions on the year for the Heels, and might have changed the course of the game.
What were the game-changing moments from your perspective? What overarching themes led to the loss against Duke? Let us know in the comments below.