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UNC vs. Temple: Three Things Learned

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Yesterday’s game could’ve very well put the Coastal division on notice for the 2020 season.

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-North Carolina vs Temple Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday’s bowl win against Temple closed out UNC’s 2019 football season. There is time for in-depth analysis and reflection in the coming weeks, but the Heels’ Military Bowl performance was a fitting conclusion to the past four months. With that said, let’s dive into three things we learned from UNC’s first bowl appearance since 2016.

1,000 Yard Performers

Running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams entered the final game having already eclipsed 1,000 total yards from scrimmage. Carter had gained 1,075 yards by land and by air. Williams was at an even 1,000. Both added to their totals, with Michael Carter also reaching 1,000 rushing yards. He is just the third Heel this century to accomplish that feat, joining Gio Bernard and Elijah Hood.

They were eventually joined by wide receivers Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Both players entered Saturday with 947 receiving yards apiece. Brown reached the 1,000 yard mark on a 22-yard reception in the third quarter. Newsome joined him on a 29-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. It was the first time in UNC history that multiple receivers gained over 1,000 receiving yards.

But that’s not all!

Prior to this season North Carolina has had 16 players gain 1,000 yards from scrimmage since 1980. In those 39(!) years, two players have reached that mark in the same season just five times. After yesterday’s victory, it has now happened six times. I present:

1980 – Amos Lawrence and Kelvin Bryant
1983 – Tyrone Anthony and Ethan Horton
1993 – Leon Johnson and Curtis Johnson
2011 – Dwight Jones and Gio Bernard
2016 – Elijah Hood and Ryan Switzer
2019 – Michael Carter, Javonte Williams, Dyami Brown, and Dazz Newsome

This season was the first time in program history North Carolina had four players reach the mark. Here’s the full yardage breakdown for the quartet.

Michael Carter – 1,003 rushing, 154 receiving
Javonte Williams – 933 rushing, 176 receiving
Dyami Brown – 2 rushing, 1,034 receiving
Dazz Newsome — 9 rushing, 1,018 receiving

NOTE: Dyami Brown tied Dwight Jones and Hakeem Hicks as UNC’s all-time single-season leaders with 12 touchdown receptions. Dazz Newsome’s two touchdowns gave him 10 for the season, marking the first time UNC has had two WRs catch double-digit touchdowns in a single season.

Defensive Scoring

North Carolina traveled to Annapolis allowing just 24.6 points per game. After holding Temple to 13 points, that number dipped to 23.7. That may seem like an unimportant stat, but it is the lowest defensive scoring average since 2010, when Butch Davis’ last team held opponents to 23.2 points per game.

This feat cannot be understated. With two lineman that regularly played 60+ snaps, a depleted secondary that was missing up to six players at various points in the season, and a converted quarterback as their best linebacker, Jay Bateman’s defense was rarely a liability. It was a refreshing change of pace in Chapel Hill. It was also a major reason North Carolina finished with their first winning record since 2016.

Yesterday’s game was the ninth time that a Tar Heel opponent was held to less than 26 points. North Carolina played 13 games this season. For context, UNC held opponents to 25 points or fewer just 12 times in 36 games from 2016-2018.

Reason for Optimism

For the first time since the 2015-2016 offseason, fans have a reason to get excited for next season. Charlie Heck is the only starter on offense who is not expected back. He will graduate and should hear his name called during the NFL Draft in April. The defense is expected to return seven starters, losing Aaron Crawford, Dom Ross, Jason Strowbridge, and Myles Dorn.

All departures are from graduation. Mack Brown does not anticipate losing any early-entrants to the draft. If that holds true, then 16 starters return to join a top-20 recruiting class. Yesterday wasn’t a goodbye, a thank you, or a farewell send-off. It was a display of what to expect in the coming seasons in Chapel Hill.

Bowl games, arguably, don’t mean much. There isn’t much correlation to bowl success leading to on-field success the following season. Different teams approach them with different intensity and goals. That’s all well and good.

However, it was clear that the players and coaching staff felt this game was more than a formality. This wasn’t the 2014 Quick Lane Bowl or the 2019 Walk-on’s Independence Bowl (everyone wave at Miami). This game was a warning shot to next year’s opponents. A winning record and bowl game now achieved, UNC is in position to legitimately contend for the Coastal division title next season. All of a sudden, a New Year’s Day bowl doesn’t seem like such a fantasy.

Most fans didn’t think that was possible on November 24th, 2018.