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UNC vs. NC State: Three Things Learned

“It could’ve been a lot worse than it was.” -Sam Howell

North Carolina State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Carolina football fans were understandably wanting more from their team going into the game yesterday against NC State. Mack Brown and his team more than delivered in their 48-21 beating of the Wolfpack, as it was hard to feel like this game was close at any point aside from when Ben Finley entered the game to help them score near the end of the first half.

It’s hard to pull a whole lot of lessons out of what was arguably the most complete game that UNC has played so far this season. One thing is for absolutely certain, however: things are very, very different in the Triangle now that Mack Brown has returned to Carolina. More on that in a little bit. For now, though, let’s discuss the lessons we did learn from this oddly-scheduled rivalry game.

Adjusting expectations at the quarterback position

We have certainly come a long way from what the quarterback position started to look like near the end of the Larry Fedora era. Without a question UNC had some great quarterbacks while he was head coach — Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky were nothing but a joy to watch — but when things shifted to Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott it was hard to see how this team would be able to do anything close to what Carolina fans have been craving in terms of success.

Now we have Sam Howell, who will more than likely leave Chapel Hill as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. His freshman year he delighted us with big plays, sharp accuracy, and most importantly, wins. It was really hard to find a lot of weaknesses in Howell’s armor last season, but it feels like now we’re starting to see a few things that would help UNC sustain drives longer if he were to get them corrected.

Howell’s biggest weakness right now involves decision-making. This may sound odd to say, but much like against Florida State Howell left a number of easy passes out on the field, and also found himself in situations where if the desired play wasn’t there. There were a number of times when he hung onto the ball way too long and took some unnecessary sacks. It’s clear that some of the need to make a big play still exists with this offense, but Howell can get himself out of a lot more trouble by accepting less yardage or no yardage at all.

With all of that said, Howell is still an incredible quarterback. It is truly a blessing that our expectations of the quarterback position can now shift completely from hoping things aren’t a disaster to wanting the most out of an exceptional talent. I will take that any day of the week.

Javonte Williams really hates NC State

Alright, so maybe there’s a lot implied in the above statement. Maybe the truth is that Javonte Williams is just a really good running back that is having a very good season, and NC State was an unfortunate victim. However, it’s hard to combat both of these things being true when looking at what he’s been able to do against the Wolfpack.

Williams finished yesterday’s game with 19 carries for 160 yards and three touchdowns. In the game against State last year he finished with 9 carries for 58 yards and two touchdowns. This means that in those two games, Williams scored 35 points, and NC State as a team has scored 31. It’s an absolutely silly stat, and one that also serves as a strong representation of what kind of season Javonte Williams is having.

Following the conclusion of yesterday’s game Williams has carried the ball 63 times this season for 562 yards and 10 touchdowns. This means that in the five games played he is now averaging two touchdowns per game, and is on pace to finish the regular season with approximately 22 touchdowns. This would be good enough to break the school’s record for most rushing touchdowns in a single season. Of course this is all hypothetical and anything can happen in any given game, but it will still be something to keep an eye on.

NC State’s fun is over

The North Carolina State Wolfpack started to have way too much fun in the final stretch of the Larry Fedora era. Prior to Mack Brown’s return, State had taken down the Tar Heels in three straight games, and were doing a much better job on the recruiting trail, particularly when it came to in-state recruits (Payton Wilson, hello). Needless to say, things are very, very different now that Mack is indeed back.

On the recruiting trail UNC has now bested NC State in the rankings two years in a row, and are on pace to make it three. On the football field itself NC State has given up 41 and 48 points to the Heels, respectively. The Wolfpack? They have scored 10 and 21 points in those games. Simply put: it isn’t just that the Tar Heels are now inching past State in recruiting and have two wins on the field. They are absolutely beating them down in both departments.

Considering the path that both of these programs are on, it’s hard to believe that this rivalry will be very competitive anytime soon as long as Mack Brown remains in Chapel Hill and Dave Doeren is in Raleigh. Allowing a UNC blowout could be considered an anomaly, but allowing it twice is a pattern. I’m sure it was fun for the Pack while it lasted, but it is abundantly clear now that playtime is over.