For the second week in a row, the Tar Heels followed up an embarrassing prime time performance with an impressive win over an in-state rival. Saturday’s 56-24 win over the Duke Blue Devils wasn’t even as close as the final score as the Tar Heels took their collective foot off the throttle in the fourth quarter. The defense was mostly full of depth players by that point and allowed Duke to get some meaningless points on the board.
The win was satisfying in so many ways, and was arguably the best performance by the Tar Heels of the season. So, let’s get right into our weekly list of what shined and what didn’t.
Javonte Williams: I mean, you hate to go with the obvious here but anytime you score four touchdowns in one game, you’re going to lead the list. Javonte isn’t exactly a secret for defenses anymore and yet here he is putting up another 12/151 effort with three TDs along with 4/24 in the air and another score. The 12.6 yards per rush is just an absolutely insane number, and all of the rushes were for gains as well. At this point, the only reason he isn’t getting more buzz nationally is because of Carolina’s ability to shoot themselves in the foot at both FSU and UVa. Otherwise they would be hanging around the top ten and spoken as favorites to reach the ACC Championship game. That said, the spotlight is about to shine brightly on the Tar Heels, and good performances in those upcoming games would surge him into national discussion.
Oh yeah, Javonte also did this:
If you enjoy big, powerful running backs, then here is a .GIF of Javonte Williams making Duke CB Tony Davis slide backwards for seven yards.— Jake Lawrence (@TheRealestRJL) November 8, 2020
Come for the flying towel.
Stay for Javonte's 17th touchdown of the season. pic.twitter.com/Udy49nnbQA
Defensive Front: The first half went so well not only because the offense just hummed, but because the defensive front clamped down and was able to get consistent pressure on quarterback Chase Brice. Brice’s lack of mobility played right into the hands of the defensive line and linebackers, and pressure that hadn’t gotten into the backfield the last few weeks managed to get there. Brice ended the day being sacked three times, only passing for 155 yards, and was picked off once. You sign that the front was on their game? Just look at the leading tacklers and it’s loaded with guys up front: Surratt, Gemmel, Evans. That’s what you want to see. As a whole the defense finished the game with ten tackles for loss, and while the result was expected after tripping up against two other inferior teams, it was good to see this unit dominate as they were supposed to.
Offensive Line: You know what, let’s give the big guys up front some love. The Tar Heels netted 338 yards on the ground, quarterback Sam Howell had all sorts of time to find guys for his throws, and while Williams and backfield mate Michael Carter had to do the work once open, they can’t do anything unless the line gives them the space to do their thing. The best sign of their work? Carolina was 4-4 in fourth down conversions. Four. Of. Four. Each of those fourth downs were short yards, and there was no secret in where Carolina would go, yet Duke had no shot to stop them. Also, as Akil noted yesterday, Duke does have a couple fo the country’s sack leaders on their squad, but Howell kept his shirt mostly clean. These guys have been doing some work in the trenches, and Saturday it showed.
Jacolby Criswell: This isn’t for him, so much as the waste of snaps for the freshman. When Criswell came into the game early in the fourth quarter, Carolina fans were ready to see how he could air it out with some of this other talent on the field. Instead, the coaches either didn’t want defenses to get good tape on the kid or didn’t want it to look like they were trying to run up the score on Duke. Instead of getting meaningful snaps, Criswell just had one meager pass attempt, two runs for thirteen yards, and kept everything pretty vanilla. You'd like something to inspire confidence in case Howell has to spend some extended time off the field, hopefully it’s simply a case of coaches saving what Criswell can do until it’s needed
Michael Carter: This one is a bit of a double-edged sword. Carter has really been nudged aside thanks to the highlight work of Javonte Williams, but in any other game someone who has 17 attempts for 85 yards and a 5.0 average would be heralded for amazing work. Make no mistake, the Tar Heels and Javonte Williams wouldn’t be where they are without Carter doing his part to completely wear down the defense. Carter is the lightning to Williams’ thunder, and his ability to leak out of the backfield and catch passes has become a huge part of the Carolina offense that now has to focus closer to the line of scrimmage due to coverage deep.
That said, this is really just an excuse to show the damage done to...the other Michael Carter.
UNC’s Carter is reminding you that he can bring the hammer, too.
Dae Dae Hollins: The only interception for the secondary on the day should have been a pick six. That’s why you end up here, sir. Great job on getting that pick off, but how on earth can a man who had a convoy end up getting chased down by someone on the offensive line? The defense has to actually, you know, block for their guy when they have a wall set up. The Tar Heels would go on to score, anyway, but come on guys.
Sam Howell really had a game that was obscured by the work of his running backs, but 18/27, 235 yards, and three TD’s is a great day, but his decision making just has to get better. His pick was another ugly one where there was no chance of his target catching it, and honestly his best move was to take the open space and just run. It’s still the biggest hole in his game, but as he’s only halfway through his sophomore season there’s still plenty of time to improve...Emory Simmons is taking advantage of the injury to Beau Corrales to show the future is bright at the receiver position, and one suspects that when Corrales is healthy Simmons will still get plenty of run...Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel were back to their old ways combining for 20 tackles, and forcing one fumble. It’d be nice if the Tar Heels never faced another running quarterback...Finally, shout out to Ben Kiernan. His first punt of the day didn’t happen until the third quarter, and he managed to goad Chris Rumph into an unsportsmanlike penalty by just chatting him up and getting the defender to swing at him. He took the swing and laughed as he ran off the field, so it was good to him not only pin Duke back more, but not be afraid of some physicality.