North Carolina (6-4, 2-4 ACC) gained 23 yards on its first two offensive plays of the game, but could only manage nine total yards on its final 27 plays of the first half. The Wolfpack (5-4, 2-3 ACC) was not dramatically better, but delivered a solid 8-play, 64-yard touchdown drive on its second possession that ended with a Mike-Glennon-to-T.J.-Graham 12-yard pass in the back of the end zone.
Niklas Sade added a 26-yard field goal to give NCSU a 10-0 halftime lead.
UNC topped its first half yardage total (32 yards) on its opening drive of the second half (46 yards), but Bryn Renner’s throw into double coverage at the goal line was picked off by cornerback David Amerson. Renner (9-of-17 passing, 76 yards, 2 INT) left the game due to concussion-like symptoms following that drive after passing two concussion tests during halftime.
Sade added a 24-yard field goal with 7:29 left in the third to finalize the scoring.
Glennon completed 16 of his 33 passes for 164 yards, a touchdown and an interception and James Washington rushed for 110 yards on 27 carries.
Gio Bernard (47 yards on 18 carries) became the first Tar Heel to rush for a 1,000 yards in a season since Jonathan Linton in 1997. UNC totaled three net rushing yards on 28 carries.
N.C. State outgained UNC, 290-165, and won the turnover battle, 3-1.
INSIDE THE GAME
Failing to Match N.C. State’s Intensity
After spending all week putting the emphasis back on this heated rivalry, UNC head coach Everett Withers told reporters during his postgame press conference that plays, not emotion, was the reason for the loss.
“I felt like we tried to play hard early,” Withers said. “I don’t think it had anything to do with intensity [or] emotion. It was about X’s and O’s and not blocking them and not tackling them and not doing those things.”
His players disagreed.
Bernard provided some telling insight when asked to expand on comments that he was surprised about a lack of intensity heading into the game.
“I don’t know that it’s being surprised, I think it’s just a matter of not feeling right,” Bernard said. “I didn’t feel right going into the game. I felt guys were just joking around and not taking this game seriously. I knew guys were just not really focused in.”
When backup quarterback Braden Hanson (7-of-13 passing, 86 yards, INT) was asked if he thought the offense matched the N.C. State defense’s intensity early, he replied: “Obviously not. We didn’t come out with the right mindset.”
The Tar Heels were favored for the fourth-straight year in this rivalry, but the end result was the exact same. Credit N.C. State for bringing more energy to this rivalry in a college game that thrives on emotion.
How this UNC coaching staff has repeatedly failed to inspire its roster to fully embrace this rivalry will be a question asked in the Tar Heel community for a long time to come.
Elephant in the Room
Withers installed North Carolina’s “elephant” punt protection scheme during training camp to improve coverage and the change worked with regard to limiting punt return yardage -- UNC has only allowed 12 punts to be returned for a combined 34 yards through 10 games.
But opposing teams have been able to put plenty of pressure on punter Thomas Hibbard due to the spread formation at the line of scrimmage. Wake Forest finally broke through with a blocked punt and a tip last weekend. Withers defended his punt protection during his radio show on Wednesday, saying, “We’ve really worked through a lot of kinks in it, but we think it gives us the best matchup when we’re in the elephant punt.”
Hibbard’s slow release time has added to the problems, so UNC subbed in backup (and last year's starter) C.J. Feagles on Saturday against N.C. State’s all-out punt block. And while the Wolfpack failed to block a punt and Graham only returned one punt for no gain, UNC failed in the field position battle.
Feagles averaged 34.9 yards on eight punts, including kicks of 25 and 27 yards and an out-of-bounds shank that was kept out of the stat book due to a false start penalty. He did deliver a needed 53-yarder as UNC was fighting to get back into the game in the fourth quarter.
“We felt like we wanted to get the most efficient punter on the field,” Withers said when asked about the punter switch. “Every day at practice is a competition. So if a guy doesn’t play well, we have a competition to put the best guy in there.”
The short punts played a significant role in the field position game. N.C. State average starting field position in the first half was the 43-yard-line, compared to the 20-yard-line for North Carolina. For the game, the Wolfpack held an 18-yard advantage.
Third Down Troubles
Neither North Carolina nor N.C. State had excelled on third down – offensively or defensively – during the first two months of the season. The Tar Heels ranked 71st nationally in third-down conversions (39.4 percent) and 75th in third-down conversion defense (41.1), while the Wolfpack were marginally better with a 41.0 conversion percentage (57th) and a 40.9 conversion defense mark (72nd).
N.C. State blew up those statistics on Saturday. North Carolina only converted four of its 14 third-down attempts. The Wolfpack, however, succeeded on eight of its 21 third-down opportunities, but hit on 7-of-15 in building a 13-0 lead midway through the third quarter. One of those conversions was a backbreaker late in the third quarter.
With N.C. State facing a 3rd and 11 on its own five-yard-line, James Washington exploded for a 24-yard run off the left side. The Wolfpack did not score on that possession, but moved the ball enough to flip the field as UNC began its next drive on its seven-yard-line.
First Quarter Forecast
UNC entered this rivalry matchup having outscored its opponents, 63-30, in the first quarter and had lost two of the three games in which it trailed after 15 minutes.
N.C. State, on the other hand, had been blitzed, 65-24,in the opening quarter, including being held scoreless in five outings.
Both teams bucked those trends on Saturday as the Wolfpack took a 7-0 lead into the second quarter. N.C. State churned out 88 yards of offense on 22 plays, while holding UNC to minus-seven yards on 14 plays.