North Carolina emerged victorious over Duke for the Victory Bell. The Tar Heels (7-5, 3-5 ACC), who had lost four of their last five games, defeated the Blue Devils for the eighth consecutive time and for the 21st time in the last 22 meetings. Duke (3-9, 1-7) ended its season with seven consecutive losses.
The Tar Heels won the battle up front, outplaying Duke on both lines. The Blue Devils, who have struggled to run behind an injury-plagued offensive line this season, had more trouble against UNC. Duke finished with 46 rushing yards on 21 attempts, including just 12 yards on seven carries by tailbacks. UNC, meanwhile, ran for 187 yards on 40 attempts.
It was a big day for a pair of UNC seniors in their final home game. Wide receiver Dwight Jones made 10 catches for 101 yards and three touchdowns, and defensive lineman Quinton Coples dominated with three tackles for loss, two sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
“It’s very special,” Jones said. “We didn’t want to be the seniors with the bad legacy left, the team that lost to Duke. So to beat them was very special for us. We were able to keep the legacy going.”
INSIDE THE GAME
Bernard Runs Wild
Tailback Giovani Bernard left UNC’s 24-21 loss at Virginia Tech with a concussion. No matter how much he begged to return in that game, the coaching staff denied his wishes. Bernard made up for lost time against the Blue Devils, finishing with season-high totals for rushing attempts (30) and yards (165). He added 57 yards on four catches.
“I knew this week in practice, you could see it in him that he was expecting to have a big day,” UNC interim coach Everett Withers said. “Thirty carries and 165 rushing, that’s pretty impressive for the young man. You have to credit that offensive line, the tight ends, the offensive coaching staff for devising the game plan to allow him to do the things that he did today.”
Bernard set a UNC freshman record with his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season, and he needed only one half to do it. He rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown on 19 first-half carries. He also improved his season rushing total to 1,222 yards, the most ever by a UNC freshman. With one game to play, he sits in sixth place on the school’s single-season rushing chart.
Bernard’s big blow came on a blow-by, a 48-yard touchdown run up the middle that put the Tar Heels ahead 20-7 early in the second quarter.
“The scheme that they were running, they had a safety who was always free and open,” Bernard said. “As soon as I saw him make the wrong read, I knew it was a touchdown from there on. It’s something that I pride myself on. Sometimes they’re going to slip up, and you’ve got to capitalize on their mistakes. That was one of their mistakes, and we got a touchdown out of it.”
Jones Reaches Milestones
Jones’ 10 catches gave him 79 for the season. He broke Hakeem Nicks’ school record for catches in a season (74 in 2007) and became just the seventh player in UNC history to amass 2,000 career receiving yards. He had his fifth 100-yard receiving game of the season, tying Nicks’ school record from 2008.
Most important for the Tar Heels were Jones’ three touchdown grabs. He hauled in a 6-yard score from quarterback Bryn Renner to give UNC a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, then made one of his patented one-handed grabs late in the third. Jones beat Duke cornerback Walt Canty to the inside and snatched Renner’s pass with his left hand for an 18-yard score that put the Tar Heels ahead 30-21. Jones put away the game with his 8-yard touchdown catch on a slant midway through the fourth quarter.
Jones helped Renner tie the school record for touchdown passes in a season (23), set by Chris Keldorf in 1996.
“He’s easy to throw to,” Renner said. “I know he’s going to come down with it every single time.”
Big Plays Hurt UNC Defense
The first-half statistics showed domination by North Carolina. The Tar Heels owned decisive advantages in time of possession (20:21 to 9:39), first downs (13-3) and total offense (259-155), yet led only 20-14 on the scoreboard.
UNC was razor sharp on defense with the exception of two plays, but those two plays were enough to keep Duke in the game: a 70-yard touchdown catch by Juwan Thompson and a 45-yard touchdown catch by Jamison Crowder. Duke managed a total of just 40 yards on its other 23 snaps of the first half.
The Tar Heels gave up the first big play on a mental breakdown after the Blue Devils used their top two threats as decoys. Wide receiver Donovan Varner came in motion, and quarterback Sean Renfree faked a handoff to him on a sweep to the left. Wide receiver Conner Vernon, meanwhile, ran a deep post from his alignment left of the formation.
Those two actions left UNC’s secondary defenders either scrambling forward or worried about the deep middle of the field. When Thompson leaked out of the backfield to the left, presumably to block for Varner on the run that never happened, no one covered him. Renfree hit Thompson in stride with the pass down the left sideline, and Thompson ran the final 45 yards for the touchdown.
A physical lapse, and poor tackling, cost the Tar Heels in the second quarter. Renfree stood in the pocket on third and 16, absorbing a vicious hit (which drew a penalty flag) from UNC linebacker Zach Brown after he delivered the ball. Crowder made the reception and weaved his way toward the end zone through UNC’s secondary, zig-zagging his way left to right as a trio of UNC players failed to tackle him.
“We gave up two big plays,” UNC safety Gene Robinson said. “Other than that, we felt like we played a good half in the first half.”
Boone Changes Momentum
Duke redshirt freshman Anthony Boone had played sparingly all season, coming in at quarterback in select short-yardage and red-zone situations. Duke coach David Cutcliffe went to Boone full time in the third quarter after Renfree lost a fumble while being sacked by Quinton Coples on the Blue Devils’ previous series, and the move paid off immediately.
Boone gave the Tar Heels fits as a change of pace, leading Duke on a 75-yard touchdown drive. He rushed for 21 yards and caught a 21-yard pass from Crowder on a trick play to set up his first career touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to Varner.
Eventually, though, UNC adjusted to the change in Duke’s offense with Boone at quarterback. After the Blue Devils had success on Boone’s first drive, they didn’t score again.
“We expected it some, but we expected it more in a wildcat situation more so than an actual quarterback running the offense,” Withers said. “We knew if he was going to be in the game at quarterback, it was going to turn into a little bit more quarterback-run type of game. We always have a package for spread, so it gave us an opportunity to go back and use that package.
“A couple of times we didn’t execute well early on it. But I think once we got going, we got a feel for it.”