Trailing 27-25 with 2:11 to play, UNC started its final regular season drive of the season on its own eight-yard line due to a block in the back on the kickoff. T.J. Logan took the handoff on first down and was tackled for a two-yard gain.
The Tar Heels didn’t run their next play until 20 seconds had run off the clock. Following a facemask penalty that moved the ball out to the 25, Marquise Williams connected with T.J. Thorpe on a tunnel screen for a five-yard gain. Another 14 seconds melted off before Williams snapped the ball again.
By the time UNC ran its fifth play of the drive, 68 seconds had ticked off the clock despite having two timeouts at its disposal.
On 2nd-and-10 at UNC’s 36, Logan ran for a five-yard gain inbounds as another 16 seconds elapsed off the clock, leaving the Tar Heels with 41 seconds to play and some 35 yards to go to reach field goal range.
Williams’s 10-yard scramble out of bounds on 4th-and-5 kept the drive alive and moved UNC to Duke’s 49-yard line with 25 seconds remaining. Two plays later, Williams was hit while throwing a deep ball to Quinshad Davis and was intercepted by DeVon Edwards at the 29 with 13 seconds left on the clock.
Despite the apparent time management concerns, UNC head coach Larry Fedora disagreed that it was an issue.
“We had two minutes and two timeouts,” Fedora told reporters during his postgame press conference. “We weren’t worried about the clock. That wasn’t going to be an issue for us. It was going to be making sure we picked up first downs. That last play, he’s going to hit him for a big gain and he gets hit, so we had what we wanted in the coverage and had the guy wide open. We didn’t make the play.”
When asked about burning clock early in the drive, Williams said he was waiting on the play call from the sideline.
“I really didn’t focus on that, I was just getting the signal and trying to speed the tempo up,” Williams said. “It was a little slow, but I was just trying to speed the tempo up.”
Wide receiver Quinshad Davis told reporters that while he was vocal in making his teammates aware of the dwindling clock, he didn’t feel like the clock got away UNC.
“If we could have gotten that last pass, then called a timeout and got a little run play, then we would have been right there in field goal position,” Davis said.
Both Davis and tight end Eric Ebron backed their head coach in saying that the offense played with an appropriate sense of urgency. Left tackle James Hurst, however, touched on the reason behind the clock ticking away early in the drive.
“It seems like there were a lot of shorter plays that got tackled inbounds, which might not be what you’re looking for,” Hurst said. “But we knew we had timeouts and we knew we just had to get a field goal, so you’re not in a huge rush in that situation.”
Ultimately, UNC had a 1st-and-10 at Duke’s 49 with 25 seconds left to play and two timeouts remaining. But in using up 1:46 of clock to run the previous seven plays – which averages out to 15.1 seconds per play – the Tar Heels were running short on time with the outcome in the balance.