No one would blame the Tar Heels for celebrating this victory, but head coach John Bunting doesn’t want the celebration to last too long.
“We are going to be celebrating for a few hours, just like when you lose you are down for a few hours,” Bunting said. “Then you have to get right back up.”
This week I am changing my usual order of review to lead with the special teams play, though it was tempting to begin with the offense and Ronnie McGill’s outstanding performance. Though both played huge parts in this win, the special teams play gets the nod from me.
From a points standpoint, the special teams erased seven Wake Forest points off the scoreboard by blocking two field goals and an extra point. Then they added two of their own when Lionell Green returned a blocked extra point for a two points. The net gain for the Tar Heels was nine points.
In the first quarter, the punt coverage team recovered a fumble on Wake Forest’s 22-yard line which led to North Carolina’s first score, a well-executed 11-yard pass from Darian Durant to Jacque Lewis. Ronnie McGill, who was just beginning to scratch the surface of a great day, recovered the fumbled punt.
North Carolina received the kickoff at the start of the second half and drove 41-yards and added to their lead with a Dan Orner-field goal. On the ensuing kickoff, the special teams came up with yet another big play, when Wallace Wright forced Wake return man Isaiah Idlette to fumble and D.J. Walker recover the ball, oddly enough, at the 22-yard line. Four plays later, the Tar Heels scored on a Ronnie McGill five-yard run to extend their lead to 25-13.
(It may be worth a mention that there could have been some Charlie “Choo-Choo” Justice mojo at work on Saturday. Prior to the game, the number “22” was painted in blue at the 22-yard lines. Both fumbles were recovered on the 22).
Dan Orner was perfect on his two field goal attempts, David Woolridge again punted well, Mike Mason had a 37-yard kickoff return and averaged 22.8 yards per return, and Wake Forest averaged only 4.5 yards per punt return. Finally, unlike previous weeks, the special teams did not have any breakdowns during the entire contest.
The heroics of running back Ronnie McGill and the offensive line will receive a lot of the attention following this victory, rightfully so, but when you are handing out kudos around the water cooler this week don’t fail to give the special teams the credit they deserve. Without their dominating performance, this game could have easily been a loss.
Ronnie McGill. Offensive line. The recap of the offensive performance could begin and end here. The stat line reads 29 carries for 244 yards and three rushing touchdowns for McGill. The stats don’t begin to tell the story.
“I guess my biggest disappointment was down the stretch when there was no doubt they were going to try and run the football and we were unable to stop them,” Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said following the game.
That may be the most impressive part of the story.
On the final UNC possession of the game, there was no one in the stadium that did not know the Wake Forest defense was about to get a steady dose of Ronnie McGill.
The drive began with 4:59 left in the game and the Tar Heels trying to hold off a surging Wake Forest team. On the first play of the drive, McGill rushed for 12 yards. On second and ten following a Wake Forest timeout, McGill picked up another first down with a 20-yard run. On another second down, McGill picked up another first down with a 16-yard run. The Tar Heels marched down to the 18-yard line and the drive stalled as McGill came up short on third and four, creating a fourth-and-one with 33 seconds left in the game.
With McGill getting the ball on eight consecutive plays during the drive, the Tar Heels lined up needing one yard to seal the deal. The handoff came, no surprise, to McGill. The Wake Forest defenders met him in the backfield.
“It was just a regular little “iso” (isolation play) that we had been running the whole game. Jacque [Lewis] made a great block on it, the line blocked their men, and they put me one-on-one with somebody that they figured I could overpower,” McGill said. “I got hit--right before the play all the linemen looked at me and told me that they wanted me to get the first down, no matter what.”
McGill fought his way past the initial contact for three yards, and the game was over.
Though there is more of the offense that could be discussed, this day belonged to Ronnie McGill and the offensive line. McGill often made yards after the first, second, or third hit, but he also took advantage of holes carved out by his offensive linemen.
“The offensive linemen were blocking right and making the holes where they were supposed to be. I was just running through the holes, except for the second touchdown I had,” McGill said.
Again this week, the stats aren’t pretty. North Carolina gave up 562 yards to the Demon Deacons, 251 yards rushing, and 311 yards passing.
There were some changes on defense this week in personnel. Chase Page, who has been the starter at defensive tackle, was moved to defensive end. Shelton Bynum and Isaiah Thomas started at defensive tackle. Madison Hedgecock started at the other defensive end spot. Page, in his debut at defensive end, made eleven tackles.
Though the defense was unable to pressure Wake Forest quarterback Cory Randolph, the Deacons did not find the going easy between the tackles. Most of their rushing yardage came from the outside. There were also fewer “explosion” plays given up than in games past.
On many rushes between the tackles, Wake Forest running back Chris Barclay gained two yards or less. On the day, the Tar Heels held Barclay slightly under his average yard per carry for the season.
The defense, for the second consecutive week, held their opponents initial drives to field goal attempts. They also forced a fumble. That is about all of the good news for the defense. Overall they allowed Wake Forest 200 more yards than their average.
There are several players on defense beginning to make plays, but there just aren’t enough playmakers on that side of the ball. It wasn’t a performance to write home about, but just good enough to allow the team to win.
The Tar Heels travel to Atlanta to face a Georgia Tech team that can’t be very happy. The Yellow Jackets became the team against which the Duke Blue Devils ended their streak of 30 consecutive ACC losses.