Photo Gallery II
UNC (4-4, 3-2 ACC) still needs two more wins to secure a chance at another postseason experience, but with its next two games at home against teams with a combined record of 5-12.
Yet, on somewhat of a sobering note, UNC hasn’t won three games in a row since the middle of the 2001 season. Still, it’s safe to say Carolina’s path to a six-win season, or better, got a lot easier with the upset win over the Eagles (6-3, 3-3).
For the first time since 1992, the Tar Heels have won back-to-back home games against ranked opponents. UNC defeated then 23rd-ranked Virginia two weeks ago in Chapel Hill, 7-5.
The win also took some steps towards exorcising last year’s Continental Tire Bowl loss, in which the Eagles rolled up 477 yards of total offense en route to a 37-24 win in front of over 65,000 Tar Heel fans.
This year’s UNC defense continues to show that it is much improved. And it showed Saturday, as Carolina held the Eagles to 337 yards, 80 of which came on their final drive of the game.
And also impressive was the balance provided by the much-maligned Tar Heels’ offense, which managed just 310 yards, but converted 9-of-18 third down conversions and committed just one turnover.
“We couldn’t get [our defense] off the field in the first half," BC coach Tom O’Brien said. "We didn’t tackle very well, and then they made some long drives and played keep-away and didn’t give us much of an opportunity; so credit them.”
This was the fourth-straight game in which the UNC offense has held the ball for more than half the game. The Tar Heels have controlled the clock for at least 30 minutes six times this season, and once for 29:35.
Tailbacks Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards led UNC to 100 yards rushing, while Matt Baker completed 20-of-32 passing attempts for 211 yards. It was the first time Baker had eclipsed the century mark since throwing for 211 yards at Louisville.
“We are about 50/50 pass/run,” Baker said. “We work both in and try to keep the defense on their heels. The defense plays so well because we are able to do that.”
The Tar Heels’ offensive MVP award had to go to wide receiver Jesse Holley, who notched career highs with eight passes and 125 yards receiving. And several of his receptions were of the “unbelievable” variety.
“We got into a zone and nothing else mattered,” Holley said of his receiver-quarterback relationship with Baker. “I didn’t care what coverage they were in, I didn’t care who was draped over me, where the ball was thrown. I just had a sense of urgency and everything that was thrown to me I said to myself, ‘I’m going to come down with it.’”
Also refreshing was that kicker Connor Barth converted all three of his field goal attempts, including a 44-yarder which gave Carolina a 16-7 lead with 4:14 to play in the third quarter. Barth, who was just 3-of-11 coming into the game, was immediately engulfed by his teammates and coaches, and got a rousing and relieving ovation from most of the 48,000 fans in attendance.
It was the first time Barth, who had missed his last three field goal attempts, was successful since connecting on a 32-yarder versus Utah.
“What’s been great is that they’ve always had confidence in me, even when I was missing,” Barth said. “They always say, ‘Keep up, we have confidence in you.’ That’s the great thing about having teammates like that on this team. They never doubted me. It just feels awesome to go out there and show them that I still have it.”
But again, it was the Carolina defense that kept coming back onto the field to stymie a BC offense that was anchored by a mammoth offensive line and led by veteran players at the skill positions.
Also, for the second time this season, the Tar Heels scored on the opening kickoff when Wallace Wright ran 90 yards for a touchdown to give UNC a 7-0 lead.
"It was a whole effort, it was a complete game played in all phases,” John Bunting said. “We moved the ball today. The time of possession is really significant. To see us convert 9-of-18 third downs is significant. That’s a great team effort by the offense.”
BC took the ensuing kickoff and answered with a 12-play, 63-yard drive that ate up 5:19 and culminated with a three-yard touchdown run by Andre Callender. It was a disheartening occurrence, considering the inconsistency the Tar Heels have had slowing opponents over the past few seasons. But the UNC defense would bounce back.
“We really didn’t make adjustments,” Tommy Richardson said. “We just decided to hit the gaps a little harder. Linebackers are usually taught to stack and fall back on zone, but it was kind of confusing because they were doing zone with a pull, so we decided to hit the gaps harder and clear it up for the safeties to come down and make tackles."
Tommy Davis picked up his fourth and fifth sacks of the season to move into the team lead, and Larry Edwards added to his team-best total with his eighth tackle for loss on the year. Edwards also led UNC with 10 stops (8 solo).
Carolina now has 21 sacks on the season – its most since 2001.
BC starting signal caller Quinton Porter completed 16-of-26 passes for 144 yards, but his longest completion was a 20-yard hookup with Will Blackmon. Porter did not throw a touchdown.
Carolina returns to action next Saturday to host Maryland and then Duke the following week before wrapping up the regular season Nov. 26 at Virginia Tech.