“Certainly the story of the day would have to be defense,” head coach Butch Davis said. “This is maybe the best defensive performance that they’ve had, from the standpoint that a lot of guys on the defense really contributed to this [victory].”
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano’s unit played with aggressive intensity from the moment they stepped onto the field, holding Maryland to 302 total yards.
The Terps only converted 4-of-14 third-down opportunities, and backup quarterback Chris Turner (209 yards on 20-of-36 passing, one interception) spent most of the afternoon running for cover against an active Tar Heel front four. North Carolina tallied six quarterback hits, four tackles for loss and two sacks in rout to their second ACC win this fall.
Maryland arrived in Chapel Hill without offensive guards Andrew Crummey and Jaimie Thomas, and starting left tackle Scott Burley went down on the Terps’ third play of the game.
With a second-string quarterback and a patchwork offensive line, it was widely-anticipated that Terps head coach Ralph Friedgen would lean on his stable of running backs. After a slow start, Lance Ball and Keon Lattimore combined for 98 yards on 28 carries, but their efforts were not enough on this cool November evening.
T.J. Yates struggled at times under center against a steady Maryland defense on Saturday, completing 16-of-26 passing attempts for 149 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But the red-shirt freshman managed the offense efficiently without any devastating mistakes, as the two first-half picks served as unique alternatives to a Terrance Brown punt.
“We always play a lot better at home,” Yates said. “It felt good just to get a win because we fought it out, dug it out. It was ugly, but a W is a W.”
Johnny White won this week’s version of tailback musical chairs, gaining 92 yards on 18 carries, pushing the UNC total offense yardage to 259, while Connor Barth connected on all three of his first-half field goal attempts (23, 45, 45), including two in the final 2:33 to give the Tar Heels a 9-3 halftime lead.
Yates connected with Hakeem Nicks on a 30-yard touchdown pass play midway through the third quarter to put the Heels up 16-3. The sophomore receiver’s eight catches (84 yards) moved him into third place on UNC’s single-season reception list with 56 on the year, and he has caught eight or more balls in four of the last five games.
“Hakeem continues to come up big for our football team,” Davis said. “The touchdown catch was obviously huge. Every single catch he makes for this team is big.”
Maryland answered on their ensuing possession as Lattimore bullied his way into the end zone from five yards out to cut the deficit to 16-10. The Terrapins held the Tar Heels to 39 yards on 12 plays for the first 14:29 of the final quarter, and a second Obi Egekeze field goal narrowed the score to three-point margin with 6:01 remaining.
But Maryland called one of their final two timeouts before North Carolina snapped the ball with 0:41 left on the game clock, and the Tar Heels were able to walk off the field to a standing ovation from the 56,000 fans in attendance.
“It’s our homecoming and we wanted to go out and perform for a sellout crowd,” Nicks said. “Give the crowd what they came to see, because they definitely believe in us and they’ve showed that this year, giving us a standing ovation in a tough loss to South Carolina. We felt like we had to come out and play for the home crowd as well as play for ourselves.”