UNC finds its running game
North Carolina continued its annual streak of having at least one player rush for 100 yards in a game with Greg Little’s 154-yard day. Little, who would have eclipsed the century mark last week if not for being charged with a 20-yard loss on a failed pitch, started his second consecutive game.
UNC was so successful when the ball was in Little’s hands that in crucial situations late in the game, the offense relied heavily on the true freshman. Down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter, UNC put together a 72-yard, nine-play scoring drive in which Little rushed seven times -- including a seven-yard touchdown run. On UNC’s first play during the overtime, Little was called on again and responded with a 25-yard run to pay dirt to clinch the victory.
“He played his heart out,” sophomore wide receiver Hakeem Nicks said. “He left it all out there on the line. My hat goes off to him. He was just out there being a playmaker. Big time players make big time plays in crunch time and that’s what he is – a big playmaker.”
Although Little was recruited to play wide receiver and played that position for most of the year, he has been UNC’s most successful tailback this season.
“I don’t think I have much of a choice but to go to running back now,” Little said with a grin. “I’m going to have to put on a couple of pounds, build my legs up, and become a complete running back -- being able to pick up blitzes and being able to run between the tackles. Through the preparation of our strength program, we should be able to do that.”
Butch Davis, though, wasn’t so committal.
“Let’s put it this way, he’ll probably stay there unless there becomes a better option,” Davis said. “… Whether it’s receiver or running back, he’s obviously got some special gifts.”
Passing game stalls
While the running game seemed to have come together, the passing game seemed to have fully fallen apart. For the seventh time this season, T.J. Yates threw more interceptions (two) than touchdowns (one), and completed just 46-percent of his passes for a mere 75 yards.
“They just did a lot of different stuff than what we’ve seen from them on film all year long,” Yates said. “We had a little suspicion that they were going to do that, because a lot of the defenses that they primarily were in their whole season were the type of defenses that we kind of picked apart. So we had a little suspicion that they weren’t going to be doing much of the same stuff.
“We just weren’t really ready for what they did. They threw a lot of different coverages at us that we weren’t used to seeing. They blitzed a lot more than we thought they would.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Cam Sexton was seen warming up. UNC stuck with Yates, though, and committed to the run, which paid dividends. Yates attempted only three passes in the fourth quarter.
Nicks rewrites record books
Two single season receiving records were within reach for Nicks heading into Saturday’s game – receptions and receiving yards. Although he fell 33 yards short of the yardage record, he surpassed Jarwarski Pollock’s 72-catch mark by two receptions with his six-catch, 38-yard day.
“I feel good about it,” Nicks said. “I still got a couple of grabs for next season to get. I feel good about myself. I don’t let it blow my head up, stay humble, and continue to do what I’m doing on the field.”
For his career, Nicks has caught 113 passes for 1,618 yards and nine touchdowns.
Paschal takes advantage of opportunity
Mark Paschal, who got his first start of the season last week, had a breakout game. In the first half alone, the junior middle linebacker beat his career high in tackles with ten total stops including six solo.
“What an unbelievably awesome game he had today,” Davis said. “He did a great job on some of those short to intermediate passes.”
Modestly, Paschal pushes the praise elsewhere.
“Give credit where credit is due,” he said. “The defensive line played their butts off, our outside linebackers held down the outside, our corners gave support all day, and I guess I was the only one left. It just kind of happens that way.”
He ended the game with 17 total tackles (nine solo) including 2.5 for a loss of four yards, and had a late fourth quarter pass breakup.
“When they run a lot more, it’s easier to get kind of a feel for the game,” Paschal said. “… When they run the ball, you get to be more in ‘the zone.’ And I can kind of feel it.”
Duke’s multiple rushing attack
While Duke ran the ball on 60-percent of its offensive plays, the Duke offense also threw different running styles at the UNC defense. Seven different Blue Devils ran the ball with five of them reaching double digits in yards.
“More or less, we knew what type of runner each guy was,” senior defensive end Hilee Taylor said. “We knew [Ronnie Drummer] was a scat back guy – he wasn’t going to do too much inside, he was going to be the outside runner. Now [Justin Boyle], we knew he was a downhill guy.”
Early on, the strong commitment to the running game allowed Duke to have success in the passing game. Duke’s quarterbacks completed their first seven passes of the game, and ended with a 68-percent completion rate.
The run also helped Duke win the time of possession battle by almost 13 minutes. Duke’s second scoring drive amassed over seven minutes.
Seniors go out with a win
Saturday’s overtime win gave UNC its first victory over a rival this season. More importantly, though, the game marked the end of the college career of 19 Tar Heels.
“It was very emotional,” senior defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said. “My fellow seniors, they were crying [and that] almost got me crying. But it felt great, because those guys deserve this [win]… We’ve been through some ups and downs.”
Balmer, wide receivers Christopher Barnes and Joe Dailey, kicker Connor Barth, long snappers Ryan Baucom and Michael Murphy, cornerbacks Bryan Bethea, Quinton Person, and Kendric Williams, linebackers Joey Bozich, Durrell Mapp, and Martel Thatch, punter John Chocate, defensive linemen Kyndraus Guy and Hilee Taylor, quarterback Ben Johnson, offensive linemen Ben Lemming and Scott Lenahan, and fullback Jock Moore were all honored before Saturday’s game.