What was forecast to be a drought of points and a deluge of rain turned out exactly the opposite in Kenan Stadium on Saturday. Clouds and drizzling rain gave way to patches of blue sky and lots of sunshine by the second half, while both teams delivered a barrage of points in the first half in what was expected to be a defensive struggle.
The Tar Heels scored 24 points in the second quarter, the most they’ve scored in a quarter since the 2000 Duke game, while Boston College put 17 points on the board by halftime. By the time the game was over, 69 points were up on the board – but 45 of them belonged to North Carolina.
“Today was probably the most complete team game we have played,” head coach Butch Davis said.
NICKS GONE WILD
Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina’s record-setting receiver, had three touchdown receptions. Not only did he catch three touchdowns, he ran in another on a reverse, to push the score to 45-17 after the extra point. Nicks indicated after the game that he had told his teammates he would have a career day, but his preparation had a little something to do with that.
“We definitely saw some things we could do against their defense,” Nicks said. “We were definitely expecting them [to go zone] especially in the open field, because in the film, that’s all they do. [To attack that] we hit little short hitch routes to the wide field a lot, then let them bite on that, and then hit them deep.”
Even though he may had have had the “feeling,” and also a great week of preparation, Nicks is just a special athlete.
“That kid is unbelievable,” Sexton said. “I just know I've got to get him the ball. He’s got a pretty good idea he’s going to get it… On those three touchdowns maybe on one of them I worked the pocket pretty good, but other than that, I mean, that’s all Hakeem.”
Sexton said last weekend that he believed he had let his teammates down at Virginia, but this week he came up huge - completing 19 of 30 passes for three touchdowns. He did something else – he put to rest the “Sexton can’t throw the deep ball” theory. The red-shirt junior connected on a touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks that traveled over 40 yards in the air.
“I’ve heard about enough about the deep ball,” Sexton said. “I was upset with myself, because I felt like that has been my strength in the past and I just wasn’t throwing it very well for whatever reason. If you look at it you’re only getting three or four shots at it a game, and we just haven’t been able to connect for whatever reason. So after practice I put a bucket out there and just launched them as much as I could and it paid off and Hakeem was right there, so there goes the deep ball and I don’t want to hear about it anymore.”
BURNEY, SECONDARY COME UP BIG
At 5-foot-9, Kendric Burney isn’t one of the biggest Tar Heels, but he came up big again in this game with two interceptions, including a 37-yard return to the one-yard line to set up North Carolina’s first score of the second half (Ryan Houston took over from there). Burney and the UNC secondary benefited from a more aggressive approach to blitzing.
“Yeah, we definitely sent some blitzes,” Burney said. “Coach [Davis] said, ‘Alright, you want to cover, so here you go, we’re going to see if you can cover or not.’ So we blitzed a little bit and had a little bit of success doing it, so we just thank Coach for trusting us enough to do that.”
Fellow defensive back Trimane Goddard may have trumped Burney’s two picks with an interception and a return for a touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting the Tar Heels up 38-17. His return for a touchdown marked North Carolina’s fourth interception returned for a touchdown this season, breaking the previous record of three set in 1994. It was also the first time Goddard has been in the end zone since high school.
The only sour note came when Boston College drove the ball 67 yards in 1:23 near the end of the first half to tie the score 17-17.
“That two-minute drill stuff just got us,” Goddard said. “But it was just that one drive.”
SINGLE BACK SETS
Until they ran up a double-digit lead, the Tar Heels were often in single-back formations, achieving modest success against a stout Boston College front seven running the ball and in pass protection, even though Sexton was sacked three times.
“Yeah, early on, we wanted to spread it out a little bit, kind of try to work them to the big field somewhat -- that was kind of a goal of ours,” Sexton said. “Not that we weren’t trying to be a power and get them rolling up the middle, but we just felt like if we could get out to the outside some and get to the corners we could be effective there.”
DEFENSE AGAIN SOLID AGAINST THE RUN
Continuing their increased effectiveness against the run they demonstrated against Virginia, the Tar Heels defense held Boston College to 40 net yards on 21 carries, enabling UNC to make the Boston College offense one-dimensional and forcing more throws than perhaps BC wanted to make – leading to three picks.
“I just don’t know what you can say about Trimane Goddard’s and Kendric Burney’s interceptions today,” Davis said. “Those were just huge, huge plays. They flipped the field positions and gave us some cheap and easy points and made them play the game one-dimensionally.”
It was negating Boston College’s run game, however, that was the key to this win, along with a UNC offense that put all the pieces of the puzzle together.