After three straight games of less than desirable quarterback play, UNC received a quality performance from sophomore T.J. Yates.
“He played well early in the season, but came back and realized how he had been rushing some throws and his mechanics,” Butch Davis said. “Sometimes, it’s just the anticipation and stress of playing, but he settled down this week, had a good week of practice, and looked like himself during the week. We thought he would look like himself this week.”
Yates, who was starting his second game since fracturing his ankle in the third game of the season, completed 79 percent of his passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. He headed into halftime completing all but one of his 11 first half passes – his lone incompletion was actually caught, but by a Duke defender.
“[Last week] I was just throwing off my back foot – just trying to get away from the rush when it wasn’t even coming,” Yates said. “It’s a little different in practice – they are just coming after me. Game speed is different. I definitely had to work on not throwing off my back foot and just following through.
“Last week, I made a couple poor decisions, but overall I made some good decisions. I just had to stay in there and deliver the ball. This week, I really thought I did that.”
Assisting Yates was a game plan that relied more on the running game.
“We really wanted to get back to our power running game,” Yates said. “It’s the one thing we’ve been doing all season long great and we’ve kind of gotten away from that the past two weeks. We wanted to come back to it [against Duke]. That’s our thing – running the power [running game] and just getting after it.”
The running game, led by sophomore Shaun Draughn, responded with 179 yards. Draughn rushed for a game high 110 yards on 29 carries. He scored on a four-yard run and an 11-yard reception.
Improvements on Third Down
Yates’ improved play was evident on UNC’s performance on third downs. UNC converted 11 of its 16 third down attempts, after going just 4-for-22 on third down over the previous two games.
“One of the big things in getting to third downs is getting in second-and-short, instead of second-and-long,” Yates said. “Using first and second down to set us up for a better situation on third down – I thought we did that real well this week.”
Six Yates passes on third downs resulted in first downs.
Blue Devil Killer
Greg Little had a breakout game against Duke last season, which ultimately won him the starting running back job to enter the 2008 season. He rushed for a career high 154 yards and the go-ahead 25-yard score in overtime to lead UNC to a 20-14 victory.
On Saturday, Little started at a different position (wide receiver opposite Hakeem Nicks), but managed to be the thorn in the side of Duke for the second consecutive contest. He caught a UNC high four passes for 67 yards and carried the ball twice for 42 additional yards.
“I just come out and try to play as hard as I can every play,” Little said. “It’s just something about Duke that I just happen to play phenomenal games… I don’t know what it is.”
Little, a sophomore, played his prep career roughly five miles away at Hillside High School.
“Knowing that I don’t want to lose to my hometown team and being an up-and-coming program they have some playmakers, I had to come out and make a play,” Little said.
The Infamous Turnover Battle
If losing the turnover battle indicates a UNC loss and winning the turnover battle leads to a UNC victory, what happens when the turnover battle is dead even? A UNC win.
It’s been stated ad nauseum how UNC is +16 in turnover margin in its seven wins and -12 in its four loses. Saturday, though, a Trimane Goddard interception with 15 seconds remaining in the game sealed a UNC victory and put the turnover ratio at 2:2.
Throw the Records Out
Six of the past seven meetings between UNC and Duke have come down to the final possession.
“Both teams play hard,” said senior tight end Richard Quinn. “It’s just the rivalry. Everybody [on both teams] wants to go play hard and have a fight to the finish.”
However, all but one has ended with the Tar Heels ringing the Victory Bell.
Quinn’s third quarter, 32-yard touchdown reception, which concluded with a diving spin, epitomized fighting to the finish.
“I caught it [and] all I saw was green grass,” Quinn said. “I knew I had to get there, so I just ran my hardest and just ended up in the end zone.”
Quinn, who will play his final game as a Tar Heel at UNC’s bowl game, ended the game with two catches for 42 yards.