However, as a lone rose sticking out among a multitude of thorns stands an amazing stat: Boston College converted zero third downs in thirteen tries. In a game where the defense came up huge in terms of big plays, creating turnovers (6) and scoring defensive touchdowns (2), 0-for-13 is the one they should be most proud of. It represents defensive consistency by a defense that may be playing better than any defense in the country right now.
"The defense was outstanding throughout the whole ball game on third downs," head coach Butch Davis said, "I think at one point there were 0-9, 0-10, 0-11 on third down opportunities. If you can get them off (the field) it certainly gives your team a chance."
One of Davis' mantras is that third-down conversions are mostly a function of how well you play on first and second down. Boston College did have a few third-and-longs, but the UNC defense came up huge at times when the Eagles had favorable third down situations of three yards or less. Twice the Tar Heels held the Eagles on third down inside their own 10-yard line.
"That's just will and want-to," defensive end E.J. Wilson said. "When it's 3rd-and-1 and when it's short distance, that's just will and want-to. It all comes down to what you have inside your chest. I feel like we have a lot of heart and we went out there and proved that today."
Head coach Butch Davis agreed with part of that assessment, but also credited the talent of his players.
"I think it is want-to, I think it is certainly determination, but a lot of it too is obviously the talent of the kids – I mean the kids have to make plays," Davis said. "We got some great penetration at times that stalled them from making first downs and made them have to settle for field goals."
- In their first possession, the Tar Heels held the Eagles on third-and-three. Near the end of the first quarter, the Eagles had a third-and-one on the North Carolina 8-yard line following an Eric Highsmith fumble – the Tar Heels held, forcing a Steve Aponavicius field goal.
- Early in the second quarter, following a T.J. Yates interception, the Eagles marched down to the goal-line and had third-and-three for a touchdown. Again, the UNC defense held and forced a field goal.
- On their second possession of the fourth quarter, and arguably their most important possession of the game, the Eagles failed to convert third-and-two on their own 16-yard line when defensive tackle Marvin Austin knocked down a Dave Shinskie pass attempt.
- It was fitting that the game would end on a Boston College third-and-one – which the Tar Heels stopped for no gain.
Just how did the Tar Heels pull off the third-down no-hitter?
"Just watching film and knowing what they're going to do," Wilson said. "We really worked on it in practice a lot, emphasizing third down, because early in the year we really weren't good at it. I feel like we've picked it up in the last couple of weeks."
The interceptions, five of them, will deservedly get a lot of attention from the media, but the sheer will power and want-to displayed on third-down by the Tar Heels today was worthy of a great defense, one credited by the Eagles quarterback.
"You just have to try and find out where the pressure is coming from and try to avoid it," Shinskie said. "These guys are really good and it seemed like every time I tried to go around or step up, there was another three. They have a great defense and it was tough."
Yes, it was an ugly win, but O-for-13 was a thing of beauty.