For the first since the 2014 season, the Tar Heels returned from a road trip to Durham with the Victory Bell in their possession. After a mistake-filled performance against Virginia a week ago, the Tar Heels came out motivated to prove themselves once again and jumped out to a big lead early on, leading 21-0 after the first quarter and pulling away to a 56-24 victory over the Blue Devils. As the Tar Heels head towards a matchup with Wake Forest this weekend in Kenan Stadium, we take a look at who is trending up and who’s trending down.
Williams just continued his remarkable junior season with another phenomenal performance on Saturday. Williams carried the ball just 12 times on Saturday, but turned that into 151 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 12.6 yards per carry on the day. Williams added another touchdown on one of his four catches out of the backfield that went for 24 yards. His four touchdown game was the first by a non-quarterback Tar Heel since Hakeem Nicks back in 2008 and his seven straight games with a rushing touchdown are the most since Giovani Bernard’s streak of eight back in 2012. Williams’ 14 rushing touchdowns are tied for the most in college football’s top division this season, while his 17 total touchdowns lead the entire nation to this point in the season.
With Don Chapman out of the lineup on Saturday, the Tar Heels went with a 3-4 front and one of the guys that benefited the most was Evans. The true freshman had the best game of his young career, racking up five total tackles on the day and a sack of Duke quarterback Chase Brice. Evans has seen his role grow as the season has gone along and should only continue to see it grow as the season goes along if he continues to build on the flashes that he has shown thus far.
Collins was another Tar Heel pass rusher that benefited greatly from the 3-4 heavy scheme. In a season-high 44 snaps, he tallied two tackles, but both of those tackles were sacks on Brice as he helped lead a pass rush that finished the day with five sacks of Duke quarterbacks.
The senior cornerback has had to step back into a starting role full time with the injuries to Storm Duck and Kyler McMichael and he had a fantastic performance on Saturday. Rene was a big help in run defense, finishing with five total tackles, including 2.0 for a loss. He also had a strong day in coverage, registering one pass deflection and helping hold the Blue Devils leading receiver, Jake Bobo to just one reception for 14 yards in the game.
Williams wasn’t the only running back who thrived on Saturday. Carter toted the ball 17 times in this one, running for 85 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes out of the backfield for 46 yards and a receiving touchdown. This is the fifth time this season that the senior back has gone over 100 scrimmage yards and he took another step towards back-to-back seasons of 1,000 rushing yards, as he sits just 267 yards away from that mark.
Howell continued the groove that he has been in since the Virginia Tech game. Coming off of a career performance against Virginia a week ago, Howell had another efficient showing, completing 18 of his 27 pass attempts for 235 yards and three touchdowns. In the Tar Heels last five games, Howell has completed 67.8% of his passes for 1,561 yards and has posted a 14-2 touchdown-interception ratio.
Surratt’s roller coaster season continued on Saturday, as he responded to his rough outing against Virginia with another strong rivalry game showing. Surratt led the team in tackles on Saturday with 12 and played a much smarter game with the angles he took as opposed to last week. This defense continues to go as Surratt’s play goes, so the Tar Heels are hoping this is a performance he can carry over to the final three games of the ACC season.
Speaking of up-and-down season’s, the Tar Heel offensive is trending up after a strong showing against the talent Duke defense front. Defensive ends Chris Rumph and Victor Dimukeje had combined for 15.0 of the Blue Devils 26 sacks this season, but the pair totaled just 0.5 a tackle for loss and failed to register a sack or quarterback hurry. The Tar Heel offensive line allowed just one sack the entire day and no quarterback hurried in one of their best pass protection games of the season. The group also had another strong day in run blocking situations, paving the way for the Tar Heels to average 7.2 yards per carry on their 47 rush attempts. The starting unit had to do it all with Jordan Tucker sidelined for most of the way once again, as well.
Newsome has been nowhere near as effective as he was a year ago, but he had a strong performance on Saturday. For just the second time this season, Newsome had five or more receptions, as he hauled in six passes for 57 yards and a touchdown. This hasn’t been the best season of his career, but he still has a chance to close it out the way strong.
Simmons continues to emerge as a weapon for Sam Howell in this passing game with Beau Corrales out of the lineup. Simmons’ 67 receiving yards were the most in a game in his career on just two receptions, one of which went for 51 yards. With it appearing that there is a possibility of Corrales missing the remainder of the season, Simmons breaking out has been a huge development for this passing game.