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Heel Tough Blog: Trench Report - Duke

After last week’s drubbing at Georgia Tech, UNC found themselves out of the AP top 25, 1-2 in the ACC, and their season at a crossroads. After such a hyped off-season with so much potential and promise, Carolina had to adjust their goals and expectations, before potentially losing the entire 2021 season. No better way to refocus your team than to host a rival, that had won three consecutive games, and was looking to make a statement in the wide-open ACC Coastal. After a sloppy start, the Tar Heels played their defense of the season, had opportunistic offense, in a 38-7 throttling of the Duke Blue Devils in Kenan Stadium yesterday. The win improved UNC’s record to 3-2, including 2-2 in ACC play, and earned Mack Brown his 11th straight win over Duke, dating back to his first stint in Chapel Hill. The win may serve as a turning point for this team, and this season, but there is still work to be done, especially on one side of the football.

Offensive Line:

The 38 points and the 456 yards of total offense look good, but it was a choppy offensive performance yesterday for the Tar Heels, as the issues among the offensive line remain. Sam Howell was just 18-32, but his 18 completions went for 321 yards, and three touchdowns, including a 75 yards touchdown to Ty Chandler and a 63-yard touchdown to Josh Downs. The running game was the issue, as they only mustered 135 yards on 38 attempts, which averages out to 3.6 yards per attempt. Sam Howell was sacked another five times, this comes after being sacked eight times at Georgia Tech the week before. UNC did try new line combinations, including inserting reserve Caden Baker in at center early in the first quarter. Stacey Searles’ group continues to struggle, as he is not getting the type of production and consistency we expected entering the season. While the offense has big-play potential, they will face much better defenses in the future, and if they can’t protect Howell, the big plays won’t be there to be made. UNC has back-to-back ACC home games against Florida State and Miami, and while those prestigious programs are having down seasons, they have more talent and depth than Duke and are more than capable of wrecking a game plan.

PFF Season Grades:

Joshua Ezeudu: 79.5

Marcus McKeathan: 72.3

Jordan Tucker: 73.6

Quiron Johnson: 61.3

Defensive Line:

After allowing Mateo Durant to rush for 88 yards on his first seven carries, UNC was able to limit Durant to 114 yards, on 19 rushes. While that averages out to 6 yards per carry, they were able to limit his damage, and make Gunner Holmberg try to beat you with his arm. He did not. Holmberg was an efficient 17-24 for 184 with a touchdown and an interception. The Tar Heels have struggled to create pressure on the quarterback for the majority of the Jay Bateman tenure, but they recorded 5 sacks yesterday while scoring their first defensive touchdown for the first time since the 2019 Military Bowl. PLayers that recorded a sack include Myles Murphy, Tomon and Tomari Fox, Chris Collins, and Kevin Hester Jr. While they didn’t record sacks, Jahvaree Ritzie and Ray Vohasek also had good games, as the defensive line responded in a big way after last week’s disappointing effort. In addition to the 5 sacks, Carolina also registered 9 tackles for loss, as they turned in arguably their most complete defensive performance against a Power 5 opponent since Mack Brown returned. Now the challenge will be to build off this performance, something this program has struggled with in recent memory.

PFF Season Grades:

Jahvaree Ritzie: 74.1

Myles Murphy: 73.3

Tomari Fox: 63.8

Tomon Fox: 71.9

Kaimon Rucker: 64.2

Chris Collins: 60.7

Raymond Vohasek: 73.2

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