For the first time since the 2015 season, the Tar Heels have beaten the Virginia Tech Hokies, but it wasn’t easy. Despite having leads of 21 and 25 points at various points of the game, the Tar Heels entered the fourth quarter up by just five before pulling away with two important drives in the fourth quarter on the way to a 56-45 win over the Hokies,giving the Tar Heels their first win in a ranked-vs.-ranked matchup since 2008. Let’s take a look at what we learned about the Tar Heels on Saturday afternoon.
Mack Brown Effect Continues to Be Felt
Heading into that fourth quarter it would have been easy for the Tar Heels to be down on themselves after allowing 20 unanswered points to the Hokies to close out the third quarter. Instead, the team was able to quickly collect themselves, taking the first drive of the quarter into the end zone to restore some confidence in the team. The Tar Heel defense, after a much needed breather to start the quarter, responded with their biggest stop of the game, giving the offense the football back. The Tar Heel offense was once again able to march down the field and put the final nail in the coffin to pick up the big win. You really have to hand it to Mack Brown and this Tar Heel team for responding the way they did. You have to believe that if this was a game that happened under Larry Fedora, this probably would have ended with a much different result.
Tar Heel Running Game Might Be One of the Best in the Country
The Tar Heel running game was off to a strong start to the season entering Saturday’s game, but they simply dominated the Hokies. The Tar Heels finished the game with 399 yards on 43 carries, an average of 9.3 yards per carry. Leading the way was the tandem of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams once again, as both had career days. Carter finished the game with 214 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on just 17 carries, whie Williams added 169 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Both combined to rip off thirteen carries of 15 or more yards on the day, as they combined to average 10.3 yards per carry. This Tar Heel backfield continues to show that while there is plenty of talent at wide receiver and quarterback, the running game is what continues to control the success of this offense.
Joshua Ezeudu’s Return Was Exactly What Offensive Line Needed
The Tar Heels offensive line was a huge concern coming into the day, especially against a Virginia Tech defensive line that had racked up 19.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks in the first two games of the season. The unit responded, however, with their best performance of the season, in large part due to the return of Ezeudu, who missed the first two games of the season with a lower body injury. The Tar Heels were able to dominate the line of scrimmage from the word go, allowing plenty of time for quarterback Sam Howell to throw and opening up huge running lanes for the running backs throughout the game. The group was also much more disciplined on Saturday, committing just three penalties, all of which came in the first half and weren’t nearly as costly as they were a week ago.
Sam Howell Is Just Fine
Most people had taken the sane approach to Howell’s slow start to the season, but there were some who expressed some concern about what they had seen from the sophomore starter following his huge true freshman season. As he was able to show on Saturday, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Howell finished the day 18 of 23 through the air for 257 yards and three touchdowns and posted a career high 152.8 passer rating. Entering the day he was 0-10 on throws of 20 or more yards downfield, but he had no problem with those deep throws on Saturday, but he was 2-2 on those throws on Saturday, both of which went for touchdowns. This was the game that the Tar Heels needed him to look like the Sam Howell that we saw late last year and he did just that in the win.
Injuries Could Play a Bigger Factor For This Defense Than We May Have Realized
The Tar Heels were without Ja’Qurious Conley, Storm Duck and Raymond Vohasek on Saturday and it definitely showed. The losses of Duck and and Conley forced Trey Morrison back to nickel after a big day at safety against Boston College, meaning Cam’Ron Kelly played the majority of the game at safety. While Kelly wasn’t bad, he had some missed tackles that were concerning and are plays that Morrison likely would have made. The biggest loss, though, was Vohasek, who was off to a phenomenal start to his season prior to suffering his injury last week. Tomari Fox wasn’t bad in the middle replacing him, but Vohasek was so good at splitting blocks and simply affecting almost each and every play, something that Fox just couldn’t do on Saturday. There are no timetables given for the return of this trio, but for right now, the Tar Heels must adjust and show some improvement, especially if they want to slow down the run with any sort of success similar to what they saw in the first three games.