By R.L. Bynum
Two elements that were missing in No. 8 North Carolina’s first two victories were big elements of the Tar Heels’ most impressive offensive game of the season.
One was Dazz Newsome, an impact receiver, who didn’t make that much of a difference through two games and the other was the lack of receptions on deep passes from sophomore quarterback Sam Howell.
The Tar Heels (3–0, 3–0 ACC) put a big checkmark on both of those Saturday in a 56–45 victory at Kenan Stadium over No. 19 Virginia Tech (2–1, 2–1). But it ultimately was Javonte Williams and Michael Carter complementing that passing success with a relentless rushing attack that helped hold off the Hokies.
“We saw the offense that we can be today when you can run the ball as well as we did today,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “We know we can throw it. But anytime you can run the ball that well? They ran it really well, but we ran it better than they did. And that was not anticipated coming into the game. So, we’re proud of all the guys on offense that block well for both of our running backs.”
UNC piled up 656 total yards, the most against Virginia Tech since Alabama put up 833 in a 77–6 Hokies loss in 1973. The Tar Heels’ offensive line was good all game, bolstered by getting left guard Joshua Ezeudu back.
Both UNC running backs scored two touchdowns, with Carter running for 214 yards and Williams for 169 yards, and hit triple-digit yards by midway through the third quarter. They were the first pair of Tar Heels to rush for 100 or more yards in a game since Elijah Hood (220) and T.J. Logan (100) did it against N.C. State in 2015. Carter’s total was the highest since Hood’s effort that day.
“I feel like me and Javonte, we just we feed off each other, literally,” Carter said, adding that when one of them gets a long run, the other talks about wanting to get the next one. “We are competing. It’s always friendly because you know we’re brothers at the end of the day, and we would never let something like a football game come between us.”
Carter all but put the game away with a 62-yard touchdown run with 8:49 left in the game.
“Those are two of the best backs in the country,” Brown said. “They’ve got balance. They’re fast. They’ve got the power and quickness to run inside and the speed to run outside, so they are two of our best weapons. And we know that.”
After Newsome only caught three passes for 31 yards in the first games, he pulled down seven receptions for 69 yards and a 12-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown pass. He also somersaulted into the end zone on a 6-yard second-quarter touchdown run (above photo).
Dyami Brown not only pulled down the first deep pass receptions of the season, but he made up for two dropped passes with first-half touchdown receptions of 37 and 43 yards.
“I knew that was something that I haven’t gotten the past two weeks,” Dyami Brown said. “But this week, we locked in on it and said we need the deep ball or try to get them short to set up the deep ball.”
Howell did a better job of making quick decisions against Virginia Tech.
“Sam did a good job of being accurate and getting the ball out of his hands quickly,” Mack Brown said. “We did a better job of having some quick stuff ready where he could get it to the guys early. And then Virginia Tech had to come up and then it lets a speedster like Dyami go deep. We’ve got to get the ball more to Dazz because he’s such a good runner.”
UNC went 75 yards in 11 plays over 4:08 to produce a Williams touchdown on the game’s opening drive. The Tar Heels only needed five plays and 1:15 to go 83 yards for Howell’s first TD pass to Brown on the second drive. Williams scored on a 19-yard touchdown run on the third drive, which went 66 yards on seven plays in 2:25.
Virginia Tech finally got its initial first down late in the first quarter on a drive that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by tight end James Mitchell in the first minute of the second quarter, capping an 11-play, 75-yard drive. After a 3-and-out, the Hokies drove 70 yards in 9 plays to an 8-yard touchdown run by Khalil Herbert to trim UNC’s lead to 21–14.
UNC finally answered with a scoring drive entirely on the ground of five plays and 75 yards that ended with Newsome’s TD run to make it 28–14.
A penalty led Virginia Tech to have a touchdown pass called back, and it had to settle for a 55-yard field goal from Brian Johnson on the first drive of the second half.
UNC came back with a 6-play, 75-yard drive in 2:41, capped by a 16-yard scoring run from Carter.
After Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker scored on a 5-yard touchdown run, the Hokies recovered an onside kick with 5:56 left in the third quarter. On third down, running back Herbert, who led the nation in rushing coming into the game at 155.5 yards per game, scampered 52 yards for a touchdown.
After a UNC 3-and-out, Hooker connected with wide receiver Tayvion Robinson on a 33-yard touchdown pass to cut UNC’s lead to 42–37 in the final minute of the third quarter, but failed to convert a two-point try.
Newsome’s second touchdown, the 12-yard pass reception, pushed the lead to 49-37 with 12:37 left.
The Hokies cut the lead to 56–45 with 5:20 left on a 26-yard Hooker-to-Mitchell touchdown pass and a Hooker two-point conversion run.
The Tar Heels, tied for first place in the ACC with No. 1 Clemson, visit Florida State (0–3, 1–3) next Saturday at 7 p.m. in a game to be televised on ESPN.
No. 8 North Carolina 56, No. 19 Virginia Tech 45
Pool photos by Robert Willett