By R.L. Bynum
It’s almost impossible for an opponent to beat No. 14 North Carolina when Sam Howell, Javonte Williams, Michael Carter and the Tar Heels’ defense are all playing well.
No. 23 N.C. State is the latest opponent to make this painful discovery.
Behind 160 rushing yards and three touchdowns from Williams, 106 rushing yards and one touchdown from Carter and 252 passing yards and one passing touchdown for Howell, it was an easy day for Carolina against its rival.
With 578 total yards, UNC collected more than 550 total yards for a third consecutive game for the first time since 1971.
Combining all that offensive output with an impressive defensive performance against a depleted Wolfpack offense added up to a 48–21 whipping of State on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
“When you run the ball like that and you stop the run, you’ve got a chance to win every week,” said UNC coach Mack Brown, who has beaten the Wolfpack seven consecutive times. “Really proud of our guys. Our running backs are two of the best in the country. I thought our offensive line was dominant today.
“And it’s hard to stack the box, stop those two in the running game and then have enough people left to handle the passing game,” Brown said of Williams and Carter. “Those two are playing at such a high level and they do it in practice every day.”
After UNC (4–1, 4–1 ACC) gave up 31 points in the second half against Virginia Tech and 31 points in the first half at Florida State, the Tar Heels have given up 21 in the six quarters since then. The last Pack touchdown Saturday was against UNC’s reserves and State ended up with only 34 rushing yards, the fewest by an opponent since holding Rutgers to one yard in 2011.
It was the first time this season Carolina finished with a positive turnover ratio (+4), with UNC getting a fumble and three interceptions against N.C. State (4–2, 4–2).
“They had to start throwing the ball every time,” Brown said. “That’s when you get your turnovers. You get tipped balls, sack quarterbacks and the ball comes out.”
This was the second time in school history that UNC has had two 100-yard rushers, a 100-yard receiver (Dyami Brown had 105 yards) and a passer with 200 yards. The other time came in 1993 against Maryland with Curtis Johnson, Leon Johnson, Jason Stanicek and receivers Corey Holliday and Bucky Brooks.
It was UNC’s largest margin of victory against a ranked opponent since a 38–3 win in 2001 over No. 13 Clemson.
Williams continues to be a relentless runner who breaks lots of tackles and is difficult to bring down. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams forced 17 missed tackles in the game.
“I think the thing I’ve seen him improve the most is explosive power,” Coach Brown said of Williams. “I mean, he gets from here to there. He’s so powerful, he runs so low to the ground and he’s got such big, strong thighs that he makes a lot of people miss tackles every game.”
Williams has 12 touchdowns and 72 points for the season.
“I really think it’s just our connection with the O-line,” Williams said. “We’ve got really good connection with those guys. They did a great job today of blocking and communicating.”
Carolina marched 75 yards on 10 plays in 4:26 to produce a 16-yard Williams TD run down the right side on the Tar Heels’ first drive of the game.
Early in the second quarter, Howell juked a Wolfpack defender on a 10-yard touchdown run that capped an 8-play, 67-yard drive that took only 2:38.
Pack tight end Dylan Parham bobbled away a sure touchdown when he was wide open in the end zone and UNC safety Don Chapman intercepted it in the second quarter.
N.C. State broke through on a 42-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Ben Finley to wide receiver Emeka Emezie with 54 seconds left in the first half.
After missing three of his first five field-goal attempts on the season, including a 22-yard try in the second quarter, graduate transfer Grayson Atkins hit attempts 40 and 34 yards. Atkins, who had one field goal in each half, has already missed more field-goal attempts this season than all of last season at Furman when he made 13 of 15 tries.
“We watch him every day,” Mack Brown said. “And he’s got such a powerful leg. He can kick it 60 yards and he gets it really high. So, there shouldn’t be many blocks, except for the one that he missed.”
Brown said that some coaches were asking if they should change kickers but he decided to stick with Atkins, who missed his first two field-goal attempts last season at Furman before making 11 in a row.
“So, I’m not giving up on him with all this craziness,” Mack Brown said. “Two of the ones he missed before the one today were a foot to the left.”
UNC linebacker Tyrone Hopper tipped a Finley pass that Chaz Surratt intercepted to set up a scoring drive. Howell connected for 32 yards to Carter, then 17 yards to Josh Downs for the touchdown on a 4-play, 60-yard drive in only 1:35.
The Tar Heels started to put the game away with an 11-play, 99-yard, 3:53 drive that was sandwiched by Williams runs. From the UNC 1, he ran for 24 yards, then he got the touchdown from a yard out with 3:53 left in the third quarter.
It was a rout after UNC linebacker Desmond Evans recovered a Finley fumble at the Pack 9 to set up a 5-yard scoring run for Williams, who added a 27-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter.
Pack starting quarterback Bailey Hockman gave N.C. State another score with a 1-yard run on a keeper with 35 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Tar Heels visit Virginia at 8 p.m. Saturday in a game to be televised on ACC Network.
No. 14 North Carolina 48, No. 23 N.C. State 21
Pool photos by Robert Willett