By R.L. Bynum
DURHAM — North Carolina found the cure for its struggling defense in Durham and with the Tar Heels’ offense as potent as ever, possession of the Victory Bell was never in doubt.
Javonte Williams, with 24 points, scored as much as Duke in Carolina’s 56–24 romp over the Blue Devils (2–6, 1–6 ACC) on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium. The Tar Heels (5–2, 5–2) rolled up 573 yards for their fifth consecutive game with more than 500 yards.
The 42 first-half points were the most against a Power 5 school since scoring 52 against Duke in 2000.
For the second time this season, UNC followed up a frustrating loss with a decisive victory.
“You can’t let a loss beat you twice,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “We have to go back to work. It’s really important that we figure out what we need to fix, we correct it and we go right back to work to make sure that we don’t have that bad feeling again the next week.”
Carolina’s defense made big plays all day, with five sacks — two from Chris Collins — to make it a long day for Duke quarterback Chase Brice.
Even when Brice got off an excellent pass to the end zone in the second quarter, Cam Kelly reached in front of Duke receiver Noah Gray to knock the ball away. There were a few drive-extending penalties and a couple of long plays, but overall, it was a big improvement for the Tar Heels on defense.
“By and large, we played much much better on defense, except for giving up the big runs across the secondary,” Brown said.
Chazz Surratt had 12 tackles and Cam’Ron Kelly 11 for Carolina. Patrice Rene had five tackles and a career-high two tackles for losses. UNC did it all without the entire secondary that started the opener against Syracuse.
“I think we just felt challenged going into this week,” Surratt said. “So, we just tried to come in and set a tone from the beginning.”
Williams, who ran for 151 yards, is the first Tar Heel to score four touchdowns in a game since Hakeem Nicks did it against Boston College in 2008. He is tied with Elijah Hood (2015) for the fifth-most touchdowns by a Tar Heel in one season. He scored multiple touchdowns for the sixth time in seven games.
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Few teams can tackle Williams, and you can add Duke to that list. UNC deployed him in different ways to get his four first-half touchdowns.
Quarterback Sam Howell faked a handoff to Williams then threw it to him alone near the goal line on a 3-yard scoring play to give UNC a 7–0 lead just 2:21 into the game. After a 51-yard pass to Emery Simmons, Howell faked to Williams again but ran it in himself on a 3-yard scoring run, making it 14–0 after just shy of five minutes. Williams converted on a fourth-and-two on the next drive and scored on a 3-yard touchdown run, and it was 21–0 with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
UNC’s Dae Dae Hollins intercepted a Brice pass and returned it 43 yards to set up a 22-yard touchdown pass from Howell to Michael Carter with 14:43 left. Carter added a 12-yard touchdown run in the second half.
Howell finished 18 of 17 for 235 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It was his 18th multiple-touchdown game in 20 career starts. The offensive line did a good job against a Duke team that has piled up sacks this season.
“Our coaches did a tremendous job of showing breakdowns of these guys getting their seven and a half sacks,” Brown said of Duke’s Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph, who were tied for the ACC lead coming into the game. “We went over it and really challenged our offensive line. Secondly, we kept the tight end in some and Garrett Walston really helped us. I’m really proud of the offensive line.”
A personal foul by Tomari Fox extended a Duke drive that went 75 yards on 12 plays to produce a 22-yard touchdown run by Eli Pancol with 9:32 left in the first half.
Williams got those points back quickly with a 32-yard scoring run on a fourth-and-2 with six minutes left in the first half. After stopping Duke on a fourth-and-1, UNC converted a fourth-and-3 on the way to a 33-yard scoring run by Williams.
A 29-yard field goal by Duke’s Charlie Ham made UNC’s halftime lead 42–10.
UNC’s Jeremiah Gemmel recovered a Deon Jackson fumble at the Duke 28 to set up a Howell to Dazz Newsome 13-yard touchdown pass on the right side of the end zone early in the second half.
Duke added two second-half touchdown runs of 46 yards from Mataeo Durant and 3 yards from Jordan Waters.
UNC returns home next Saturday to face Wake Forest (4-2, 3-2) in another noon start, to be televised on either ACC Network or ESPN2.
North Carolina 52, Duke 24