By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL —The storylines frightening to Tar Heels fans combined to give them a dreary game to go with the dreary weather.
The forehead slaps added up with the familiar issues.
Get beaten by a running quarterback? Check. A rough game against Florida State? Check. Getting dominated on both sides of the line by a more physical team, particularly the offensive line? Check. The futile continued search for another big-play wide receiver to help out Josh Downs? Check.
Downs, even in a game when he pulled down nine of 17 UNC receptions, had a few drops and was called for two false starts as the Tar Heels committed a season-high 110 penalty yards.
It all added up to push Coach Mack Brown to 0–11 against Florida State (2–4, 1–1 ACC), his alma mater, as the Seminoles rode 21 consecutive second-quarter points to a 35–25 victory Saturday at Kenan Stadium. A week after UNC (3–3, 2–3) overcame a horrible start to rout Duke, the Tar Heels started strongly and regressed as the game progressed.
“We had to stop the two tailbacks and stop the quarterback and we did none of the three,” Brown said. “We played well in the three games we won and we’ve played poorly in the three games we lost.”
Brown again said his team was overrated in the preseason.
“My expectation is to win every game, so three times we’ve met it and three times we haven’t,” Brown said. “The national media expectations for us to be a top-10 team were wrong, so I guess we should all be critical of the media because we’re not doing good. So, you guys all screwed it up.”
Quarterback Jordan Travis was a key part of FSU’s win in Tallahassee last season and played even better Saturday, running for 121 yards and two TDs and going 11 of 13 passing for 145 and three TDs.
Nothing UNC’s defense tried seemed to work in the final three quarters.
“He’s definitely one of the slimyest, quickest quarterback we’ve played since I’ve been here,” UNC linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel said. “His ability to run the ball and scramble out of the pocket? He does it at a high level.”
If it seems like this happens a lot to UNC, there’s a reason. This was the 10th time since the start of the 2017 season that an opposing quarterback has run for more than 100 yards. It was the second time for Travis, who ran for 107 in last season’s 31–28 FSU victory.
“He’s hard to tackle,” Brown said. “But the thing he has not done well has been to be a consistent thrower.”
It was the first time in nearly three years that Florida State has not allowed a sack (Oct. 20, 2018, against Wake Forest).
FSU got 77 rushing yards from running back Treshaun Ward and 52 from Jashaun Corbin to move to 17–3–1 against Carolina and 8–1 in Chapel Hill.
“I think the biggest thing for us was just communicating on the front end and on the back end,” Gemmel said. “On one of the touchdowns, one half of the defense was playing in different coverage than the other half.”
As much as he tried, Carolina quarterback Sam Howell could only do so much, even when he only got sacked once.
UNC total offensive yards
Marquise Williams 10,423
Sam Howell 9,705
Darian Durant 9,630
T.J. Yates 9,044
He was the Tar Heels’ best rusher with 108 yards and did his best with the little time he got to throw, finishing 17 of 32 for 203 yards, two TDs and an interception. Howell has run for 100 yards three times in his career, with all coming this season.
One positive is that he passed Darian Durant to move up to second on the all-time school passing yards list and total yards.
“Sam did a really good job tonight. He handled the game well,” Brown said. “The one interception in the end zone was a contested ball that I thought we could have knocked down.”
UNC total passing yards
T.J. Yates 9,377
Sam Howell 8,924
Darian Durant 8,755
Downs finished with 121 yards and scored one touchdown and his nine catches were a career-high. He is the first player in college football to catch at least eight passes, with at least one going for a touchdown, in six consecutive games since Davante Adams of Fresno State did it in nine consecutive 2013 games
Carolina’s hopes of a comeback all but ended when Howell couldn’t hit Downs at the goal line on a fourth-and-goal at the FSU 5 with 12:46 left.
“We’ve just got to play sharper football. It’s definitely disappointing, but there’s still a lot of football to be played,” said Howell, who has thrown multiple touchdown passes in 26 of his 31 career games and has thrown for at least 200 yards in 20 consecutive games.
When the game’s opening drive stalled, UNC kicker Grayson Atkins tied his longest field goal as a Tar Heel with a 51-yard kick. His career-best is a 55-yarder for Furman.
Howell hit Downs on a 33-yard touchdown pass with 2:55 left in the first quarter, connecting with Downs in the back of the end zone to make it 10–0, Heels. The 70-yard drive was the longest of the season in plays (12) and time (6:34).
The second quarter continued to be a rough period for UNC.
The Tar Heels couldn’t generate any offense and Howell underthrew Khafre Brown at the goal line. With no separation between him and FSU cornerback Jarrian Jones, Jones snagged the interception.
The Seminoles’ 21-point surge in that quarter meant that the Tar Heels have been outscored 69–20 in second quarters this season. After averaging 52 penalty yards in the first five games, UNC already had a season-high by halftime with 75.
An impressive 12-play, 59-yard FSU drive produced a 5-yard touchdown pass from Travis to Malik McClain on the right edge of the end zone with 10:29 left in the first half.
FSU took a 14–10 lead on Travis’ 53-yard scoring run with 8:36 left in the first half. Defensive mistakes by linebacker Kaimon Rucker and safety Trey Morrison created a huge lane for Travis, who exploited it with his speed.
“We had people in the wrong place,” Brown said. “We weren’t fitting the line of scrimmage properly on some of those runs. We had communication issues in the secondary, which you can’t have.”
The Seminoles grabbed a 21–10 halftime lead with 53 seconds left in the first half on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Travis to Ontaria Wilson.
A couple of Howell runs and two 21-yard pass plays generated a quick UNC TD in the second half. Howell hit Downs on the first connection and tight end Kamari Morales for the second, a scoring strike to cut the lead to 21–17 with 9:42 left in the third quarter. It was Morales’ fourth consecutive game with a touchdown.
The Noles only needed 1:59 to respond, getting a 1-yard scoring run on a Travis quarterback sneak. Late in the third quarter, Travis and Wilson connected on a 6-yard scoring play to make it 35–17 with 1:02 left.
UNC’s Ty Chandler scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 2:47 left. Downs passed to Antoine Green on a 2-point conversion play to make it 35–25.
UNC defensive back Storm Duck (lower-body injury), running back Caleb Hood (upper body) and defensive lineman Kristian Varner (lower body) all missed the game.
The Tar Heels play their third consecutive home ACC game Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Miami (either ESPN, ESPN2 or ACC Network.) The Hurricanes (1–3, 0–1) had this weekend off after losing Sept. 30 to Virginia 30–28 at home.
FSU 35, UNC 25
Photo via @UNCFootball