Tar Heels in NFL: Trubisky benched in Bears win; big plays for Ebron, Boston

By R.L. Bynum

Mitch Trubisky’s good start that helped the Chicago Bears get off to a 2–0 start took an unpleasant turn for the former Tar Heels quarterback Sunday against the winless Atlanta Falcons.

The good news for Trubisky is that the Bears moved to 3–0. The bad news is that he was benched in the third quarter and it was backup Nick Foles who rallied Chicago from a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit to a 30–26 victory.

Trubisky was 13 of 22 with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Graham before Falcons cornerback Blidi Wrey-Wilson stepped in front of Graham for an interception. That interception nearly four minutes into the second half led Bears coach Matt Nagy to bring on Foles to end Trubisky’s day.

Foles got off to a slow start but finished 16 of 29 for 188 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. You have to figure that Foles will start next week against the Indianapolis Colts.

Nagy said wouldn’t answer after the game when asked who would start against the Colts: “We just want to enjoy the win tonight,” he said. At Nagy’s press conference on Monday, though, he named Foles the starter.

Here’s what Trubisky had to say after the game:

Trubisky showed his versatility earlier in the game with a 45-yard run, which was Chicago’s longest play of the game.

It was a better day for tight end Eric Ebron, who helped the Pittsburgh Steelers move to 3-0. He caught five of the seven passes thrown to him for 52 yards and a 10-yard touchdown reception. He also had a 17-yard reception.

The Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston made a nice play to knock away a potential game-winning pass to Keenan Allen in the end zone to help preserve their 21–16 road victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.

How Tar Heels fared in the NFL in Week 3

Idle Tar Heels fall one spot in the AP poll to No. 12, thanks to big wins by Miami and UCF, return of Big Ten teams

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina’s season has been on a two-week holding pattern and it appears to have cost the Tar Heels in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Carolina fell one spot, checking in at No. 12 in the new poll released Sunday afternoon.

Expect UNC to keep dropping even with wins in the coming weeks as more voters start to consider Big Ten and Pac-12 schools. In the preseason poll, Ohio State was No. 3, Penn State was No. 7, Oregon was No. 9 and Wisconsin was No. 12.

The Buckeyes returned to the poll at No. 6 and Penn State was back at No. 10, contributing to the Tar Heels’ drop. Also a factor was Miami jumping from No. 12 to No. 8 after blowing out Florida State 52–10 and Central Florida going from No. 13 to No. 11 winning 51–28 at East Carolina

Without the ability to impress Associated Press poll voters on the field, North Carolina’s only chance of moving up in the poll was to have teams above the Tar Heels lose and hope that teams just below them weren’t impressive.

Two teams lost ahead of the Tar Heels and fell behind them: Oklahoma (No. 3 last week but No. 18 this week after a 38–35 home loss to unranked Kansas State) and reigning College Football Playoff champion LSU (No. 6 last week but No. 20 this week after a 44–34 home loss to Mississippi State).

Two other teams that were ahead of Carolina in last week’s poll escaped upset bids: Texas (No. 8 last week but No. 9 this week after a 63–56 overtime win over Texas Tech) and Texas A&M (No. 10 last week but dropped to No. 13 this week after a 17–12 victory over unranked Vanderbilt).

Carolina won its only game of the season 31–6 at home on Sept. 12 against Syracuse. The Orange is 1-2 after winning at home 37–20 against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The Tar Heels are scheduled to finally play again at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Boston College (2–0), which rallied at home Saturday to beat Texas State 24–21. The game will air on ABC.

AP Top 25

1Clemson (2-0)1ACC1,542 (55)
2Alabama (1-0)2SEC1,473 (3)
3Florida (1-0)5SEC1,324
4Georgia (1-0)4SEC1,310
5Notre Dame (2-0)7IA Independents1,231
6Ohio State (0-0)Big Ten1,169 (4)
7Auburn (1-0)8SEC1,133
8Miami (3-0)12ACC1,045
9Texas (2-0)8Big 12862
10Penn State (0-0)Big Ten840
11UCF (2-0)13American Athletic743
12North Carolina (1-0)11ACC734
13Texas A&M (1-0)10SEC705
14Oregon (0-0)Pac-12651
15Cincinnati (2-0)14American Athletic646
16Mississippi State (1-0)SEC590
17Oklahoma State (2-0)15Big 12555
18Oklahoma (1-1)3Big 12535
19Wisconsin (0-0)Big Ten510
20LSU (0-1)6SEC401
21Tennessee (1-0)16SEC377
22Brigham Young (2-0)18IA Independents295
23Michigan (0-0)Big Ten277
24Pittsburgh (3-0)21ACC248
25Memphis (1-0)17American Athletic196

Others receiving votes: Virginia Tech 195, Louisiana-Lafayette 126, * Minnesota 110, * USC 104, Kansas State 60, SMU 37, Marshall 31, Baylor 22, * Iowa 16, * Utah 14, Virginia 12, Arkansas State 11, UAB 5, Washington 4, Kentucky 4, Louisville 4, Army 3.

* Big Ten or Pac-12 schools that didn’t appear in last week’s poll.

Pool photo by Robert Willett

UNC is one of a few college volleyball teams with every player wearing masks for matches

By R.L. Bynum

If you watch a college volleyball match this fall, you’ll see something you are unlikely to see in any other sport — entire teams wearing masks during competition.

North Carolina is one of those teams. 

Since preseason practice started Aug. 1, Coach Joe Sagula’s team has worn masks for every practice. All of the measures seem to have been effective since no Tar Heels have tested positive for COVID-19.

As odd as it was to see every player wearing a surgical mask during a match, it didn’t seem to have any effect on their play as the Tar Heels split the first two matches of the season at Virginia Tech, winning 3–1 Thursday and losing 3–2 Friday.

Making it a bit more odd-looking was the contrast between the teams since every Hokies player decided not to wear a mask. Players on their bench wore masks.

Wanting his players to stay safe is one reason his players wear masks, but setting set an example for their fans was also important.

Joe Sagula

“There’s no reason why someone should not wear a mask because that’s just showing respect for everyone else and it’s our way of doing it and showing it and maybe being a little bit of a role model.“

“Absolutely. We think about that, said Sagula, in his 31st season as UNC’s coach. “Our team has said that if we can wear a mask in practice for two hours, in a hard-fought practice, then there’s no reason why someone else can’t put on a mask when they walk into a store. 

“There’s no reason why someone should not wear a mask because that’s just showing respect for everyone else and it’s our way of doing it and showing it and maybe being a little bit of a role model,” Sagula said. “If that’s what people get from that, great.”

Wearing masks at the start of practice was the decision of the coaching staff but Sagula wasn’t sure if the team could make it work. They decided to use disposable surgical masks after first trying out gaiters. Sagula said the gaiters didn’t work that well for volleyball.

“They said it was a little bit of a struggle early, but they were okay with it and the continuation of it came from the team,” said Sagula, whose team gets COVID-19 tests three times a week when there is a game. “They felt better about creating better safety and creating a statement of how important it is to wear a mask every day. So, once we did that we just said, ‘OK, we’re gonna do that.’ ”

During a match, the ACC only requires coaches, team support personnel, game personnel and referees to wear masks.

“It hasn’t hindered anyone. I can tell you that,” Sagula said.

The Tar Heels (1–1, 1–1 in the ACC) aren’t the only team in the league wearing masks. When Notre Dame played Louisville on Thursday and Friday, both teams wore masks. Virginia also is wearing masks for matches.

Notre Dame coach Mike Johnson told Sagula that the Irish players were adamant about wearing masks.

“They wanted to wear masks, and they wanted the opponents to wear masks,” Sagula said. “They were going to ask. I’ve kindly asked as well but it’s not required.” 

Already this season, a Clemson-Wake Forest match and an Appalachian State-Georgia Southern match have been postponed because of COVID-19 concerns.

UNC buys the surgical masks in packs of 100. Players wear a fresh mask every day and they change masks after particularly long rallies. Players changed masks during the first two matches.

“The biggest thing is the sweat,” Sagula said. “Also, I think it’s probably better for their face that they’re changing masks every now and then rather than having that sweat stay on their face. After long rallies [in practice], we take water breaks, we have them socially distance, but they can just take in some fresh air. They just lift the mask a little bit away from their face, they’re not taking it off. So we’re very respectful of that. We will tell them if they need time getting a breathing timeout, just let us know.”

There are other safety measures during this ACC volleyball season. Instead of postgame handshakes, there are postgame waves. Instead of the teams switching benches and sides as they normally do in volleyball between sets, the teams use the same benches and play on the same side of the net for the entire match. 

There are designated towels for each side to use to wipe the floor. A trainer with gloves handles the towels.

The pandemic meant that preseason practice that normally lasts 14 to 17 days lasted seven or eight weeks. Sagula, who last summer was inducted into the North Carolina Volleyball Hall of Fame, saw that as a huge positive.

“This has been a real blessing in some ways to have this time to develop and to learn how to deal with the unique things in practice — wiping down volleyballs, wearing masks and taking precautions,” Sagula said. “They’re using hand sanitizer probably 10 times, maybe more, in a practice just to keep the hands clean from the volleyballs. We take precautions —  no high fives, no slap fives and maybe a fist bump or elbow bumps. They want to protect each other. I think that’s a really big commitment.”

The extended preseason was particularly helpful for UNC’s freshmen. Four first-year Tar Heels played well at Blacksburg, led by Kaya Merkler (on left in top photo) and Aziah Buckner (in middle in top photo).

The pandemic has created a college volleyball season like no other. UNC will play eight ACC games in the fall then play about 10 more, plus 6 to 8 conference games, starting in January. The 2021 portion of the schedule hasn’t been set yet. 

The fall schedule features four sets of back-to-back matches at the same site, concluding with two home matches against Duke on Oct. 23 and Oct. 25. The league was divided into three pods for geographic purposes with Duke, Virginia Tech, Virginia and N.C. State in the Tar Heels’ pod. 

The NCAA championships will be held in April and every volleyball program will play games in 2021. The ACC, SEC, Big 12 and the Atlantic Sun are the only leagues playing games in the fall, when the entire season usually plays out.

That will mean that after the last Duke game, the team will be off for two months before the season resumes in January. Although the eight fall games count in the ACC standings, Sagula looks at them as a bit of a preseason.

“Hopefully, we can position ourselves and play well this fall,” Sagula said. “We’ll come back in January, and the bodies could be rested. I think what it could do is show some more higher-level volleyball in the spring again.”

Carolina’s next game is its home opener on Oct. 9 against Virginia. The teams also play at Carmichael Arena on Oct. 11. 

And the Tar Heels will be wearing masks.

Photos courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics

Tar Heels in the NFL: Trubisky leads Bears to 2-0 start, is top performer so far this season

By R.L. Bynum

As a Chicago Cubs fan, I follow a lot of Chicago Bears fans on Twitter for their Cubs tweets/coverage even though I’m not a Bears fan.

It’s an understatement to say that Bears fans and reporters on that beat have been highly critical of second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Some of the tweets make me wish that his family stays off Twitter.

For the first three quarters of the Bears’ Week 1 victory over the Detroit Lions, there was constant chirping about the former UNC quarterback’s performance. In the fourth quarter of that come-from-behind 27–23 victory and through most of the Bears’ 17–13 home win over the New York Giants on Sunday, that strangely ended. There were even tweets giving him credit.

He’s got the Bears off to their first 2-0 start since 2013.

His performance has easily been the best in the NFL so far this season for former North Carolina players. Here’s a look at how the former Tar Heels are doing:

UNC up to No. 11 in AP poll, its highest ranking since rising to No. 8 in 2015

By R.L. Bynum

Even though North Carolina’s game with Charlotte got canceled, the 1-0 Tar Heels still moved up in the latest Associated Press Top 25 football poll, thanks to Oklahoma State’s struggles.

The Tar Heels went from No. 12 to No. 11, which is the program’s highest rank since it was No. 8 heading into the 2015 ACC championship-game loss to Clemson.

Oklahoma State won its opener over Tulsa 16-7, but the Cowboys’ struggles led AP voters to drop them from No. 11 to No. 15, allowing UNC to slide up one slot.

North Carolina's Javonte Williams (25) celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown to give the Tar Heels' a 24-6 lead in the fourth quarter against Syracuse on Saturday.

Another ACC team to jump in the poll was Miami, which moved from No. 17 to No. 12 after the Hurricanes’ 47-34 road victory over Louisville.

The Tar Heels obviously stand to drop a few notches once Big Ten schools are eligible for poll consideration when that conference’s season starts late next month.

Carolina may have to depend on the misfortune of others to move up more in the poll next week. The school said Sunday that it was unable to schedule a game for next Saturday. For now, the Tar Heels’ next game is on Oct. 3 at Boston College.

AP Top 25

1Clemson (2-0)1ACC1,523 (59)
2Alabama (0-0)2SEC1,458 (1)
3Oklahoma (1-0)3Big 121,368
4Georgia (0-0)4SEC1,320
5Florida (0-0)5SEC1,239
6LSU (0-0)6SEC1,221 (1)
7Notre Dame (2-0)7ACC1,200
8Texas (1-0)9Big 121,037
8Auburn (0-0)8SEC1,037
10Texas A&M (0-0)10SEC972
11North Carolina (1-0)12ACC883
12Miami (FL) (2-0)17ACC816
13UCF (1-0)14American Athletic771
14Cincinnati (1-0)13American Athletic720
15Oklahoma State (1-0)11Big 12693
16Tennessee (0-0)15SEC529
17Memphis (1-0)16American Athletic510
18Brigham Young (1-0)21IA Independents405
19Louisiana-Lafayette (2-0)19Sun Belt374
20Virginia Tech (0-0)20ACC350
21Pittsburgh (2-0)25ACC315
22Army (2-0)22IA Independents296
23Kentucky (0-0)23SEC230
24Louisville (1-1)18ACC115
25Marshall (2-0)Conference USA108

Others receiving votes:Baylor 89, West Virginia 59, SMU 57, TCU 30, Virginia 30, Boston College 23, Arkansas State 20, Mississippi State 6, UAB 5, Texas Tech 5, Ole Miss 4, Appalachian State 3, UTSA 2, Troy 1, Coastal Carolina 1

Many UNC women’s soccer players kneel during national anthem before decisive season-opening victory

By R.L. Bynum

North Carolina’s women’s soccer season started just like most of Coach Anson Dorrance’s previous 43 seasons — with a decisive victory.

The Tar Heels’ 4–1 victory at Dorrance Field over Wake Forest on a soggy evening in Chapel Hill, their 14th consecutive ACC victory, wasn’t as significant as what happened before the game. The majority of the team knelt during the national anthem and there also was a moment of silence in support of social justice efforts before the game.

“Black lives do matter,” Dorrance said. “And I think sport can be an incredibly positive environment for social change because these wonderful Black athletes do have a statement of what’s happening within all the different cultures across the face of the earth.”

The actions were from the heart considering Dorrance has Black players on the team, including junior co-captain Rachel Jones, who scored twice and notched an assist.

“I think during the whole preseason on, my team has really rallied around me,” said Jones, who swiped the ball away from the Wake Forest goalie and scored feet away from the goal line for her first goal and added a penalty-kick goal in the second half. “They realize that there is a lot of stuff going on in regards to racial justice and they understand that I’m more than just an athlete.” 

There have been challenges for the most storied program in women’s college soccer in 2020. But the racial injustice and the politics of 2020 also captured a lot of the team’s focus.

“Obviously for all of us that care about humanity, the George Floyd incident was just horrific. And I have a lot of great Black athletes on my team,” said Dorrance, who noted that Jones’ ultimate ambition is to be on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dorrance assigned various books depending on the players’ year in school, but everybody on the team read How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

“This is a very socially conscious team,” Dorrance said. “Certainly, I am very conscious of the fact that I live under the incredibly protective umbrella of white privilege. And in reading that book with my team, and my Black athletes, I thought it was very meaningful.

“And we have committed to be social justice warriors in a positive sense, but we’re also not going to take away anyone else’s difference of opinion,” Dorrance said, noting that some of his players were standing during the anthem. “They were standing, hopefully for all the right reasons. Christianity. The flag. There are certainly a lot of very good reasons to stand. That’s what I like about the athletic movement.”

This is an odd season for a program that routinely advances to the Women’s College Cup but knows that there will be no NCAA title given, at least in 2020. The Tar Heels are trying not to worry about that, even as the sting of losing a 0-0 national-championship game last season on penalty kicks to Stanford ended a fine 24-2-1 season.

Rachel Jones, battling Wake Forest’s Liv Stowell during the Tar Heels’ opening-game win Thursday, said they are going to make the most of every game.

“We are just trying to get in as many games for our seniors before they go, so we’re just focusing on each game as it comes,” Jones said. “We’re sad that there won’t be a College Cup but we’re hopeful there will be one in the spring.”

Like all fall sports, there were doubts about whether there would be a season at times and plenty of challenges because of COVID-19.

“Especially during the beginning of the preseason, it was difficult because we didn’t know if we were going to have any games at all,” Jones said. “I think that COVID has brought us closer as a team and made us realize that we needed to take advantage of every opportunity that we got, whether it’s practice or if we’re gonna get games. Like we saw in the spring, they just woke up one day and they didn’t have any more games. We just knew that no matter what the season brings we don’t want to have any regrets. So, every day we have to attack.”

Dorrance appreciated the extended preseason practice and said that it was particularly helpful for the freshmen. At one point, a COVID-19 issue in Avery Dorm, which housed all of the team’s freshmen, led the program to have to split up the training for two weeks between the freshmen and the upperclassmen.

He admitted that, at one point, he didn’t think there would be a season. He felt terrible for the women’s lacrosse team, which was No. 1 in the country when its season stopped in the spring.

“Despite the death and the destruction of our economy and the fact that we might have an authoritarian government if Trump doesn’t believe that the vote count is proper, I still appreciate the fact we have a season,” Dorrance said.

Brianna Pinto

Brianna Pinto, who played at Jordan High School in Durham, made good on her promise of a goal in the opener to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead at 21:41. After leading 2-1 at halftime, UNC pulled away with Jones’ penalty-kick goal at 57:16 and Hallie Klanke’s score at 68:48.

UNC (1-0) moved to 33-2-2 all-time against Wake Forest (0-2), which lost 4-3 in a non-conference overtime game against Duke in its opener.

The Tar Heels (1-0) are back at home Sunday at 11 a.m. against Virginia Tech (0-2).

North Carolina 4, Wake Forest 1
21:42 UNC Brianna Pinto (1), assisted by Rachel Jones
23:05 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
34:03 WFU Sophie Faircloth (1)
57:15 UNC Rachel Jones (1)
68:48 UNC Hallie Klanke (1), assisted by Aleigh Gambone

Photos by Jeff Camarati/UNC Athletics

UNC jumps to No. 12 in AP poll, thanks to Big Ten, Pac-12 teams

By R.L. Bynum

In the strange world of 2020, North Carolina jumped six slots Sunday in the latest Associated Press college football poll. The rise has nothing to do with the Tar Heels’ performance in a 31-6 opening-game victory Saturday over Syracuse.

UNC, which was ranked No. 18 in the preseason poll, is No. 12 in the latest poll, thanks to six teams ahead of them that exited the poll because they aren’t playing (as of the moment) in 2020.

It’s the highest ranking for UNC since the Tar Heels were No. 10 after the 2015 regular season. In December of that season, Carolina was No. 8 before losing to Clemson in the ACC championship game.

The reality is that the Tar Heels’ rise is because of the six teams no longer in the poll.

The teams that were ahead of UNC in the preseason poll exited not because they lost but because they aren’t playing. The AP instructed poll voters to consider every school eligible for their preseason ballots regardless of whether they planned to play in 2020.

That meant that six schools ahead of Carolina in the preseason poll, all in either the Big Ten or the Pac-12, are now out of the poll: Ohio State (previously No. 2), Penn State (No. 7), Oregon (No. 9), Wisconsin (No. 12), Michigan (No. 16) and Southern Cal (No. 17).

The Tar Heels (1-0) face Charlotte (0-1) at 3:30 Saturday at Kenan Stadium in a game that regional sports networks will air. UNC is an early 28-point favorite.

AP college football poll

1Clemson (1-0)11,524 (60)
2Alabama (0-0)31,456
3Oklahoma (1-0)41,361
4Georgia (0-0)51,324
5Florida (0-0)81,237
6LSU (0-0)61,236 (1)
7Notre Dame (1-0)101,155
8Auburn (0-0)111,055
9Texas (1-0)141,033
10Texas A&M (0-0)13983
11Oklahoma State (0-0)15927
12North Carolina (1-0)18892
13Cincinnati (0-0)20647
14UCF (0-0)21632
15Tennessee (0-0)24528
16Memphis (1-0)495
17Miami (FL) (1-0)463
18Louisville (1-0)387
19Louisiana-Lafayette (1-0)377
20Virginia Tech (0-0)368
21Brigham Young (1-0)357
22Army (2-0)243
23Kentucky (0-0)238
24Appalachian State (1-0)237
25Pittsburgh (1-0)157

Others receiving votes: Baylor 146, West Virginia 81, Georgia Tech 69, TCU 49, Virginia 39, Arkansas State 33, SMU 32, Iowa State 14, Mississippi State 14, Boise State 6, South Florida 6, Ole Miss 5, Texas Tech 5, UAB 4, Missouri 3, Air Force 2, Florida State 2, Marshall 2, Houston 1.

Pool photo by Robert Willett

Williams kick-starts Heels as they blow past Syracuse in final quarter

By R.L. Bynum

For three quarters, the shaky play of North Carolina’s offensive line couldn’t block out doubts about the high expectations for this Tar Heels team.

The line couldn’t contain blitzes, and quarterback Sam Howell many times had trouble recognizing them. But the Tar Heels finally wore down that Syracuse defense with the relentless power running of Javonte Williams and the elusiveness of fellow running back Michael Carter.

After only scoring 10 points in the first three quarters, No. 18 UNC used three fourth-quarter touchdown runs by Williams to turn a tight game into a blowout and a 31-6 season-opening victory in front of a mostly empty Kenan Stadium.

“We felt like it’s probably a great opener for us because there’s a lot of things we’ve got to fix,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “And, at the same time, they can see that we have a chance to be really good. Now there were so many positives that we can build off of.”

It took only 5:23 of the fourth quarter for Williams to give UNC a comfortable lead with a 1-yard play to start the quarter and 6-yard runs with 11:33 left and 9:37 left. Carter broke loose for a 45-yard run on one of those scoring drives and finished with 78 rushing yards.

The Tar Heels (1-0) were a fourth-quarter team a year ago when they outscored opponents 120-51 in that quarter. It was 21-0 Saturday. 

Howell blamed mistakes for the slow start.

“We kind of weren’t playing like ourselves in the first half. They were doing some different things on the defensive side of the ball. So, we just had to adjust a little bit at halftime,” Howell said. “We were killing drives with one play, one mistake. We’ve got to stay consistent and play clean football every drive. Because we’d have one bad play kill the drive, that’s what was happening a lot in the first half. So, we need to make sure we stay consistent and just play consistent football.”

Howell finished 25 of 34 for 295 yards, one touchdown pass and two interceptions. It was the first game of his college career without multiple touchdown passes, ending the longest active streak in the FBS.

North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) warms up before UNC’s season-opening victory over Syracuse.

Depth is an issue on an offensive line that played without left guard Joshua Ezeudu, who Brown said may play next week against Charlotte.

Howell said Syracuse forced UNC to change their game plan.

“With their secondary, they’re playing really deep,” Howell said. “They’re kind of bailing on everything, so we knew our deep game wasn’t really going to be there. So, we had to take the underneath stuff because that’s what they were giving.”

Howell had success throwing to his running backs with Williams catching one pass for 22 yards and Carter pulling down six passes for 60 yards.

“I honestly like catching the ball more than running because it’s just like a lot of space on the edge,” Williams said. “And usually when you catch a ball, you just really have to make one person miss.”

The strong fourth quarter wasn’t new for UNC. Scoring three rushing touchdowns after scoring only 13 last season wasn’t as expected.

“I think we just had to get back in our rhythm,” said Williams, who had 57 rushing yards on 14 carries. “We hadn’t really got tackled since December, so we had a lot of time off. We just had to get back in our rhythm. In the second half, we just came together and made plays.”

Williams is the first player to rush for three touchdowns in an opener since Ronnie McGill did it against William & Mary in 2004.

Howell had his bad moments, including when he threw into double coverage on a pass early in the third quarter that Andre Cisco intercepted. That produced a 24-yard field goal from Andrew Szmyt. Howell had two passes intercepted after only throwing seven interceptions during his freshman season.

“I was trying to look the safety off and I thought I did a good job with that,” said Howell, who had the most passing yards by a UNC quarterback in an opener since T.J. Yates threw for 412 yards against LSU in 2010. “I went to the right side of the field, so thought I would be able to get it to Dyami [Brown]. I shouldn’t have thrown the ball, even though I tried to look them off. But they made a good play and I’m gonna learn from them.”

Brown did have a game-high 94 receiving yards on six catches.

Grayson Atkins

Furman transfer kicker Grayson Atkins, a graduate student, pushed UNC’s lead to 10-6 on a 31-yard field goal with 3:18 left in the third quarter before Williams ignited the fourth-quarter surge.

UNC’s defense, led by linebacker Chaz Surratt’s nine tackles, recorded seven sacks and brought a better pass rush than a year ago. There were several play-makers in addition to Surratt, with defensive back Myles Wolfolk and linebackers Kaimon Rucker and Jeremiah Gemmel all collecting five tackles.

“I really thought that the defense played well throughout the game. Wish we would force for some turnovers, we’ve got to do a better job in that area,” Mack Brown said. The lone turnover was a Giovanni Biggers interception. “I think the biggest difference in our defense is that we’re two deep. And we have fresh legs.” 

The six points Syracuse scored were the fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since Duke scored six on Nov. 7, 2009. The Orange’s 202 total yards were the fewest by an ACC opponent since Boston College’s 198 in 2009.

It took UNC 10 plays and just over four minutes to turn the game’s opening drive into an 11-yard touchdown pass from Howell to tight end Garrett Walston.

A tipped Howell slant pass was intercepted on Carolina’s next drive, giving Syracuse the ball at the UNC 31. Carolina’s defense didn’t allow a first down on the drive, though, stopping the Orange on a fourth-and-short.

Dazz Newsome tested UNC’s defense again when he muffed a punt, which Syracuse recovered at the UNC 21 early in the second quarter. Carolina quickly forced a field-goal attempt, which Szmyt made from 37 yards out not long after Atkins hit the left upright with a 50-yard attempt.

Now it’s on to another home game next Saturday in a mostly empty stadium against Charlotte, which lost its opener at Appalachian State.

Game summary

Pool photos by Robert Willett

Brown says BLM statement not political but what’s right

By R.L. Bynum

With plenty of high expectations surrounding No. 18 North Carolina, Mack Brown could have easily been like many other football coaches who barely recognize anything outside of their football bubble. 

Before he made a video supporting Black Lives Matter, even his players told him that it was going to upset some people. In a turbulent 2020, with nearly everything viewed through a political prism, he knew what some of the reactions might be.

That didn’t matter to him after he heard from his players and fellow coaches about the racism they all had endured.

“We have to be very careful that anything outside of football doesn’t disrupt our team,” Brown said. “But I felt very strongly about this cause. Some people think it’s political. I haven’t got a political bone in my body. It’s what’s right. I’m building the program on being fair and being consistent and doing what’s right. That’s all I’m asking. I’m asking everybody that feels differently to stop, take a deep breath and listen and try to learn from it and see if you would feel comfortable if that was your son.”

Brown knew that he had no idea how it felt to be Black and no clue what Black people deal with daily. So he had conversations with his Black assistant coaches and Black players to find out about that and figure out the proper message he should deliver publicly.

“These are guys that work together and they’re very comfortable with each other, and it was not the most comfortable conversation,” said Brown, who discussed it for 90 minutes with his staff. “A lot of things were brought up that were sensitive and hard. And I just felt like I needed to ask all of them to help me because I haven’t been the victim of racism. Help me represent them and help me say what they would like to say because of the voice that I have.”

Brown says it was painful to hear that some were afraid to get in their car and some parents are afraid for their sons to get into cars. Or some were afraid to go for runs.

“That’s why we need to make sure that we listen and learn,” Brown said. “And I’ve learned so much from these guys, these players, about what they put up with in their lives. And our bubble, again, is safe. And it’s a cool environment where we laugh and cut up with each other and we don’t see race. 

“And I’ve thought what an awful time in 2020 that we’re still talking about how somebody looks. And we’re better than that and we’re smarter than that,” he said. “And I felt like it was time for me to say that for our team. After the fact, I’m so glad that it represented our team and staff, and that they had so much input into it. And it was my words that wanted to say what they felt, and I feel the same way, obviously. I wouldn’t have said it unless I felt the same way.”

Brown also got some criticism when he said that, from a football perspective, it was better for his program during a pandemic with many students leaving campus. Some said his comments were against education, which he said wasn’t the case at all.

Brown said that, at UNC, they’ve tried to pattern themselves after the NBA bubble as much as possible. Fewer people on campus makes that easier. When there were in-person classes, the word he got from players is that going to class was safe. It was activity outside of class that was problematic. Anything that is of higher risk, such as inside gatherings, is to be avoided..

“What we’ve seen is that football has not caused the virus,” Brown said. “Because we haven’t had any positives out of football. It’s what you do outside of the bubble that affects you.”

Brown has preached wearing masks, staying away from people who don’t wear them and constantly hand-washing.

“We basically just told the players if you want to play, then go by the guidelines,” Brown said. “If you don’t care, go to your parties and have your social life but you’re not going to play. And that’s very simple and it’s not going to be the norm. It’s not going to be the same. I don’t go out of my house much. I come to the office around you guys, I go back and Sally and I are staying in a bubble as well so we’re all trying to make this thing work. And as of now, it is working.”

UNC opens against Syracuse at noon on Sept. 12 at Kenan Stadium without fans in the stands.

My crazy Irish adventure: A kid watching no average Joe with legends

By R.L. Bynum

On Nov. 27, assuming the season is still going and there’s room for me in the press box, there will be no need for me to be crazy early and sneaky to get into the Kenan Stadium press box for Notre Dame’s visit to Chapel Hill.

That was the only way it happened for me 45 years ago, and that wasn’t even the plan.

I was a kid growing up in Chapel Hill in 1975 and, of course, excited that the powerhouse Notre Dame football team was visiting Kenan Stadium for the first time since 1960. The problem was that I didn’t have a ticket.

That wasn’t going to stop me.

A couple of years earlier, I had worked in a trailer inside the stadium where hot dogs were sold during Carolina games. It was a pretty good deal: I got there early in the morning, made $10 (which seemed like a lot at the time) and was able to watch most of the second half many days. I gained some spending money and some knowledge: Back then, they didn’t lock the gates until late in the morning.

Here’s how my day played out:

On a typically perfect fall day in Chapel Hill, I ride the town bus system to the campus from my Franklin Street house, which is just down from Brady’s Restaurant (near where the Siena Hotel now stands). I make the trip early in the morning with a plan to get into the Notre Dame game: I figure that I can sneak in before the gates are locked and ticket-takers are in place.

That plan works out perfectly. I slip inside the fence unnoticed.

The only problem is that I have a lot of time to kill, so I walk around the stadium and hope nobody sends me back outside. As I explore, I notice that the entrance to the west side of the old press box on the south side of the stadium is open and nobody is blocking the entrances. I figure, what the heck? I’ll walk in and look around. (The photo above isn’t from that game, but shows the size of the press box.)

I eventually end up near the top of the press box. Amazingly, nobody asks me what I’m doing there. Everybody must assume I’m with somebody else.

In my mind, this isn’t a lot different from going to Chapel Hill High School football games with my dad. He takes film (yes, back then it was film) of the games for the Tigers’ coaching staff and I go along with him to every game — home and away — and sit at the top of the press box. This press box is quite a bit bigger and I am at a top-level rather than at the top of the press box.

There’s still a lot of time to kill. But I just take in the scene while I can, assuming that it is only a matter of time before somebody runs me off.

Nobody ever does.

And who do I stand behind for the entire game? The old Notre Dame television broadcast team of Paul Hornung and Lindsey Nelson.

They are recording a syndicated broadcast to be shown nationwide on Sunday morning. (All of the action didn’t fit into the broadcast window, so the familiar phrase Americans often heard Sunday mornings was: “We now move to further action in the same series of plays.”)

Needing to be quiet and not react to what was transpiring is difficult, particularly when UNC amazingly takes a second-half lead. That is challenging, but being able to stand behind a broadcasting legend and a Hall of Fame football player and hear their calls live is incredible.

I simply can’t believe I’m getting away with watching the game from the top of the old, cramped press box or that UNC is on the path to an improbable upset. After a scoreless first half, the Tar Heels take a 14–0 lead. They still are ahead of the mighty Irish entering the fourth quarter.

But an unknown young quarterback changes the plot.

With a little more than five minutes left and trailing 14–6, Notre Dame replaces the starting quarterback with a sophomore. I’m not familiar with the name. By the time he finishes engineering a crazy comeback and a 21–14 Irish victory — with more than 100 passing yards in less than a couple of minutes on the field — I make a note of his name.

He turned out to have a fairly decent career. It was Joe Montana.

Montana created a wild ending to this adventure (Bob Holliday goes into more detail about the game here), and I saw it all standing in the old Kenan Stadium press box behind a couple of legends.

November’s visit would be to a much-more spacious and modern press box and would be a little different. It will only be the Irish’s third visit to Kenan Stadium since that day in 1975. That year, the Tar Heels’ loss was the first of five consecutive defeats during a 3–7–1 season. The Tar Heels beat Irish at Kenan 29–24 in 2008 when they finished 8–6. UNC was 3–9 in 2017 after losing at home to the Irish 33–10.

But that 1975 day was one of personal victory in a way for one Chapel Hill kid.

Note: This post is repurposed and updated from a story I wrote for Raleigh & Company, a website that was discontinued in 2017.

Photo from North Carolina Collection via Tar Heel Tradition: 100 Years of Sports at Carolina