UNC Plays Most Complete Game In A Long Time


Sep 19, 2015; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels wide receiver Ryan Switzer (3) and receiver Quinshad Davis (14) joke on the sidelines during the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Kenan Memorial Stadium. North Carolina won 48-14. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect coming into Saturday’s game against Illinois. The first two games I had watched a Carolina team that was making great strides on defense but couldn’t find its footing on the offensive side of the ball. Against South Carolina, the offense was crisp between the 20 yard lines but poor in the redzone. Against NC A&T, the offense was humming along a bit more, but against an inferior opponent.

The defense in both games looked better than the group that Carolina put on the field last season. Of course, there was still the occasional missed tackles thrown in as a reminder that this defense still mostly consists of the same players as last year. But the defense just looked much faster, especially in the secondary, and players were making plays that just never would have happened last season.

Still, I was a little skeptical coming into Saturday’s game against the Fighting Illini. This had a lot of the makings of a potential trap game — Coach Fedora himself had talked the opponent up all week, Illinois had looked good in their first two games of the season, and this was a 12 o’clock start on a hot fall afternoon. Against a better opponent, would Carolina take strides forward or steps back?

North Carolina Tar Heels
North Carolina Tar Heels /

North Carolina Tar Heels

With the dust of the game now settled, it is safe to say Carolina quieted all doubts and turned in the team’s best all-around performance perhaps since the 2013 Belk Bowl.

Carolina’s defense was dominant. Quarterback Wes Lunt completed just 15 of 32 passes and had a QBR of 14.3. He never could crack Carolina’s much improved secondary and never looked comfortable in the game.

The defense stood firm in the redzone, continuing a trend from the first two games of the season. Carolina held tough in key situations, especially when the game was still close in the first half. Carolina’s stop at the goal line on the first drive of the game set the tone and established the Tar Heels as the superior team in the game.

The offense also played very well. When both Marquise Williams and Elijah Hood are running on all cylinders, as they were today, this offense is tough to stop. Hood ran for 129 yards and a late TD, and Marquise pitched in 105 yards of his own.

Williams also threw touchdowns to three different wideouts — Austin Proehl caught his first career TD, Switzer redeemed himself after dropping a sure TD earlier and Quinshad Davis caught his first TD of the season, making him the career touchdown reception leader for the Tar Heels.

Even the special teams units played well. I had been saying that Ryan Switzer was just a block or a missed tackle away from taking a punt back to the house, and he finally broke through tonight with a few good runs. His punt return touchdown was the cherry on top to a great night for the Tar Heel football team.

I was trying to think back to the last game where all three phases of the Tar Heel football team looked so good. Maybe against Duke last November? Maybe in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati? Maybe even farther back to 2012 in the Thursday night win against Virginia?

Whatever the case, you can go ahead and put this game down as one of the better wins of the Larry Fedora tenure in Chapel Hill. In a game in which a loss would have been not catastrophic but quite bad, the Tar Heels showed up and dominated.

It’s hard now not to look ahead past Delaware one week to the Georgia Tech game. Circle, highlight and star that game on your calendars, folks. If Carolina can play like they did today, they will have a shot at beating the Yellow Jackets and putting themselves in great position to make a run at an ACC Coastal title.