As the two teams met in the middle of the field, after the final seconds of N.C. State’s 35-7 victory had ticked away, coach Dave Doeren encouraged his team to go to the far corner of Kenan Stadium.
“Take it to the fans, take it to the fans,” he said as he waived his hands in the direction of the Wolfpack faithful creating a sea of red.
N.C. State had spent the previous four hours taking it to North Carolina.
The Wolfpack’s defensive line in particular dominated, to use Doeren’s word. The Tar Heels’ offensive line was woefully overmatched, as N.C. State recorded 10 tackles for losses, including four sacks, resulting in 62 negative yards.
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“I told them we had to get after their quarterback and it couldn’t always be with pressure,” Wolfpack defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable said. “We were going to mix some pressure with coverage. And our front just dominated the line of scrimmage.”
And after opening the week questioning UNC quarterback Marquise Williams’ toughness – the quote from safety Hakim Jones was, “He runs the ball a lot, so after you hit him a few times, he basically almost quits” – the Wolfpack knocked him out of the game in the third quarter. To attribute that to a lack of toughness on Williams’ part, would be inaccurate; the Wolfpack swarmed him restlessly and hit him repeatedly.
“When you hit a really good player repetitively, it makes it hard,” Doeren said. “We didn’t want to do it any other way but clean, but wanted to tackle him and hit him hard and get a lot of people to him. The whole plan was around making sure that he didn’t beat us.”
Williams, who in his previous two games turned in rushing performances of 122 yards and three touchdowns against Pittsburgh and 98 yards and two scores against against Duke, was held to just 11 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
“He was getting hit every single time he threw the ball,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said of Williams.
The Wolfpack knew that if Williams could be stopped, so would the Tar Heels’ offense. UNC was held to a season-low 207 yards of total offense, and its lone touchdown came late in the fourth quarter against the N.C. State reserves, a 13-yard pass from Mitch Trubisky to Quinshad Davis. The Wolfpack fans gleefully counted off the seven push-ups the UNC cheerleaders were shown doing on the video board – to represent the Tar Heels’ seven points – before counting off their own 35 during the ensuing kickoff.
The Tar Heels work at a quick kick pace offensively, trying to waste as little time as possible between snaps. Because of that, the Wolfpack had to simplify their pass rush schemes – there wasn’t a lot of time to analyze UNC’s formation and check into different movements. N.C. State ran three different fronts at UNC, according to Huxtable, mixing them repeatedly to great success.
“The biggest thing was to get aligned right, and then basically stopping the quarterback,” said defensive tackle Thomas Teal, who led the Wolfpack with six tackles. “And we tried to do our best to take him out.”
It was senior defensive tackle T.Y. McGill who delivered the hit that mercifully ended Williams’ day, an 11-yard sack on UNC’s opening drive of the third quarter.
The plan had worked to perfection – just as Doeren insisted the Wolfpack knew it would.
“There was a lot of different formational things that we felt, if they held true, we could take advantage of, and did,” he said. “We knew that they would come out talking a lot, and we felt like we could be physical and put our hands on them and get in gaps.
“I loved our game plan, and I love how it was executed.”