North Carolina’s Elijah Hood is not one to brag about himself.
When asked about his success in recent games, Hood gives the credit to his teammates. But if you ask his teammates and his coach about it, they’ll rave about the sophomore running back who’s always smiling.
“I tell him every day three guys shouldn’t bring you down,” UNC quarterback Marquise Williams said. “With him running the way he is, you’re going to have to fit the box.”
Duke did just that to start the game, putting multiple players at the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and UNC made them pay for it.
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On the Tar Heels’ first play of their 66-31 win over Duke on Saturday, they ran a flea-flicker, handing the ball off to Hood, who started up the middle. Duke’s defense collapsed attempting to stop the run, and Hood pitched the ball back to Williams, who found receiver Ryan Switzer wide open for an 89-yard touchdown.
That touchdown set the tone for the game.
And as Duke continued to load the box to stop Hood, the Tar Heels continued to exploit their secondary, which has been good most of the season. Williams finished with 494 yards and four touchdowns in the air.
Hood ended with 69 yards on 17 carries and a career-high three touchdowns, one in the first and two in the third.
“Elijah runs the ball hard,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said, “guys love blocking for him and he’s a great kid.”
This year Hood has 813 yards, 11 touchdowns and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. He’s improved a lot since his freshman year, which he credits to a knee injury he suffered in the Notre Dame game last year.
Hood missed four games. He said he was able to look at film and break down the mistakes he was making.
And he fixed those mistakes.
Hood has especially turned up his play in the last four games. He’s scored six touchdowns and is averaging 92.2 yards per game in that span.
“He’s playing his butt off,” Fedora said. “He does so many things for us. There were a couple of those big plays, where they blitzed and he picked up the blitzer – whether it was out of the secondary or wherever it came from, he was the guy that picked up the blitz and we hit long touchdowns on them.”
The blitzer was hard-hitting safety Jeremy Cash, who is arguably Duke’s best player.
Hood said when he saw Cash coming toward Williams he thought to himself “I’m not going to lose.” He said he knew the team and his quarterback were counting on him.
“I don’t really care who is coming down, it’s my job to stop you and I’m going to try my best,” Hood said. “I’m going to find a way.”
Williams ended up throwing a 74-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins, who had a few steps on the Duke defender.
Hood said he is playing well when the offense is rolling as a unit.
“I just think sometimes I make plays, but also I can’t say I did it without them because everything that I do is predicated on what they do as well,” he said.