Back in Chapel Hill after a wild one yesterday in Charlottesville, Va. And back on the blog continuing – after too long a hiatus – the wildly popular “stories that didn't make the story” series. It's been a while.
North Carolina beat Virginia, 28-27, on Saturday. Here's a story about the game, and about that risky onside kick (more on that below) that the Tar Heels executed perfectly in the final moments. As always, though, there were plenty of stories that didn't make the story.
So let's get to it:
It has been something of a strange several months for Mitch Trubisky, the Tar Heels' redshirt freshman quarterback. First, he was competing with Marquise Williams for the starting job. And then, after Williams retained his position as the starter, Trubisky was in this kind of limbo – rotating early in games with Williams, and then coming in at random times.
Trubisky acknowledged earlier this season that the early quarterback rotation – which UNC has abandoned in the past three games – put a lot of pressure on him. When he'd come in on the third series, he felt like he had to play well, and do it quickly, or else. “Good,” in his mind, might not have been good enough and, worse, if he played poorly, he knew he could be finished for that game.
It was a difficult exercise, then, but one that likely paid off during UNC's victory on Saturday. You know what happened: the Tar Heels were driving, late in the fourth quarter, trailing by seven points. Marquise Williams was sacked and his helmet came off, forcing him to the sideline. Larry Fedora, the UNC coach, could have called a timeout that would have allowed Williams to stay in the game.
“Thought about it, yeah,” Fedora said.
But he decided against it. Why?
“I felt like Mitch could go out there and execute,” Fedora said. “I really did.”
Fedora has expressed no shortage of faith in Trubisky. When the Tar Heels were rotating quarterbacks earlier this season the results weren't all that good – at least not statistically – but Fedora stood by it and defended it nonetheless. It seemed, at times, that Fedora wanted Trubisky to emerge, wanted him to seize the opportunity in front him.
For one play, at least, he did that on Saturday. Trubisky entered the game and promptly threw a touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe. The play gave UNC its first lead and the Tar Heels held on.
“I'm happy with what we've been doing with Mitch,” Fedora said. “I know a lot of people think we're idiots. But I think it paid off for him in that situation. He went out there, he was calm. He knew what he was running and he executed the play and threw a touchdown pass. And it was good for him. It was good for all the work he's put in.”
Here are some of the things that Mack Hollins did on Saturday:
He caught a 57-yard touchdown pass. And a 63-yard touchdown pass. And made spectacular catches on both. He downed two punts inside Virginia's 5-yard line. And then, in the final minutes, he recovered the onside kick that sealed the Tar Heels' victory.
About that onside kick. Hollins was instrumental in not only the execution of it, but also in the conception of it. He was among those who was telling the coaching staff that it was there if UNC wanted to try it – that the Tar Heels should try it, because the likelihood was so good they'd recover.
“Just from what they were doing the whole time during the game, in order to block us they had to drop back so fast, so we just took advantage of that,” Hollins said. “They had their backs turned when Nick's kicking the ball and by the time they turned around we already got the ball.”
Nick Weiler, the UNC kickoff man, missed two field goals on Saturday but his onside kick couldn't have been better. Same with what Hollins did on the play.
The onside kick might not have happened, though, if Hollins and others hadn't pushed so strongly for it.
“We just notice stuff like that just from practice and knowing and we've got to let coaches know, because they're not on the field with us and they don't really know what's going on,” Hollins said. “They can see a little bit, but they don't really know. So it was on us to let them know.”
And how confident was Hollins that it would work?
“Oh, if we kick that onside kick it has to be 100 percent,” he said. “If we didn't get that we would never call it probably again in Fedora's career. Honestly.”