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Analysis: UNC secured its first win of the season against Pitt. Five quick observations

UNC defensive tackle Jalen Dalton (97 sacks Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) in the fourth quarter. UNC won their first game of the season 38-35 over Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept.22, 2018.
UNC defensive tackle Jalen Dalton (97 sacks Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) in the fourth quarter. UNC won their first game of the season 38-35 over Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept.22, 2018.

North Carolina’s football team is no longer winless.

UNC won its first game of the season after beating Pitt 38-35 on Saturday. The Tar Heels have now beaten the Panthers six consecutive times dating back to when Pitt first entered the ACC in 2013. UNC started the season 0-2 after tough losses to California and East Carolina.

But Saturday’s result was different.

UNC coach Larry Fedora said seeing his team execute the plays and finally win gave him a sense of relief and happiness.

“You get to build off of it,” Fedora said. “They get to learn from it. They know what they did in practice, how hard they worked in practice and how it paid off in a game, so they get to continue with that.“

Here are five quick observations from UNC’s win.

1. UNC’s offense looked totally different

The Tar Heels played its most complete game of the season against Pitt. Junior quarterback Nathan Elliott, who struggled through the first two games of the season, was nearly flawless. The running game was sharp, and with the exception of the one fumble by junior wide receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams in the second quarter, the Tar Heels took care of the football.

Elliott was 22-31 for 313 yards and two touchdowns.

“I felt confident coming into this game, and I did a lot of things in the last two weeks to get myself into better position,” Elliott said. “I was a lot more accurate than I was.”

Elliott said he tried not to over-think things.

“When I see the defense just know what they’re giving me and take advantage of it, and don’t think they’re doing something else,” he said. “Or ‘what-if’ myself to death.”

UNC’s performance on Saturday was a stark contrast from its first two games, where it struggled for a whole half. Against Cal, UNC couldn’t get anything going in the first half. And against ECU, UNC couldn’t get anything going in the second half. Both resulted in losses.

But UNC moved the ball easily against Pitt’s defense. UNC had 485 total yards.

2. Defense still had its struggles.

UNC only gave up seven points in the second half, but Pitt has struggled in the second half of games all season. Through Pitt’s first four games, it has scored 10 total second half points, including the seven points it scored against UNC. UNC’s first half performance was a cause for concern. It gave up 174 yards rushing in the first half and 123 yards in the air.

Pitt finished the game with 228 rushing yards.

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UNC running back Antonio Williams (24) breaks into the open during the fourth quarter against the Pitt defense. Williams 117 yards rushing and scored two touchdowns as UNC won their first game of the season 38-35 over Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept.22, 2018. CHUCK LIDDY

UNC’s defense could benefit from creating takeways. Its special teams forced a huge fumble on a kickoff in the third quarter, and UNC recovered. The Tar Heels turned the fumble recovery into a touchdown a few plays later.

3. Having running Michael Carter back will be a boost for the offense

Carter, a sophomore who led UNC with eight touchdowns last season, played in his first game this year. He missed the first two games with a hand injury. Carter came back and scored on a 31-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. He was wide open. Carter flashed his speed throughout the game.

“I’m 100 percent right now,” Carter said. “I’m blessed to be back. My teammates were with me the whole way. My coaches were with me the whole way. And the doctors were with me the whole way, and I’m just thankful for them.”

Having Carter back gives UNC another much needed weapon on offense.

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UNC running back Michael Carter (8) is held aloft by teammate offensive tackle Charlie Heck (67) after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter. UNC played Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept.22, 2018. CHUCK LIDDY

4. Antonio Williams is angry.

In Williams’ first game against Cal, he had 17 rushes for 47 yards and a touchdown. He followed up that performance with 96 yards on six carries versus East Carolina. Williams, an Ohio State transfer, said the difference between the first game and the second was that against ECU, he was playing angry. He was upset that he didn’t play well against Cal, and used that as momentum.

He said he plans to run like he’s angry for the rest of the season.

For the second straight game, he ran hard and was successful on the ground. He had 16 carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game. UNC might want to continue to ride him.

5. UNC has Pitt’s number

UNC is now 10-3 against Pitt all time. With Saturday’s win, the Tar Heels have beat the Panthers six consecutive times. Eleven of the 13 games have been decided 10 points or less.

It was a good win for UNC and should give it a boost of confidence before its game against Miami.

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Tar Heel football players celebrate with their fans as UNC won their first game of the season 38-35 over Pittsburgh in Chapel Hill, N.C. Saturday, Sept.22, 2018.


Notes

  • UNC’s Anthony Ratliff-Williams suffered a leg injury late in fourth quarter of Saturday’s game. He limped off the field. He tried to walk it off but did not return.

  • UNC sophomore wide receiver Dazz Newsome had six catches for 110 yards, both career highs, on Saturday. Newsome showed that he is a playmaker.
  • UNC had five quarterback hurries and three sacks.
Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander

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