More often than not North Carolina has done what it has wanted against lower-division teams under coach Larry Fedora and so it was on Saturday during the Tar Heels’ 56-28 victory against James Madison at Kenan Stadium.
After a less-than-ideal start defensively – UNC trailed 21-14 in the first quarter – the Tar Heels outscored the Dukes 21-0 in the second quarter on their way to a performance on offense that was reminiscent of other near-flawless exhibitions in recent years against Football Championship Subdivision teams.
How UNC won
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Because, primarily, it did whatever it wanted offensively and essentially couldn’t be stopped. The Tar Heels ended their first eight full drives with touchdowns and averaged 11.6 yards per play through their first drive of the second half. UNC put on a clinic offensively and, in the process, quarterback Mitch Trubisky set a career high in passing yards (432). It was, though, as it should have been. The Tar Heels, after all, were playing against a Football Championship Subdivision team that, at least on defense, couldn’t match UNC’s talent, athleticism or depth.
What it means
By now, in Larry Fedora’s fifth season as the Tar Heels’ head coach, games against Football Championship Subdivision teams should be tune-ups. That’s what Saturday was for the UNC offense and especially the passing game. Trubisky finally connected on some of the deep throws that fell incomplete during the first two games of the season. Against James Madison, Trubisky threw touchdown passes of 75 yards (to Ryan Switzer) and 71 yards (to Mack Hollins). And so the offense established some mojo. Defensively, UNC remains a work in progress, to put it mildly, after allowing 488 yards.
UNC’s defense took the first quarter off, in effect, and allowed three long touchdown drives that gave James Madison a 21-14 lead entering the second quarter. After UNC tied it at 21, though, the Tar Heels awoke from their defensive slumber and stopped the Dukes on consecutive possessions. UNC’s offense, not to be stopped all day, scored two touchdowns during that span, and the Tar Heels led by at least two touchdowns for the remainder of the game.
0. That’s the number of times UNC punted during the first three quarters, a span in which UNC averaged better than a first down per play. When the Tar Heels are executing like that on offense, all they need is one defensive stop – and a lack of turnovers. UNC avoided those when it counted on Saturday, too.
The competition must be taken into account but, nonetheless, what Trubisky did on Saturday would have been impressive had it come in a playground against elementary school kids. He completed 24 of his 27 attempts for 432 yards and three touchdowns. In the process, he set school records for most consecutive completions in a single game (18) and most consecutive passing attempts without an interception (156).
A great day for the UNC offense, a not-so great day for the defense – at least early – and a resounding and expected victory against an overmatched opponent. Fedora couldn’t ask for much more from the passing game, but the defense, with a makeshift defensive line beset by injuries, has to get healthy, and better, with ACC play starting next weekend against Pittsburgh.