Larry Fedora had seen this kind of thing before, in dominant first quarters of North Carolina victories against Duke and Miami, and here it was again, another early onslaught that left an opponent reeling and the scoreboard operator busy.
Fedora, the Tar Heels’ coach, never quite knows when it’s coming – the kind of thing his team did during the first 15 minutes of a 45-34 victory on Saturday against N.C. State at Carter-Finley Stadium. But by now he’s not all that much surprised by it when it happens.
“I had a great feeling before the game because of how they practiced on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday,” Fedora said after UNC’s 35-7 first-quarter lead propelled the Tar Heels to their 11th consecutive victory “And it really is amazing when you sit out there and I come in off the field and the coaches were in the locker room and I was like, man, that was just like Tuesday six weeks ago.”
Or, really, any Tuesday practice in the past couple months, Fedora said. His point was this: His team practices the same every day of every week. Which leads to similar results. Which led, for the third time this season, to another dominant start that practically put the game away with three quarters still to play.
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UNC (11-1, 8-0 ACC) on Saturday needed three minutes to score its first touchdown, which came on a 5-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Quinshad Davis – after starting quarterback Marquise Williams had lost his helmet on the previous play. The Tar Heels needed less than 90 seconds to score their second touchdown, which came on T.J. Logan’s 42-yard run up the middle.
Then, after N.C. State’s lone touchdown of the first quarter, UNC responded with a 54-second, four-play scoring drive that ended with Williams’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins. UNC led 21-7 then, and then it was 28-7 after another long touchdown run, 40 yards, from Logan. And 35-7 not even a minute later after a 1-yard touchdown run from Elijah Hood.
On the long runs, Logan burst through the line of scrimmage, made a move on a defender and simply outran the rest of the defense to the end zone. On Williams’ 53-yard pass to Hollins, which came one play after a late-hit penalty kept alive a drive, Hollins sprinted past the N.C. State secondary and Williams’ pass met him in stride – a familiar sequence this season.
In the first 15 minutes, UNC did to N.C. State (7-5, 3-5) what N.C. State needed an entire game to do a season ago against the Tar Heels. The final score of the Wolfpack’s 35-7 victory in Chapel Hill last year had been etched into the minds of some UNC players. And now here those numbers were again, reversed, and only after a quarter.
“You didn’t see none of the guys talk on Twitter,” Williams said. “You (saw) those guys talk on Twitter, saying what we were going to do. … We wanted to come out with a bang and let our actions do the talking.”
The early touchdowns, one after the other, came “in the blink of an eye,” Jeff Schoettmer said.
The Tar Heels’ senior linebacker had a good view of them. Every time UNC’s defense came off the field it wasn’t long before it was back on it after another Tar Heels’ touchdown.
“It just happens like that,” Schoettmer said. “And if we get stops and we get the ball back to our offense, we’re a pretty good team.”
UNC has had some “pretty good” teams in recent years. Teams that won eight games. Teams that beat rivals Duke and N.C. State in the same season.
This team, though, has proven to be better than pretty good. The Tar Heels have won 11 consecutive games for the first time in school history. Three other teams in school history have won 11 games overall.
And, now, UNC has accomplished both of its preseason goals. It clinched the Coastal Division last week with an overtime victory at Virginia Tech. And its victory on Saturday against N.C. State gave the Tar Heels claim of the mythical state championship.
“(Fedora) told us in the locker room since we’ve achieved all our goals so far this season, time to set some new ones,” said Hood, who ran for 220 yards, two touchdowns and averaged 10.5 yards per carry on Saturday.
UNC completed its second goal thanks to its dominant first quarter and thanks in no small part to Hood, who at times ran through holes so wide he could pick which direction he wanted to take up the field. Other times, Hood created his own holes, and yet other times he dragged defenders for extra yardage.
“Our o-linemen were mashing their d-line,” Hood said. “And we were able to make guys miss at the second level … and when you do those kinds of things, you get explosive plays – especially in the running game.”
Seven times on Saturday UNC gained at least 21 yards on a run. Five of those runs came in the first quarter: a 39-yard run from Hood, a 30-yard run by Williams, Logan’s 42-yard touchdown run, a 21-yard run from Hood and Logan’s 40-yard touchdown run with less than two minutes to play in the quarter.
Fedora and his staff script the first 12 or so plays of every game. Those first 12 plays on Saturday included Hood’s 39-yard run and Williams’ 30-yard run, and it didn’t take long for Fedora to notice a trend.
“We came in at halftime and we talked about what we wanted to do in the second half, and it was like, well, just keep what we’re doing in the running game,” Fedora said.
UNC’s offensive success didn’t last in the second half or even much past the first quarter. Yet at the end of the first quarter UNC had run for 214 yards. It had scored five touchdowns.
The final three quarters weren’t as pretty for the Tar Heels – who followed their first quarter dominance with three turnovers – but they’d built such a lead that what they did after the first quarter mattered little.