Tar Heels find their rhythm again in 35-14 victory at Virginia

The 22nd-ranked Tar Heels overcame a choppy offensive start and a number of replacement players to pull away for a 35-14 win at Virginia on Saturday

Amber Searls—X02835
Oct 22

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — There were a lot of unfamiliar faces in the lineup and one familiar number in an unfamiliar place. But after a half to gain its bearings amid all the changes, the North Carolina football team finally began to look like itself again Saturday. The 22nd-ranked Tar Heels overcame a choppy offensive start and despite playing without two top offensive lineman, their best deep-threat receiver and second-leading tackler for the first half, found their rhythm as the game went on to pull away for a 35-14 win at Virginia. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns while wide receiver Bug Howard — wearing Mack Hollins’ No. 13 as a tribute to his injured teammate — caught seven passes for 109 yards and a score to help UNC secure bowl eligibility and maintain a share of first place in the ACC’s Coastal Division heading into a badly needed bye week. “It felt good starting to move the ball well and being able to put up points,” said running back Elijah Hood, who was also resurgent in topping the 100-yard mark rushing for the 10th time in his career, but only second time this season. He finished with 107 yards on 16 carries. “We haven’t really put up points in the second half of games in awhile, so we were specifically challenged to make sure we played a full 60 minutes of football today,” he said. “I’m really proud of us because we absolutely came out there and did that. We did what we needed to do. I feel like we are just growing every game as a team.” That growth became necessary after the Tar Heels (6-2, 4-1 ACC) took a major step backward with a 34-3 thumping at the hands of Virginia Tech and Hurricane Matthew three Saturdays ago. Although coach Larry Fedora’s team bounced back for a 20-13 victory at Miami last week, rolling up 461 yards in the process, it still seemed out of sync while managing only 20 points and getting shut out over the final 30 minutes.There was more of the same for the first two periods at Virginia, with drives coming up a yard or less short of conversions and turnovers inside the opponent’s 5-yard line killing both momentum and opportunities to put points on the board. It took a short field after a shanked Cavalier punt and a little trickery, in which running back T.J. Logan and wide receiver Ryan Switzer both handled the ball before Trubisky hit Howard with a 40-yard strike at the end of a double reverse pass, for UNC to take a 14-7 lead into halftime. But at least this time there was an extenuating circumstance that kept the usually high-powered offense from revving at its usual capacity. Not only were the Tar Heels without Hollins, who is out for the season with a broken collarbone, but they were also forced to play without starting left guard Caleb Peterson and right tackle Jon Heck. Peterson suffered a season-ending back injury while Heck is still recovering from concussion-like symptoms. The attrition forced UNC to turn to redshirt freshmen William Sweet and Tommy Hatton on a patchwork line that rose to the occasion once it overcame some early struggles in both pass protection and opening holes for the run game. “We had a couple of new linemen swapped in there,” Trubisky said afterward. “They just had to get their feet underneath them in the first half and they definitely settled down and did a great job in the second.” Although the third period began ominously with another lost fumble near midfield and Switzer getting obliterated by Virginia’s Albert Reid after calling for a fair catch on a punt, things quickly began turning in the Tar Heels’ favor. And not by coincidence, its because the Tar Heels’ offense finally began to play quicker … and cleaner.”It was the little things that you wouldn’t necessarily notice that had us shooting ourselves in the foot,” Fedora said. “Those are young guys and I tried to tell them they’re not young anymore. This is our 12th, going on 13th week. It’s time for them to step up and do their job.” A crisp 10-play, 79-yard drive capped by 10-yard pass from Trubisky to former walkon Thomas Jackson was followed on the next possession by a short Logan run that made the Cavaliers pay for their only turnover and finally allowed UNC to open up some distance between it and its opponent. The Tar Heels then answered a Virginia touchdown with a 46-yard strike from Trubisky to Austin Proehl to finish off their seventh straight win in “The South’s Oldest Rivalry” and third straight victory at Scott Stadium. “Anytime you can get some separation it’s a