UNC ROUTS MTSU
The offense was back to throwing the ball up and down the field, with eight receivers catching passes of at least 15 yards. The defense was back to making game-changing plays, forcing four turnovers and only allowing one touchdown until the final minute.
Nine days after getting outplayed by No. 6 South Carolina in the season opener, North Carolina showed the promise that was hinted at last season, scoring 23 first half points en route to a 40-20 win over Middle Tennessee Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
It was by no means a perfect performance. Before the game even started, there was a miscommunication during the coin flip, leading to the Tar Heels kicking off to start both halves. Freshman Ryan Switzer had his fumble returned for a touchdown, and Bryn Renner threw an interception for the first time in 140 attempts.
But heading into an early bye week — to be followed by the Tar Heels’ ACC opener on Sept. 21 at Georgia Tech — the team got the bad taste from South Carolina out of its mouth.
“I thought there were a lot of times today that we were playing the type of ball that we want to play, and then there were times that we didn’t,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “We’ve got a lot to correct…. But there were some really bright spots out there today.”
After getting gouged by big plays and failing to force a turnover against the Gamecocks, UNC had four sacks (two by Norkeithus Otis) and interceptions by Tre Boston, Tim Scott and Darien Rankin as the Blue Raiders (1-1) went scoreless in the first half.
“It was one of those things we knew we could do, we just had to go out there and do it,” Boston said. “We’re capable of doing it every week. We just have to show everybody that we’re capable of doing it.”
Meanwhile, after failing to reach 400 yards for the first time under Fedora last week, the offense gained 511 yards and put up 40 points for the seventh time in 14 games under the second-year head coach, who was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee from 1999-2001.
The Blue Raiders, who were 3-3 against ACC opponents since 2008, almost scored on the first drive of the game. But Kyle Griswold — who reached for the pylon as he was falling out of bounds — had his apparent touchdown overruled on replay, and on third-and-goal Boston made a leaping, one-handed interception in the end zone.
UNC, wearing all-blue uniforms for the first time since 2003, needed just five plays to go 80 yards for a touchdown on its first possessions. Romar Morris capped the drive with a 26-yard scoring run, giving the Tar Heels their first lead of the season.
The two-point conversion attempt failed, but Bryn Renner (23-of-34, 339 yards) threw a 59-yard pass to Mark McNeill on the next possession to start another touchdown drive, putting UNC up 13-0.
The senior quarterback also had a 43-yard pass to Sean Tapley and a 30-yard pass to Jack Tabb in the first half as the Tar Heels went away from the quick-throw offense it used against South Carolina’s powerful defensive front.
“(We) pushed the ball down the field a little bit more (and) made some explosive plays,” Fedora said. “I thought we were much better in that area of the game today.”
After giving up 78 yards on the opening drive, UNC’s defense allowed just 21 the rest of the first half, as Middle Tennessee failed to move the ball in five possessions.
“They had the initial drive, and then after that we came out with a lot of energy,” senior defensive end Kareem Martin said. “Every time we stepped on the field we knew they weren’t better than us, and that we were going to get them off the field, and it showed.”
With an added possession to start the second half, Middle Tennessee got on the scoreboard with a 22-yard run by Jordan Parker. The Blue Raiders outgained UNC 143-46 in the third quarter, and got within 26-13 when Jared Singletary recovered the Switzer fumble at the 25 and ran it in with 12:54 remaining.
But UNC struck back quickly, going 75 yards in five plays and scoring on a 18-yard touchdown from Renner to Quinshad Davis to put the game out of reach.
NOTES — UNC freshman running back Khris Francis, a Hillside High School graduate, made his collegiate debut in the second quarter. He finished with 10 carries for 42 yards. … Junior tight end Jack Tabb had a career-high 30-yard reception in the second quarter, and then made a tackle at linebacker on Middle Tennessee’s next drive. The two-way player finished with two catches and three tackles.
|NORTH CAROLINA 40, MIDDLE TENNESSEE 20|
NC—Morris 26 run (pass failed), 6:55.
NC—Renner 1 run (T.Moore kick), :15.
NC—Morris 1 run (T.Moore kick), 4:31.
NC—FG T.Moore 39, :00.
MTSU—Parker 22 run (Clark kick), 10:36.
NC—FG T.Moore 35, 3:06.
MTSU—Singletary 25 fumble return (run failed), 12:54.
NC—Q.Davis 18 pass from Renner (T.Moore kick), 11:16.
NC—Howard 15 pass from Williams (T.Moore kick), 2:24.
MTSU—Perkins 12 pass from Grammer (Clark kick), :25.
|Time of Possession||32:47||27:13|
RUSHING—Middle Tennessee, Parker 22-109, Pratcher 7-37,
Whatley 5-25, Clarke 1-7, Grammer 2-3, Team 1-(minus 6),
Kilgore 4-(minus 17). North Carolina, Morris 10-46, Blue 10-44,
Francis 10-42, Williams 2-10, Renner 8-0, Switzer 1-(minus 8).
PASSING—Middle Tennessee, Kilgore 21-35-3-211, Grammer 3-6-0-32.
North Carolina, Renner 23-34-1-339, Blue 1-1-0-23, Williams 1-1-0-15.
RECEIVING—Middle Tennessee, Jefferson 7-101, Griswould 7-65,
Pettis 2-28, Frazier 2-20, Corbaley 2-5, Perkins 1-12, M.Henry 1-9,
Collis 1-5, Parker 1-(minus 2). North Carolina, Tapley 4-93, Ebron 4-60,
Switzer 3-14, M.McNeill 2-75, Tabb 2-39, Q.Davis 2-18, Blue 2-7,
Morris 2-5, Williams 1-23, Singleton 1-20, Howard 1-15, Thorpe 1-8.
POST-GAME QUOTES (Courtesy UNC Sports Information)
Coach Larry Fedora
“Good to get a win, especially here in the Tar Pit in front of our fans. Our players deserved to have some fun today. We work extremely hard. We talk about it, we’re going to outwork people and you get to have the opportunity to have fun on Saturdays, and that’s what you’ve got to do. No matter what happens, we’ve got to play the game one way. I thought there were a lot of times today that we were playing the type of ball that we want to play, and then there were times we didn’t. We’ve got a lot to correct. We’ve got a lot of room for improvement in all three phases. All three phases. But there were some really bright spots out there today.”
On the passing game
“No doubt about it. That’s who we are. You push the ball down the field a little bit more, make some plays, make some explosive plays. I thought we were much better in that area of the game today. I know it hard to be hard on Blake [Anderson] with the plays calls because you just never felt like you got into any type of rhythm on offense, and a lot of that is because we didn’t run the ball effectively today.”
On MTSU’s first drive
“The main thing is we just settled down after the first drive. It was huge getting that turnover down there in the end zone on the first drive. They go 78 yards, they march it all the way down the field, get it down on to the one or two and don’t get it in, and we get the ball back. So that’s huge. I thought our defense, especially in the first half, really, really played really well.”
On defense Saturday
“I think our guys did a nice job of hitting. I thought they did a nice job of wrapping up. We did a much better job of tackling today. I think the emphasis of the coaches in practice, the kids bought into it. They created some takeaways, and some of those were in the air, and that was a great thing.”
On the bye week before Georgia Tech game
“I hope so. I hope it helps. We had it last year, and we weren’t successful with it. But we’re going to try to make the most of it, and we’re going to try to get as many reps as we possibly can and get ready for our first conference opener.”
UNC Player Quotes
Bryn Renner • QB, Senior
On if the playbook was more open today
“We had the same stuff in for the game this week, but I think we executed a lot better. Converting on third down, I think we did a great job. Obviously in the score zone we did a fairly good job, so I think we just executed a little more today. But nothing different in the package.”
On if winning today helped the team move on from the South Carolina game “Oh, definitely. It’s a lot better to win. It was good to come back home and have our home crowd here and get the victory. It helped us get the bad taste out of our mouths.”
A.J. Blue • TB, Senior
On the running game
“We just tried to set the edge. Romar [Morris] is a really fast guy, so we set the edge and he got that 26-yard run which was great. They put me in to just wear the defense down. That’s what I do. I take pride in doing it. Then we put Romar and Khris [Francis] back in there to slash them. So we just took pride in doing that.”
Kareem Martin • DE, Senior
On what the defense focused on in practice this week “Going into this game, one of the big things was tempo. We knew that they were an up-tempo team and could potentially hurt us, so just working with the coaches to get the assignments and get everyone lined up. The coaches put us in tough situations at practice and that really helped, because when we got to the game today it was a lot easier than what we were doing in practice.”
On the defense’s performance
“There were definitely some good points in the game, but we definitely have a lot of stuff we still need to work on. The first drive, they came out and drove the ball down the field. That’s something we can’t have. We have to set the tone early, and that wasn’t the right way to set it. We got the energy back when we stopped them, but we definitely have to come out harder than what we did.”
Darius Lipford • LB, Junior
On the focus going into the game
“Definitely stopping the run. The coaches emphasized it the whole game. We knew that. We knew that they were going to throw the ball, but we all knew that they were going to continue to run the ball, to pound the ball…I felt like we did a pretty good job. We can always get better, [there were] little mistakes here and there, But overall I felt like it was a pretty good game.
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill
I told my team I was extremely proud of how they competed and how hard they played. I think that we were our own worst enemy today and [had] some self-inflicted wounds that we weren’t able to overcome. We dropped two touchdown passes. We don’t end up getting points on those two drives. The first drive of the game it looks like he is in there for a touchdown and they overturn it. We don’t get any points, we throw an interception on that one.
Defensively I thought we played really good in the second half. First half we had a hard time getting off the field on third down. But as far as their competitiveness and the way they competed and how hard they played, I was really proud of the way they played. I told them that we have a good chance to be a good football team if we correct our mistakes and keep the same attitude and keep working.
On how the game would have changed if the touchdown in the first quarter wasn’t overruled
You never know. That’s one play that’s early in the first half. There’s still a lot of football to be played after that, but I think that the emotion of having a touchdown and then it taken away and you don’t end up ultimately getting any points at all, I think it probably affected us a little bit maybe. We weren’t very effective the next two possessions and two drives after that. He looked like he was in from my perspective. There’s still a lot of football to be played after that.
On his opinion of Bryn Renner
I thought he was accurate, I thought he made some good throws. I thought he showed some toughness back there in the pocket. I thought he showed good poise and composure. I know he forced one and had the one interception there. He appears to be a good leader. I don’t know that, but he appears to be a good leader on the field. I think he’s really talented.