Running Over the Devils

DURHAM, N.C. –North Carolina’s ground attack was able to take advantage of a sub-par Duke run defense early and often on Thursday, as the Tar Heels ran all over their archrival en route to a 45-20 victory.

Last week, UNC gashed Pitt for 226 yards on the ground and five rushing touchdowns. Those type of numbers were even more surprising considering that the Tar Heels were without the services of Elijah Hood (knee), Romar Morris (suspended), and eventually Khris Francis (who left the game with a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus).

The question against Duke was if UNC repeat its rushing performance from five days earlier. The answer was a resounding yes.

Coming into Thursday night’s contest, the Blue Devils (197.6 yards per game) were the lone defense in the ACC that had surrendered more yards against the run than UNC.

The Tar Heels capitalized, running for a season-high 315 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries.

Led by a multifaceted ground attack, the UNC backfield was a key factor in setting the tone on the road in a big rivalry game. Slow starts had become the norm for UNC’s offense, but against Duke, everything seemed to click from the start.

In the first quarter alone, T.J. Logan (116 yards, TD) racked up 65 yards on seven carries. The highlight for Logan came towards the end of the first period when he broke through into the second level (thanks to a terrific block from wide receiver Bug Howard), shook the safety out of position, and burst down the sidelines for a 47-yard gain down to Duke’s 1-yard line.

”Anytime you get some space as a running back it’s good,” Logan said after the game. “… But, we put it on ourselves as a running back group to come on and start off strong”

As a team, UNC recorded 203 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries before halftime. Logan led the way with 92 yards, but he wasn’t the only one picking up big gains on the ground. Quarterback Marquise Williams and reinstated running back Romar Morris also combined to contribute an additional 127 yards and a score.

“That’s what you want to do,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “We haven’t had that type of success, but tonight we were having that kind of success… the backs were running hard.”

As successful as the Tar Heels were running the football, the offense actually left points off of the board early in the game. Marquise Williams had three uncharacteristic fumbles deep in Duke territory, all of which were recovered by the Blue Devils.

This season, the Tar Heel’s offense has needed Williams to be its leading rusher for the team to have a chance to win. On this night, however, the UNC’s running back corps did a great job of picking up the slack.

“The fumbles came from me,” Williams said, “but the run game was just there. They took control and they let the defensive lineman know, ‘hey, we’re here all night and we’re going to do some big things.’”

Even though UNC held a commanding 28-7 lead at halftime, the Blue Devils were still alive as they received the ball to open the second half.

Following a M.J. Stewart interception, the UNC offense responded by marching down the field to the Blue Devils’ goal line. After an incomplete pass on third down, the offensive coaching staff went back to Logan.

On fourth and goal 4th-and-goal, Logan cut left and spun right off a defender, and delivered a knockout score that gave the Tar Heels a comfortable 35-7 lead.

“We had been at the goal line forever and we couldn’t get in,” Logan said. “The O-line did a great job. Coach [Chris Kapilovic] told us to keep playing hard and finally we just busted one in there.”

Thursday’s performance served as a redemption of sorts for UNC’s offensive line and for Logan, and highlighted the importance of a strong start.

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