Dominated in the Trenches

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- N.C. State’s Andy Jomantas pulled from his right guard position and ran around the left end looking for someone in a blue jersey to block. No one was home. Such was the state of North Carolina’s presence up front on Saturday.

Jacoby Brissett rushed for 60 yards on the play, going untouched until UNC safety Tim Scott caught him from behind.

It was one bad play of many for the Tar Heels, who were crushed on the offensive and defensive lines in a 35-7 loss to the Wolfpack at Kenan Stadium.

“Stunning is a good word,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “It was very disappointing. Very disappointing. I was very surprised, actually. But it’s what it was. No matter how you look at it, they dominated the line of scrimmage. … It’s hard to win a game when you don’t win up front.”

N.C. State (7-5, 3-5 ACC) rushed for a season-high 388 yards, tied for the fourth most in school history, and possessed the ball for nearly 39 minutes. On the other side, the Tar Heels (6-6, 4-4) rushed for just 30 yards and allowed four sacks in their lowest scoring game in three seasons under Fedora.

The ineptitude resulted in an abbreviated day for quarterback Marquise Williams, who was injured on a sack by T.Y. McGill in the third quarter and did not return to the game.

“That was definitely one of our worst games as an offensive line,” UNC right guard Landon Turner said. “It wasn’t a lack of ability. It was more of a mental gap. We got in our own heads today.”

Fedora was more succinct after his team finished with a season-low 207 total yards, 71 of which came on UNC’s meaningless final drive that produced the team’s lone touchdown.

“Offensively, that was probably as bad as I’ve ever been around, actually,” he said.

The Tar Heels lost starting center Lucas Crowley to an apparent leg injury on their second possession, and they never got anything going. The Wolfpack, meanwhile, dominated on the ground from the opening drive.

Brissett rushed for 167 yards, a school record for a quarterback, and a touchdown on 14 carries. He also finished with more touchdown passes (three) than incomplete passes (two). Tailback Shadrach Thornton chipped in 161 rushing yards and a score.

“They were running the ball at will,” Fedora said. “They had 11 passes on the game and probably didn’t have to throw those. It wasn’t there today.”

Brissett gained 45 yards on three carries on the first possession of the game. He did damage that was both impromptu and by design, ripping off a pair of nifty scrambles before capping the series with a 17-yard touchdown on a quarterback draw.

N.C. State produced two 100-yard rushers in the first half alone, getting 115 yards on nine carries by Brissett and 106 yards on 13 carries by Thornton.

Center Quinton Schooley left the game with an injury on N.C. State’s fourth possession, but the Wolfpack continued their success behind a revamped offensive line. Right guard Tony Adams slid over to center, and Jomantas took over at right guard.

N.C. State, which had an open date last week that allowed its coaching staff to implement some strategic changes, schemed its way to success on a few occasions.

Ahead 7-0 early in the second quarter, the Wolfpack approached the line of scrimmage on second and 5 from their own 25-yard line.

Brissett was under center in an unbalanced formation that featured six blockers on the left side of the line and just two on the right. Thornton was lined up behind Brissett. The Tar Heels were outnumbered and helpless as Brissett tossed the ball to Thornton, who went untouched through the left side of the line and jetted down the left sideline for a gain of 58 yards.

“We had never seen that,” UNC defensive tackle Ethan Farmer said.

The Wolfpack later scored on a 2-yard pass from Brissett to David Grinnage. N.C. State used the same unbalanced formation on Thornton’s 4-yard touchdown run on its next possession, a play that gave the Wolfpack a 21-0 lead heading into halftime.

“They had two weeks to prepare for us,” UNC defensive end Dajaun Drennon said. “The things that we studied, they ran some of it. But they just threw a whole bunch of new stuff at us, and we just weren’t ready for it.

“We made some changes during the game, and I feel like we started to execute a lot of that stuff better. But from the jump when it happened, I don’t feel like we were prepared enough for it.”

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