CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s been 630 days since Ryan Switzer capped his All-American freshman campaign with his fifth punt return for touchdown in North Carolina’s Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati. The Charleston, West Va. native managed 187 punt return yards during his next 15 games and 40 returns without a touchdown.
That drought is over.
Switzer set a UNC single-game record with 168 punt return yards in UNC’s 48-14 win over Illinois on Saturday, topping Bud Carson’s 64-year-old record (166 yards vs. N.C. State, 1951).
The junior WR/PR returned his first punt of the day 71 yards before being run out of bounds inside the red zone. No one could catch him on his fourth return as he scored from 85 yards out, marking the fifth-longest punt return in school history.
“He had some opportunities to return balls,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said during his postgame press conference. “There was not a lot of hang-time on those balls, and those other 10 guys were doing a great job up front, and so he had some opportunities today.”
His sixth punt return ties for the most in ACC history with Maryland’s Steve Suter (’01-04). Switzer trails Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins, both of whom returned eight punt returns for touchdowns, on the NCAA’s career list.
“When you don’t get into the end zone for a whole year, you don’t start to doubt yourself, but you start to lose focus of it,” said Switzer, who said he received a hug from Fedora after the game. “I’m very glad we got back on track today.”
Switzer said that while he only had three returnable kicks in the first two games of the season, it was evident that Illinois punter Ryan Frain kicked a longer ball, so more opportunities would be available on Saturday.
Fedora kept his strategy simple, installing just two returns and one block into the game plan.
“Any time someone doesn’t rugby the ball or take forever to kick it, you’ve got a chance to return it because it’s in the air and guys are slow to get down the field,” Switzer said. “After that first return I could feel it was going to be a big day for us, and finally, we broke one."