CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Wake Forest was thought to represent North Carolina’s first significant defensive test on Saturday. Instead, the Tar Heels overcame a slow start to gash the Demon Deacons for 9.1 yards per play in a 50-14 statement victory.
Wake Forest arrived at Kenan Stadium with the 15th-best defense in the country, statistically, allowing 296 yards per game. Head coach Dave Clawson’s squad had given up just 17.0 points per game.
The Tar Heels managed 42 yards on its first three possessions, two of which ended with a Marquise Williams interception and the third yielding a three-and-out. Those scoreless drives, however, were due more to UNC miscues than Wake Forest stops.
“The offense knew that they couldn’t stop us,” Williams told reporters after the game. “We were stopping ourselves.”
Once the Tar Heels eliminated the mistakes, the dismantling of the ACC’s sixth-best defense began. UNC scored touchdowns on seven of its next nine possessions, averaging 11.5 yards per play during that stretch.
Head coach Larry Fedora’s offense totaled 354 yards and five touchdowns on first down alone, averaging 11.8 yards per play.
Of UNC’s 59 plays, 20 plays went for 10 yards or longer. Those 20 plays accounted for 413 of the Tar Heels’ 538 total yards. Included in that group were seven plays of 29 yards or longer, highlighted by a 61-yard reception by Austin Proehl and a 57-yard touchdown catch by Mack Hollins.
“We made some explosive plays,” Fedora said in his postgame press conference. “We had quite a few explosive plays tonight. You have, what, 59 plays and you have 50 points? And we didn’t have the ball very much.”
UNC possessed the ball for 23 minutes, needing less than two minutes on six different touchdown drives. The Tar Heels’ longest scoring drive last 2:37.
Wake Forest’s defensive success prior to Saturday’s blowout was rooted in a blitz-happy scheme. That approach failed time and time again against a balanced offense with length and speed on the perimeter.
“Whenever you blitz, you’ve got to take a chance,” running back Elijah Hood said. “That’s just the nature of what it is. Whenever you’re sending a guy in, you’re going to have one less guy in coverage. With our receivers, if you want to do that, that’s on you. We’ll take the shots and we’re going to try to make the most of what you’re giving us.”
Williams completed 14-of-20 passes for 282 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Hollins caught three passes – all touchdowns – for 103 yards, while Hood ran for 101 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. Saturday marked the 18th in school history (and sixth time in six seasons) that a player passed for 200 yards, a player rushed for 100 yards and a player had 100 receiving yards in a game.
The media attention on the Demon Deacons’ defense apparently served as a motivational tool for UNC’s coaching staff during practice this week.
“A lot of coaches said they were tired of hearing about Wake Forest’s defense, tired of hearing about Wake Forest when nobody ever talks about us,” Williams said. “We came out and we wanted to jump on them, and we got the chance to jump on them quick.”
UNC’s 36-point margin of victory is its largest against Wake Forest since a 45-6 win in 1996. It’s the largest win against an ACC opponent since beating Duke, 59-21, on Nov. 18, 2000.