CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The rivalry game billed as the one that finally mattered was over not long after it began.
Elijah Hood took the handoff on UNC’s opening play and quickly tossed it back to Marquise Williams for a flea flicker that accomplished its desired effect as Duke safety Deondre Singleton bit on the trick play. Ryan Switzer ran past Singleton and the rest of the Blue Devils defense as Williams found him for an 89-yard touchdown pass.
The game wasn’t over at that point, but it may as well have been.
“I heard one of the guys tell Switzer, ‘this is going to be a long day,’” Williams said after the game. “I started laughing when I heard the guy say that. I told Coach, ‘we’ve got to keep going.’”
UNC’s ensuing drives, while maybe not as dramatic nor emphatic, built on that commanding tone. There was a 49-yard pass play from Williams to T.J. Logan. A 36-yard reception by Brandon Fritts. A 74-yard touchdown pass by Mack Hollins. A 49-yard touchdown catch by Bug Howard.
Against a Duke defense that ranks top-10 nationally, the Tar Heels gained 486 yards at a 10.6 yards-per-play clip. In the first half.
UNC led 38-10 at halftime and 59-24 after three quarters. The Tar Heels set nine new school records, such as the most points scored in an ACC game, the most points scored against Duke and the most combined yards (1,237) in a game. UNC’s 704 total yards of offense is the third-most in school history and the most in an ACC game since rolling up 714 yards against Maryland in 1993.
Williams set a school record with 524 total yards of offense – needing just three quarters to break the previous mark – and passed for a school record 494 yards, moving past T.J. Yates’s previous mark of 439 yards. He also broke Darian Durant’s record for most touchdowns accounted for (83).
In a game in which both teams entered controlling their destiny in the ACC Coastal Division, UNC dominated Duke to such an extent that press box observers paused to ponder whether or not the Blue Devils were as good as advertised. The better question may be this: how good are these Tar Heels?
“You want to be playing your best ball in November,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “You hope your team is better the last game than you were the first game. Our team is continuing to grow. There are going to be some down ticks, but you’ve got to make sure you bounce back and this team has done that.”
During training camp in August, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik indicated that the Tar Heels were not practicing at a championship level, and that it was the coaches’ responsibility to accept nothing less. Following Saturday’s rout, several Tar Heels spoke about playing championship level ball in the first half and failing to maintain that standard after halftime.
While perfection may be unattainable, the trajectory is unmistakable. UNC has reeled off eight straight wins, tying the school record for a single-season winning streak (’72, ‘97).
“We get better every week with the way we attack the game,” cornerback Des Lawrence said. “Early in the season, we came out sluggish and picked it up in the second half. I think we’re changing that lately. We’re getting on people. Now we’ve just got to stay on them.”
Fedora’s fourth squad in Chapel Hill effectively holds a two-game lead in the Coastal Division, given its win over Pittsburgh (4-1 ACC). The Tar Heels can clinch their first trip to the ACC Championship Game with two wins in their final three games.
A UNC win over Miami next Saturday paired with a Pitt loss at Duke would wrap up the Coastal before road trips to Virginia Tech and N.C. State.