RALEIGH, N.C. – For the past 327 days, North Carolina has focused on accomplishing its 2015 team goals: the ACC Coastal Division crown and the state title.
With Saturday’s 45-34 win over N.C. State, both goals have been met. When the Tar Heels reconvene on Sunday morning at the Kenan Football Center, the conversation will shift into a new direction, one intent on establishing a third, more illustrious, goal.
“We’ve got to reset our goals,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters after the win. “We’ll figure out what those seniors want to do and what they want to do with this team, and we’ll set a plan after that.”
The Tar Heels secured their first state championship – wins over N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest - since 2004 with an explosive offensive start. UNC churned out 308 total yards of offense, including 214 on the ground, in building a 35-7 first-quarter lead. N.C. State won last season’s matchup by the same 35-7 margin.
The 35 points tied a school record for points in a quarter as UNC cut up N.C. State’s defense for eight plays of 10 yards or more, scoring touchdowns on all five of its possessions.
UNC’s game plan was to dominate the line of scrimmage and give its running backs opportunities to reach the second level, and that’s precisely what happened for much of the game. In the decisive first quarter, Elijah Hood ran for 89 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, T.J. Logan ran twice for 82 yards and two touchdowns, and Marquise Williams logged 43 yards on five carries.
The Tar Heels finished with 553 total yards of offense, including 374 on the ground, the most by a UNC offense in over a decade, and averaged 9.1 yards per carry. Hood finished with 220 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Logan netted 100 yards and two scores.
“I think it puts a lot of stress on defenses, especially the way T.J. runs with his slashing, quick style,” Hood said. “He’s got a great burst and had those explosive plays into the end zone, and then you come out with me, and I’m a bruiser, kind of. I like to pound the rock, so it puts a lot of stress on defenders, especially when we’re both back there.”
Hood’s 1,280 rushing yards this season rank as the third-best single-season mark in school history, trailing only Don McCauley (1,720; ‘70) and Mike Voight (1,407; ‘76).
The Wolfpack, much like the Demon Deacons and Blue Devils before them, entered the game with a top-20 nationally-ranked defense that ultimately was no match for the Tar Heels’ offensive machine. UNC had more rushing yards by halftime (292) than the Wolfpack had allowed all season.
The 28-point cushion after 15 minutes of play provided a buffer for the rest of the game, as N.C. State managed to close its deficit to 12 points late in the third quarter and then to 11 with 1:50 to play. Marquise Williams was not particularly sharp (19-of-30, 174 passing yards, TD, INT, fumble) and UNC’s defense gave up its second-most rushing yards (308) and total yards (514) of the season.
The benefit of a blitzkrieg is the ability to win without playing at a high level for 60 minutes. That separation between UNC and its opponents is the basis for this 11-game winning streak, the longest in school history.
Only three previous UNC teams have won 11 games in a season (’72, ’80 & ‘97), and none has ever won 12 games. The Tar Heels will have at least two more opportunities to set that school record before 2015 reaches its conclusion, which brings us back to Sunday morning’s topic of discussion: establishing a new goal.
“I’ve got a good idea – win the ACC Championship,” senior wide receiver Quinshad Davis said. “We’ve already done everything we needed to do this season, as far as accomplishing our goals. Setting that one will be a good feeling.”
UNC has not won the ACC Championship since 1980. And while Tar Heels remain in the mix for the College Football Playoff, finishing in the top-four of the final ranking is not likely to become a goal for the Tar Heels.
“We want to have goals that are in our hands,” linebacker Shakeel Rashad said. “We don’t want to say this, ‘We want to do this,’ and have it be in their hands.”
A win next Saturday over No. 1 Clemson would force the playoff committee’s hand in giving the Tar Heels serious consideration.