Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins

First Report: UNC Defense Stifles Illinois

The Tar Heels held Illinois to 309 total yards of offense in their first win of 2016.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. – North Carolina’s defense locked down Illinois after giving up an early explosive play to help secure a critical 48-23 road win at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.

The Illini (1-1) needed just three plays to break off a 65-yard rushing touchdown and raise doubts regarding UNC’s beleaguered run defense. The Tar Heels (1-1) spent the rest of the night dismissing those concerns, holding their opponent to seven points and 96 yards (2.5 ypp) over the next 11 drives, including five 3-and-outs.

UNC held Illinois to 309 total yards of offense and 4.4 yards per play, which is the lowest by a Power 5 opponent since Wake Forest averaged 4.3 yards per play on Oct. 17, 2015.

Middle linebacker Andre Smith led UNC with 14 tackles (8 solo), a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

Trubisky Bounces Back

Mitch Trubisky looked the part of a traditional pocket passer in UNC’s season-opening loss to Georgia. That was not the case at Memorial Stadium as the junior quarterback excelled in the read option game and made several plays by scrambling when his pocket collapsed.

Trubisky completed 19-of-24 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 199.4. The Mentor, Ohio native also ran nine times for 42 yards and two touchdowns.

Momentum Shift

With Illinois leading 14-10 in the final minute of the first quarter, Illini quarterback Wes Lunt inexplicably lost control of the football in the pocket and fumbled it away inside his own 20. Defensive end Mikey Bart recovered, and UNC scored two plays later on Trubisky’s six-yard run off the read option to take its first lead at 17-14 and dampen an energetic Memorial Stadium crowd.

Logan Continues Strong Play

T.J. Logan was UNC’s best player in Week 1, and he was worthy of consideration yet again on Saturday. The senior running back rushed for 54 yards on nine carries and caught two passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. He also returned two kickoffs for 73 yards, including a long of 58 yards.

Logan’s 161 all-purpose yards push his season total to a team-high 414 all-purpose yards.

Questionable Decision

When Elijah Hood was tackled two yards shy of the end zone with two seconds remaining before halftime, the conventional wisdom for UNC was to kick the field goal and take a 27-16 lead into the locker room. Instead, Larry Fedora elected to play for the touchdown, which failed when Trubisky’s pass to Mack Hollins was broken up by Darius Mosely. The defensive play rejuvenated the sellout crowd of 60,670 as the Illini entered the second half in a one-possession game.

Stat of Note

UNC has won six straight road games against Power 5 conference opponents.

What’s Next:

UNC hosts FCS opponent James Madison in its home opener next Saturday. The Tar Heels were 7-0 at home in 2015, marking their first undefeated home season since 1996.

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