CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It only took Elijah Hood one quarter against Georgia Tech to reach his season-high rushing total.
In the first quarter of Saturday’s 48-20 win over the Yellow Jackets, Hood amassed 114 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries. The junior finished the game with 168 total rushing yards and three touchdowns, while averaging 14 yards per carry.
It was a total so grand that even Hood couldn’t believe it.
“What? I didn’t know I had that many yards in the first quarter,” the junior tailback said after the game.
The rusher was intent on getting his team off to the races early.
“The team as a whole really wanted to start fast, especially at home,” Hood said. “We really haven’t done that this year, so I felt I wanted to take it upon myself to try my best.”
Hood made a statement on his first rush of the game, a 45-yard scamper outside left on UNC’s third play from scrimmage. Junior receiver Austin Proehl set up an effective block for Hood on the perimeter, only for him to then cut back in and break away from the Yellow Jackets’ defense. The run jumpstarted the Tar Heels’ offense, leading to Hood’s first touchdown of the day – a one-yard plunge run - to top off the drive and put UNC up early.
A few rushes later, Hood capped off his impressive quarter with a 36-yard touchdown run up the middle on 4th-and-1. A quick second of hesitation by junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky on the handoff allowed a hole to open for Hood left of center and the 220-pounder burst through into daylight.
“Before they lined up I knew where the hole was going to be and I was just trying to set it up and once I hit it I was like, ‘Oh yeah, there’s nobody right here,’” Hood said. “At that point I relied on my speed and made it to the end zone.”
The back from Charlotte seems to be heating up at just the right time for Fedora’s offense. Hood had a fairly slow start to the season after a record-breaking 2015 campaign, as he only topped 100 yards once in his first five games (against James Madison). He was sidelined during UNC’s 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech due to a concussion, and has been battling other nagging injuries ever since.
Trubisky said that Hood’s early work propelled the offense through the rest of the game.
“It makes our offense go; that’s the Elijah we know,” Trubisky said. “He ran wild, that’s kind of what we expect of him.”
Hood seemed to be back to full health against Virginia two weeks ago, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Tar Heels’ blowout win. Even in that game, though, he wasn’t exploding for big plays – his longest rush only amounted to 15 yards.
Larry Fedora told reporters after the game Hood is as healthy now as he’s been all season.
“Somebody asked me this week how Hood is and I said he’s as close to 100 percent as he’s been all year,” Fedora said. “That means going all the way back to camp. He’s really feeling good now, he’s feeling like he’s 100 percent.”
Hood’s good health was visible as he broke big runs down field that immediately drained the Yellow Jackets’ confidence.
If his one big quarter against Georgia Tech means anything, it looks like Hood is back to his prime form.
An alternate reason to his resurgence? The 20-year old got engaged a couple weeks ago.
“When I see her smile, it makes me happy and I’m more motivated to try harder,” Hood said.
Things seem to be looking up for UNC’s star back.