CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina needed a win to keep alive its hopes of playing in the ACC Championship again. N.C. State needed a win to become bowl eligible.
Motivation was plentiful on both sides, but physicality was not.
N.C. State imposed its will in a dominant first half en route to a 28-21 victory over the Tar Heels on senior day at Kenan Stadium.
The Wolfpack finished with 492 total yards, including 259 on the ground. Matt Dayes rushed for 104 yards and two touchdowns as N.C. State averaged 4.9 yards per carry and possessed the ball for more than 35 minutes.
The start of the game was similar to the one that occurred the last time the teams met in Kenan Stadium. On that occasion, the Wolfpack took a 21-0 lead in the first half and eventually led 35-0 before winning 35-7.
The Tar Heels also fell behind 21-0 in the first half of this meeting. The Wolfpack piled up 251 total yards on their first four drives, averaging 10.5 yards per play. The only possession in which N.C. State didn’t score during that span included a 56-yard pass that was negated by a holding penalty. Two other big pass plays to Stephen Louis, including a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jaylen Samuels on a trick play, were key.
It’s not that the Tar Heels couldn’t stop N.C. State early; it’s that they couldn’t come close. The Wolfpack ran 16 plays before it faced its first third down.
The story was the same late in the game.
The Tar Heels needed a stop in the final minutes to give their offense one more chance to tie the game, but they couldn’t get it. Jalan McClendon rushed for 14 yards on third and 5, allowing the Wolfpack to drain the clock.
Trubisky’s Late Charge Comes Up Short
Playing what might be his final home game at UNC, quarterback Mitch Trubisky put together a strong second half. He passed for 213 of his 280 yards after halftime, setting a school record for passing yards in a season, and finished with three touchdown passes.
Trubisky completed a 45-yard pass to Ryan Switzer on third and 26 to set up a 7-yard touchdown pass to Thomas Jackson that cut N.C. State’s lead to 28-14. On the next drive, he completed 3 of 3 passes for 62 yards, including a 48-yard scoring strike to Bug Howard.
Trubisky had one more chance on UNC’s final possession, but back-to-back passes on third and 20 and fourth and 20 were just out of the reach of his receivers.
Perhaps the game was best summarized by a sequence late in the third quarter.
Down 28-7, UNC had driven inside the N.C. State 10-yard line. With precious seconds ticking off the game clock and play clock, confusion reigned. The Tar Heels, who run plays quickly on a routine basis, were unable to get a play signaled in from the sideline. They took a timeout just before the play clock expired as boos rained from the stands at Kenan Stadium.
When UNC came out of the timeout, running back T.J. Logan was positioned at quarterback. He took the direct snap and promptly was tackled for a loss of a yard. On the next play, Trubisky was back at quarterback. But he moved away as if to make an adjustment with his offensive line, and the ball was snapped again to Logan. Logan handed off to Ryan Switzer on an end around, and Switzer threw incomplete to Trubisky. Possession over. No points.
Needing only fundamentals and physicality to pick up a crucial first down, UNC opted for trickery and finesse.
Mistakes plague offense early
The Tar Heels were fortunate to trail only 21-7 at halftime. Their only touchdown - a 4-yard pass from Trubisky to Switzer - came courtesy of a short field set up by a fumble by N.C. State’s Nyheim Hines. The Tar Heels totaled 156 yards on their 31 first-half snaps as they short-circuited their own efforts.
UNC’s first drive ended in a punt when Trubisky took a sack while the offense was in field-goal range. The second drive ended in a fumble when Trubisky and Elijah Hood mishandled the ball at the mesh point of a handoff on the first play of the series. Austin Proehl, Howard, and Hood each dropped a pass, and a holding penalty against guard Tommy Hatton negated a big third-down conversion.
Switzer Sets Record
Already UNC’s career leader in catches, Switzer continued his assault on the UNC record book by setting the program record for receptions in a season. He broke the record with an 11-yard catch late in the third quarter.
Switzer finished with 13 catches for 171 yards against the Wolfpack, giving him 91 receptions on the season. That total breaks the old record of 85 catches, set by Dwight Jones in 2011.
Wolfpack Go Wild(cat)
The Tar Heels have had major difficulty defending mobile quarterbacks in recent years, so it was no surprise that N.C. State gave McClendon a significant number of snaps. McClendon, a redshirt freshman, is a big, physical runner and is a change of pace to pocket-passing Ryan Finley. McClendon completed 2 of 5 passes for 23 yards and added seven rushes for 42 yards.
When McClendon and Finley weren’t taking snaps, tailback Dayes was. Dayes made one the biggest plays of the first half when he took a direct snap on fourth and 1 and rushed for an 18-yard touchdown. The play, in which Dayes broke tackles by linebacker Andre Smith and safety Donnie Miles, gave N.C. State a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.