And the case was being made was that UNC might suddenly - and rather unexpectedly - be the best team in the ACC after a convincing 38-3 victory over Clemson before a homecoming crowd of 84,000 at Memorial Stadium.
Whereas recent wins were led by either the offense or the defense, both groups chipped in equally on a day where UNC became the first school in ACC history to win five straight after dropping its first three games.
"This is one of the most complete games I have ever been associated with," said UNC coach John Bunting, a longtime assistant in the NFL and defensive coordinator of the 1999 World Champion St. Louis Rams.
The UNC defense, known for its stinginess, was exactly just that. After a pair of Dantzler runs totaling 24 yards on Clemson's first possession, Carolina stiffened and held the multidimensional quarterback to just 19 more yards on the ground. The Heels constantly applied pressure, forcing Dantzler to roll and hurry passes into a well-covered secondary.
In all, Carolina held the Tigers to just 209 total yards, 86 of which came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially over.
"(Defensive coordinator) John Tenuta is an aggressive coach, that's why I hired him," Bunting said. "He is willing to take some chances and a lot of people would not enter a game with that many different personnel groupings on the field because it can be confusing at times. But he did a great job of getting that structure a great job of managing that and getting our players to communicate that but we played probably six or seven different personnel groupings today and that is amazing in one football game."
However, the remarkable job done on Dantzler, who had blitzed his previous two opponents – Georgia Tech and N.C. State – for a combined 935 yards, is what set the tone for the rout.
In all, Dantzler completed just 10 of 25 passes for a measly 73 yards and totaled just 116 on the day, 401 less than he had in Raleigh seven days earlier.
"Defensively we hadn't been playing well the last two weeks against Virginia and ECU," Peppers said. "We wanted to come out here and be dominant again.
"He's (Dantzler) really good and can do a lot of things but we knew that if we did what the coaches prepared us to do and stayed sharp we could stop him."
"We'd seen him make incredible plays against N.C. State and Georgia Tech," said defensive tackle Ryan Sims. "That's what we practiced for all week. We didn't think he could do that to us if we all did our jobs and we did."
Overall, the Tigers were just 14-46 passing for 144 yards and a pair of interceptions.
The first pick by the Heels came two possessions after the Tigers cut UNC's lead to 7-3 and the rabid orange-clad crowd still heavily into the game.
Dantzler threw a short toss wide left but Peppers, a basketball player in his spare time, reached and tipped the ball and then dove to snare the ball just before it hit the ground, similar to a tip drill in basketball.
"Yeah, that was a lucky tip that came down to me," Peppers said laughing. "I just happened to be in the right place sometimes and was today."
Three plays later Durant found Bosley Allen alone in the corner of the end zone to extend UNC's lead to 14-3 and the home fans began to grumble.
On the ensuing possession the Tigers moved from their own 20 to Carolina's 48 on the aid of a pair of UNC penalties that cost the Heels 20 yards. However, the defense held and the offense took over at its own 20 and began a drive that displayed Curry's wonderful skills.
Curry ran 11 yards on a keeper on first down.
Jacque Lewis went up the middle for five.
Curry scooted up the middle for five more. First and ten at their own 41.
Lewis on a slant run up the middle again, this time for six yards.
After an incomplete pass, Curry turned upfield and bolted 10 yards for a first down. First down UNC at its own 47.
After a penalty Curry connected with Allen for a gorgeous 48-yard scoring strike and the Heels were well on their way to the thrashing.
"I felt like I was in a good groove before I went down," Curry said. "I don't know how the day would have turned out but I think I had a good day and we had a good day overall."
UNC led 21-3 at the intermission.
The second half was more of the same as the Heels dominated on both ends and simply took over control of the game, sending many Clemson fans home before the end of the third quarter. In fact, Carolina turned a three-minute time of possessions deficit into a final six-minute advantage, aided by third-quarter scoring drives taking 4:01 and 4:10 respectively.
"There's a lot of emphasis in different periods of practice on the OL they seem to be grasping the protection better and everybody is on the same page," said Durant. "And that's the biggest thing is that everybody is on the same page."
Curry, who started but left in the third quarter with a hamstring injury, was as sharp as he was last week before leaving with an injury. He completed just 3-7 passes (had a nice throw away and one dropped) for 109 yards and a score and ran the ball eight time for 82 yards. He showed tremendous leadership and actually was operating his fifth consecutive series when he got hurt.
Durant filled in quite well completing all 11 of his passes for 97 yards and a score as well.
However, Peppers, who also had a sack and was in on a few other tackles but more important was brilliant staying in his lanes preventing Dantzler from turning upfield, may have put in a claim for the Heisman with his play. Incredibly, he has four interceptions – and two touchdowns - in his last nine games dating back to the Duke game last November and is also nearing the school's all-time sack record.
"Pep's just a monster man," linebacker David Thornton said. "He can do so much. His presence makes it so much easier for us to (blitz and chase laterally) and then for him to be able to pick those balls, man, he is something."
Carolina opened the scoring in the first quarter on an impressive six-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a Curry 19-yard run and a 36-yard reception by Sam Aiken. Andre Williams scored on a five-yard run to give UNC a 7-0 lead.
The Tar Heels improved to 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the ACC. The Tigers fell to 4-2 and 2-2.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.