Coach John Bunting wasn't exactly at a loss for words after North Carolina's stunning 38-3 victory over Clemson at Death Valley, but his answers had a surreal quality about them. Sort of like the photo above.
The last time a Carolina head coach stood in front of the media to talk about a win over Clemson at home, it was 1997. The head coach of the Tar Heels was Mack Brown, who had been on the job for ten years. That day, Coach Brown talked about a 17-10 victory in which an interception in the final minutes allowed the Tar Heels to hang onto the win.
In contrast, head coach John Bunting was explaining a 38-3 pasting of the Tigers in which the unranked Tar Heels dismantled a Clemson team ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll.
"I didn't expect, anticipate, this complete of a football game played by us," said Coach Bunting.
He wasn't alone. The Vegas bookies had the Tar Heels a 7.5 underdog to the Tigers. On the weekly ACCtoday.com poll, every single forecaster had the Tigers emerging victorious. College football "experts" bold enough to predict an upset were as rare as, well, as rare as UNC victories in Death Valley.
Prior to the 1997 win, the previous win by the Tar Heels on the Tiger's home field came in 1980, also the last time Carolina won an ACC title. Two wins in two decades.
As rare as wins are in Death Valley, it was the way that the Tar Heels won that causes the mind to boggle. Clemson was on a roll, fueled by their Heisman Trophy candidate, Woodrow Dantzler, the Tigers had won two road games in a row in the ACC, and their offense appeared unstoppable.
The Tar Heels stopped them. Clemson had just 209 yards of total offense on this day, down from their league-leading average of 454 yards per game.
"A lot of the credit goes to the staff," said Bunting, " But obviously also to the defensive players who have not been playing as well the last two weeks and took it upon themselves to step up in probably the biggest game of the year and play their best game."
The Tar Heels took a slightly different approach in defending Dantzler. Instead of attempting to get constant penetration from their defensive front, they played with an eye on Dantzler at all times.
"Our defensive front especially did a great job of both attacking blockers on an edge with vision of the quarterback to try to keep him from cutting us up the middle in particular," said Bunting.
Whatever the Tar Heels did, it worked.
The defense, as well as it played, got an equal effort from the offense. Ronald Curry and Darian Durant, the by-now famous "two-headed monster" manning the quarterback position, came away with 14 completions on 18 attempts for 206 yards, each throwing a touchdown pass. Curry had 82 yards rushing on eight carries, and Durant scored two touchdowns on runs of one and five yards.
Curry went out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, but has played his best football of the year the past two games. "I thought he was having his best game last week when he went out, and I think he was pretty doggone close to having his best game this week when he went out," said Bunting.
Durant was nothing short of remarkable. He was a perfect 11-11 on the day for 97 yards, passing for one touchdown and running for two more. "He's a gamer, and he has great presence, very similar to number one, Dantzler, on the other side," said Bunting; "He made a lot of plays for us."
As well as the quarterbacks played, they had some help from another solid performance by the offensive line, and an improving running game. Clemson was credited with one sack, and Andre Williams rushed for 91 yards on 23 carries. The Tar Heels would finish with 219 yards rushing, the second game in a row they have exceeded 200 yards rushing. Coach Bunting, who has been trumpeting Williams' skills since spring, said, "Andre Williams steps up again, he is a powerful guy, he really is."
"What is happened here is the wide receivers have stepped up and made plays, and our offensive line has continued to grow, said Bunting, "Greg Woofter (starting right tackle)doesn't even start today, and we had some people step up to help out and make this a real team victory."
No interceptions, no fumbles, over 400 yards of total offense, allowing only 209 yards on defense, a 35-point win on the road against a ranked opponent – that is about as "real team victory" a game as a team can have.
The Tar Heels also had to face something new at halftime; holding a big lead.
Bunting was pleased with how his team responded: "These kids at halftime, I talked to them, 'We have never been in this position, being up like this. We will see how we can handle it. I know how I handle, I have been there before. And we going to go out and show them we know how to handle it also.' They went out and played like they were behind. And played aggressively, we didn't get conservative, we stuck with the plan, and they were able to execute it."
The Tar Heels now have ten days before a match-up in Atlanta against the 21st ranked (ESPN/Coaches poll) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who vanquished NC State on Saturday, 27-17.
Can this team improve even more? "Hard for me to answer that question," said Bunting, "We are a young team, so the young players are they play games should get better, I am talking about up front in particular."
- Ronald Curry sustained a hamstring injury, but the extent of the injury is not known at this time.
- Will Chapman went out with a knee injury and will have to be examined to determine his status for the rest of the season.
- The ESPN/Coaches poll did not include the 5-3 Tar Heels, despite wins by the Tar Heels over currently ranked #18 Florida State and #25 Clemson. The Tar Heels three losses have been to #2 Oklahoma, #7 Texas, and #12 Maryland, who are 20-1 combined on the year.