The fast, physical back (with the peripheral vision reminiscent of NFL great Walter Payton) stated his case, and then some, with 208 rushing yards as Texas rolled over North Carolina, 52-21.
Texas totaled 569 yards (the 23rd best offensive output in school history) in no small part because the offensive line showed the dominance expected of it in the season opener. The big boys provided gaping holes for Benson and generally gave QB Chris Simms ample time to pick apart the Tar Heel secondary.
All totaled, Texas rushed for 271 yards and added 298 through the air.
Despite a short-lived third-quarter lapse (and some drops) in Chapel Hill, Simms has posted back-to-back solid performances to move Texas to 2-0. The poised senior was pin-point perfect on several of his tosses, was 14-of-30 for 298 yards, threw for four touchdowns, ran the play-action like he was made for it and (God love him) threw the ball out of bounds when he had to.
Texas was 8-of-16 on third down conversions on this soggy night, and for the second consecutive game, had no turnovers.
But the night belonged to Benson. The super sophs rushing total was just five yards shy of his career best set last season against Kansas (213 yards on 28 carries) while his 31 rushing attempts equaled his high-water marks against Missouri and Oklahoma State. Benson contributed two touchdowns and averaged a Heisman-like 6.7 yards-per-carry.
Benson toted the rock 12 times in the first quarter alone. The early fireworks, however, were ignited by his backfield counterparts.
Texas got on the scoreboard first on the strength of a perfectly called (and executed) 41-yard screen pass to Brett Robin after Simms picked up the cornerback blitz. The play set up Texas at the Carolina 31, but the drive stalled on the four yard line. From there, Dusty Magnum was true from 21 yards out to make it 3-0, Texas.
On the next series, TE Brock Edwards showed why offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he may be Texas most improved offensive player, picking up 29 yards on third-and-two, after Simms found him crossing the middle. The play set up FB Ivan Williams first touchdown reception of his career, scoring from 35 yards out on a blast fake. The Magnum PAT gave Texas a crucial 10-0 first quarter lead on its first road trip of the season.
At the end of the first quarter, the passing yards stood 134-1 in UT's favor.
Surprisingly, Carolina FG kicker Dan Orner (who had the best debut in NCAA history last week by connecting on an NCAA record-tying three field goals of more than 50-yards apiece) missed on a 49-yard FG attempt when the ball hit the upright. It was his only attempt of the night.
Texas would increase its lead to 17--0 following a four-yard Benson run. Again, Simms made the Tar Heels pay for their barrage of blitzes by hitting SE Roy Williams on a fade route to put Texas up 24-0 in the second quarter.
QB Darian Durant put Carolina on the scoreboard with 1:01 remaining in the half with a 27-yard scoring scramble, the longest rush of his career as well as his first rushing touchdown of the season. It was also the first score the Texas defense has yielded in the young season after pitching a shutout for nearly six quarters.
Texas led 24-7 on the halftime scoreboard but, suddenly, Carolina was leading in halftime momentum.
The Tar Heels opening drive of the second half resulted in FS Dakarai Pearsons second end-zone interception of a Durant pass. But Carolina forced a Texas punt, and then, on two quick plays (a 34-yard Derrelle Mitchell reception followed by a 24-yard Durant draw) Carolina was poised with a first-and-goal at the Texas six.
For the third time, Carolina turned the ball over in the Texas end zone. But this time Tar Heel center Jason Brown recovered his teams fumble, making it 24-14. More important, it gave the hyped-up Tar Heel faithful a glimmer of hope that the home team could overcome the double-digit deficit as it did the previous week in a 30-22 win at Syracuse.
Not this time, yall.
On the ensuing kickoff, RB Selvin Young showed the regional television audience why head coach Mack Brown had tagged the true freshman the "surprise" of the preseason. Young returned the kickoff 38 yards, and Carolina WR Michael Waddell was flagged 15 yards for a face mask penalty. (Young would later score his first college touchdown on a 30-yard burst to cap the scoring at 52 with just over five minutes remaining in the contest).
But, first, Simms would find Roy Williams over the middle for a 35-yard completion off play-action. With first-and-goal at the Carolina 10, Simms threaded the ball through three Carolina defenders to TE Chad Stevens in the back of the end zone. The two-play, 45-yard scoring drive, culminating with Stevens first scoring reception of his career, took all of 52 seconds off the game clock with 3:16 remaining in the third.
On the first play of fourth quarter, Durant found WR Sam Aiken on a fade route for a 12-yard scoring toss, whacking away at Texas lead to make it 31-21 with 14:55 remaining. (Pearson and CB Nathan Vasher collided on the play, leaving Aiken alone in the end zone)
North Carolina controlled the ball so well after intermission that Texas third possession of second half did not come until its first possession of the fourth quarter. But then came the play that head coach Mack Brown said was key for Texas in claiming its ninth straight road game (not counting neutral sites).
Still determined to stack the line and live-and-die by the blitz, Carolina chose its own poison by leaving Roy Williams in a one-on-one situation throughout most of the contest. Under a heavy linebacker and safety blitz, Simms deftly flung a short, sideline pass to Williams who took it 58 yards to the house.
The five play, 80-yard drive made it 38-21 and was enough to send the second largest crowd in Kenan Stadium history headed toward the exit ramps with 12:15 remaining. (The 60,500 announced attendance trails only the 62,000 on hand to see North Carolina face Florida State in 1997).
With 8:17 remaining in the fourth, special teams guru Michael Ungar pounced on an 18 yard-punt that was deflected off Waddells shoulder pad. The play positioned Simms & Company at the Tar Heel 18 yard line, but the result was Magnum hooking the ball wide-left from 33 yards out.
The Longhorn defense forced another three-and-out, giving Benson one last chance to dazzle. Benson would get both carries on a two-play scoring drive, bolting initially for a season-best 39-yard dash and capping it off with a 17-yard touchdown run.
With Texas leading 45-21, QB Chance Mock entered the game with 5:09 remaining. Thats when the elusive Young went to work, carrying the ball four times, including a 30-yard touchdown scamper. The drive covered 57 yards in seven plays.
The Tar Heels tallied 173 rushing and 170 passing on the night. North Carolina had established the long ball as an early season threat, averaging 318.5 through the air (137.5 rushing) before Pearson and his posse headed them off at the pass.
Pearson personally plunged the dagger on two Tar Heel drives by intercepting a couple of end zone Durant attempts in the second and third quarter, respectively.
The D-backs held Aiken to an inconsequential 62 yards on three catches, well below his team leading 132.5 yard-per-game average entering the contest.
Texas returns to Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 21, for a 7 p.m. kickoff against the 2-1 Houston Cougars.
WILLIAMS, JOHNSON RE-WRITING HISTORY BOOKS
With his first quarter reception, FL B.J. Johnson broke the school record for the longest streak of catches in consecutive contests. The junior has now recorded a catch in all 27 career games. Mike Adams had set the previous mark in 1995-1996.
Not to be outdone, SE Roy Williams moved into a first-place tie with Adams for 16 career touchdown receptions. Williams tied the old mark in the second quarter when Simms found him in the corner of the end zone on a fade route. Williams would later shatter the record in the fourth quarter with his 58-yard sprint into the end zone to dash any hopes of a Carolina comeback. Williams has had a reception in 24 consecutive starts.
DT Marcus Tubbs did not play in second half. LB Lee Jackson got banged up at the 10:14 mark of the third quarter but returned later. RDE Kalen Thornton played for the first time this season, as did WR Kyle Shanahan.