Calhoun ran 38 times for 171 yards and scored the only touchdowns of Saturday night's game at Kenan Stadium here, as the Badgers prevailed 14-5, improving to 3-0 with the start of the Big Ten season a week away.
For most of the contest, UNC (0-2) remained a play away from taking the lead. Then Calhoun, UW's workhorse throughout the game, stepped up to help the Badgers salt away victory with an 8-play, 67-yard touchdown drive.
Calhoun's 33rd and 34th carries of the game were probably his best.
Needing to pick up about a foot on third down at the UW 42, Calhoun ripped off his longest run of the day, a 26-yard scamper to the left. On the next play, Calhoun's 34th rush of the game, he broke two tackles on his way to a 14-yard gain.
Four plays later Calhoun scored his second touchdown of the game, from four yards out, giving UW a commanding 14-3 lead with 7:12 left to play.
"I thought he got stronger," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I thought he was really stronger in that last touchdown drive. I thought he was exceptional, and very physical at the point of attack."
Calhoun chipped away at UNC's defense from the very beginning, rushing 21 times for 72 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
The Badgers' stingy defense, meanwhile, afforded the Tar Heels few opportunities. And those UNC did have often melted away in an array of penalties.
The Tar Heels cracked UW territory five times and did not find the red zone until their last possession.
But with first-and-goal at the UW 8 and time running out, the Tar Heels could not reach the end zone. On fourth-and-goal from the 4, UNC quarterback Matt Baker's pass sailed over the head of tight end Jon Hamlett, effectively ending the game with 1:39 left to play.
"They've got four shots in there, and (we) didn't give up," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "I think that's what we've got to feed off of with these guys. They want to have success, they want to be good."
Before that last gasp effort, Baker limped to the Tar Heels' huddle, favoring his right leg. His arm hung by his side as if held up by duct tape — the product of the relentless pounding he took from UW's defensive front.
The Badgers sacked Baker four times. He missed one play in the third quarter, after defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and linebacker LaMarr Watkins sandwiched him as he completed a 18-yard pass to Jesse Holley. On that play, Watkins helmet appeared to catch Baker on the sternum. Baker never looked comfortable physically the rest of the game, though he hung in admirably.
Baker finished 16 of 37 for 281 yards and an interception.
"I thought our quarterback was gutty staying in there," UNC coach John Bunting said. "I know he would like to have played better. I also would like to protect him better."
After shutting out Temple last week, UW's defense allowed only a 43-yard second-quarter Connor Barth field goal Saturday. The Badgers took a safety as the game clock ran out, giving UNC two more points.
"Going in, I thought this game might be a shootout," Alvarez said. "Not the type of game that I anticipated. But our defense played well and our offense did what they had to do."
UNC had just 63 total yards and four first downs in the first half. Of the Heels' 338 total yards for the game, 172 came in the fourth quarter, including 86 on the final drive that finished four yards short.
While Wisconsin's defense abused North Carolina throughout the game, the Badgers offense flirted with success.
In the first half, the Badgers turned it over in the red zone and had a touchdown called back by penalty. North Carolina had its own issues, including a dropped pass in the end zone in the second quarter and 115 yards in penalties in the game.
Wisconsin was called for 74 yards in penalties.
Late in the first quarter the Badgers' elected to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the UNC 8 and benefited in a big way, as Calhoun dashed up the middle for a touchdown to make it 7-0 UW.
Calhoun touched the ball on 15 of UW's 22 first-quarter plays — 14 rushes and a three-yard pass reception.
With 8:41 left in the second quarter, North Carolina had 34 total yards on 17 plays. In contrast, at that point Calhoun had 17 carries for 64 yards and two receptions for zero yards.
UNC actually did a respectable job of containing Calhoun, but UW continued to pound him the ball. That tactic paid off for the Badgers in the fourth quarter. Calhoun had five runs for 47 yards on the 8-play 67-yard scoring drive.
"It says an awful lot about his stamina," co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach Brian White said. "His physical conditioning is exceptional. He really didn't miss a beat throughout the game."