Game Changers: N.C. State

The Tar Heels came home with a win Saturday afternoon against their rival in Raleigh, as North Carolina came away with a 27-19 victory over N.C State. This pushes the Tar Heel winning streak to two games and ending a stretch off losses at Carter Finley, as the Tar Heels haven't come away with a win in Raleigh since 2005.
Check out below for some of the game changers that helped determine the outcome Saturday afternoon, as the Tar Heels now have pushed their record to 3-5 overall, still giving the Tar Heels a chance to become bowl eligible with a few more wins at the end of the season.
Early Scoring
After N.C. State came out with an early interception and score on offense, later tacking on a field goal to make it 10-0 early in the first quarter, the Tar Heels were able to march down field on their next drive, as quarterbackMarquise Williams led the drive that started at the UNC 26 and went 74 yards down the field with a mixture of the run and passing game, as Williams hit Quinshad Davis in the back corner of the endzone for the touchdown.
That score really allowed the offense to settle in their play calling and stopped the early shock of the Wolfpack going up by double digits in the first quarter, while quieting the crowd just a little in Carter Finley stadium. It could have been worse, as the Tar Heels almost had two turnovers deep into their territory, but the defense stood strong, limiting the Wolfpack to a field goal in one of their first drives.
Fake Punt
The second part of the early scoring was when the Tar Heels weren't fooled on a fourth down fake punt issued by the Wolfpack. It was just after the Tar Heels had marched down field for a touchdown to cut the lead to 10-7 and the defense caused a three and out. Dave Doeren took the chance to get the momentum back on their side, but the Tar Heels were ready for it, as UNC stuffed the Wolfpack and took over at the N.C. State 29, completely shifting the momentum towards the Tar Heels side.
Four plays later, Bryn Renner rushed in for a one yard touchdown run, giving the lead to the Tar Heels 14-10 before anyone could blink. Not knowing what the Wolfpack would have done on that drive if they had converted that fourth down, the fact that the Tar Heels were able to shift the field advantage and make quick work for the touchdown certainly changed the entire game in what would be limiting scoring after that.
UNC Defense
It is kind of odd to say that the defense really won this game for the Tar Heels, especially after watching games earlier in the year, when the defense struggled for the most part. But in the last two games against Boston College and N.C. State, the defense stood their ground and has been more beneficial than hurtful. After trailing early on and giving up a total of 83 yards on the first two drives, the defense stood strong from then out.
The Tar Heels limited the Wolfpack to one long drive (in the third quarter) of 78 yards but totaling 216 yards on the next 12 drives, with five of them being three and outs and getting two interceptions also. The defense stood strong in limiting the Wolfpack to only field goals and not touchdowns, as the Wolfpack only reached the endzone once Saturday afternoon but had four field goals in the game.
Overall, the UNC defense held Brandon Mitchell to 10 of 22 on the afternoon, for only 130 yards passing. The Tar Heels did have trouble at times with the run game of the Wolfpack, as they a combined 212 rushing yards but stood strong when needed.
Punting/ Field Position
In a game like this, field position is critical when scoring is limited and whoever gets the better field position, has a huge advantage. The Tar Heels won that advantage Saturday, as they started inside their 25 yard line only twice all game. Furthermore, the Tar Heels started in Wolfpack territory four different times.
The Wolfpack started five different times inside their 25 and started in UNC territory only twice, with one of them being the early interception and the other being one that the Tar Heels picked off two plays later, causing no harm.
One has to look at the kicking ability of Thomas Hibbard, as he punted eight different times, with four of them pinning the Wolfpack inside their own 20 yard line. Hibbard averaged 40 yards on the day but played a crucial part in pushing back the Wolfpack deep into their own territory. The field position battle was won easily by the Tar Heels in Raleigh, which played a huge part in a game that has limited scoring like this one did for the most part.
Heart and determination
Watching this game, there were several times when Tar Heels went down on the field due to injuries, including the two quarterbacks for the Tar Heels, as Renner and Williams both went down at different times during the game. Players such as Williams, Renner, Eric Ebron, Norkeithus Otis, along with others, all suffered injuries or were banged up on the field against the Wolfpack in a hard hitting game between two teams that don't like each other very much. But they came back on the field Saturday afternoon and finished the game with heart and determination, knowing that they all needed each other to come away in a hostile environment against their rivals.
This certainly wasn't a game changer on the field, but this was a game changer for the Tar Heel sideline, as there was no way these guys were coming out of this game against their rival. One can only imagine if the Tar Heels suffered bigger injuries Saturday afternoon, as the outcome could have been flipped around on North Carolina.
Wolfpack Rushing
There is no doubt about it, head coach Doeren saw something in the UNC defense that he wanted to use more of the running ability in Mitchell and his running backs. As mentioned before, the Wolfpack racked up over 212 yards rushing on 48 carries, with Mitchell leading the way with 105 yards on the ground.
Several times, Mitchell and Shadrach Thornton hit the holes for big gains, as Mitchell had a long of 19 yards and Thornton had a long of 24 yards. The Tar Heel defense stood strong when needed and held the Wolfpack one dimensional for most of the part, not allowing the passing game to take flight.
Still, Larry Fedora has to take notice of what the Wolfpack were able to do with a mobile quarterback in Mitchell, to go along with the running backs of N.C. State. It is something that Fedora is used to seeing with his own team but will certainly take a look at that next week and try to figure out.
The rushing attack for the Tar Heels opponents has been pretty good the last two weeks, even though the defense as a whole for the Tar Heels has played some of their best football.