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After so many near misses in recent weeks, North Carolina was due to go out and play a full 60 minutes of complete football. And a look at the stats shows that UNC truly did do that Saturday afternoon in its 34-10 win over Boston College.
UNC went the entire game against the Eagles without a single turnover---the first time since a year ago against East Carolina that has happened.
The Tar Heels held BC to just 59 passing yards---the first time since a win at Clemson in the dominant 11-1 season of 1997 that Carolina held an opponent to so few yards through the air---and UNC was a perfect five-for-five in red zone chances against the Eagles after coming into the game with just 10 touchdowns in 19 red zone opportunities.
All together, it was a recipe for UNC's most thorough domination of an ACC opponent arguably since Larry Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill.
And a win that could greatly aid this team's confidence and psyche heading into what many will now say is biggest the game of the year---a rendezvous with N.C. State Saturday afternoon in Raleigh.
"It was a big win for our team. We came in pretty pumped. We just came out with the same type of intensity (as the Miami game). The defense worked hard all week trying to get this week, and we finally got this win," said freshman Johnathan Howard, who had a pair of touchdowns from UNC quarterbacks Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams.
Though Howard only had 31 receiving yards his two touchdowns doubled his season total.
He was the only multi-touchdown scorer of the game for Carolina, though Ryan Switzer finally got in the end zone for his first UNC touchdown that actually stood, and Williams and A.J. Blue each scored on short runs for the other TDs.
"Just studying film earlier in the week, we knew some of the guys that were back (in the Boston College secondary), the double moves and stuff," said Howard. "We used quite a few 'double moves'. I got open on one. My first one (touchdown), it's just a play we run and I came wide open."
Howard credits his older wide receiver teammates, as well as position coach Gunter Brewer, for his rapid development into one of UNC"s top weapons in the passing game this fall as a newcomer.
"(This season I've been) pretty much just learning the game. Great coaching, Coach Brewer. And then just having Quinshad (Davis) and T.J. Thorpe and those guys just on my back, leading me on, teaching me stuff about the game, it's been really good."
Defensively, the Tar Heels culminated a solid week of practice last week into a hard-hitting, aggressive game plan that totally stymied BC quarterback Chase Rettig and forced the Eagles to win on the ground.
And though ACC leading rusher Andre Williams got his yardage, breaking off 172 net yards on 26 carries, his biggest damage came on one play---his 56-yard touchdown run in the first quarter that briefly gave BC its only lead of the afternoon.
"The main key we wanted to do was stop the run. I think we did a good job of containing the run," said sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer. "They (Boston College) want to get the ball to 44 (Williams) and just pound the rock. He got free on one long run, but the DBs did a great job. We kind of put them on an island, played a little man so we could put more guys in the box, and they did a great job."
"It feels great (to finally win again)," Schoettmer continued. "We've had a couple great weeks of practice, and I think it really showed tonight. The offense, defense, special teams made an impact. And it feels real good."
Following Williams' early touchdown the mood on the UNC sideline briefly got a little glum, but some of the leaders on the Tar Heels stepped up and got everybody back into the game and determined not to let the failures of past weeks beat them again.
"At first, everybody seemed a little dead. And leaders stepped up and pushed everybody to get better. And that's exactly what we should do We showed that we are a good team and we're going to start playing like it," said junior tight end Eric Ebron, who led UNC with 67 receiving yards on four catches.
Most of all, Saturday's win allowed the Tar Heel defense to atone for so many missed opportunities earlier this fall, and to let out some frustration.
"We lost four straight after Middle Tennessee. (It was) Frustrating," said senior cornerback Jabari Price. "My biggest fear was guys getting comfortable with that feeling, and instead of that happening, (we had) guys accepting the challenge with the work (it takes to win)."
Price credited senior defensive end Kareem Martin, who finished the game with five solo tackles and two sacks, for rallying the team together and inspiring them.
"Kareem Martin is a big vocal leader for this defense, you know. Instead of pouting after that UM loss, he was encouraging guys, let's to go to work. We've got Boston College. We've got Andre Williams. We've got Chase Rettig. We've got a good team coming into town," said Price.
"That's a good thing to see the offense coming out and making their explosive plays, along with the defense making their explosive plays. This guy (Williams), he's a big running back. And he runs the ball real hard. So we gang-tackled. We swarmed the ball. Guys were swarming to the ball left and right, and playing 60 minutes instead of 58 like last week (against Miami)."
"It felt good (to play so well defensively)," added Schoettmer. "Everybody was laughing and having a good time. We felt comfortable with the lead, and we just kept going hard at it, stayed focused and got the win."
It's no secret that UNC has forced multiple true freshmen into action this fall, and several of them stepped up with big games on Saturday.
Along with rookie wide receivers Howard and Switzer, who scored three of UNC's five touchdowns, T.J. Logan made an impact with the game's longest pass reception for UNC, and 'Bandit' Mikey Bart, making his first career start, recorded three tackles and his first career sack, a huge play on a fourth down in the second half.
"It's about time. We've worked so hard in practice. Just to finally get out there and get a win and have something to show for it. it just feels good," said Logan, who had five carries for only one yard but had two receptions for 51 yards, including the team-high 35-yarder.
Though these guys may be freshmen, they're no less frustrated with the way things turned out early in the season for UNC.
And the UNC rookies had just as much anger and frustration they wanted to let out Saturday against the Eagles as most everyone else on the team with the possible exception of some of those Tar Heel seniors playing out their string, with each passing game feeling that sense of urgency that comes with the rapid running down of one's final collegiate games that last autumn.
For those seniors in the twilight of their UNC careers, there's no excuse for anyone else on the Tar Heel roster to give anything than their absolute best these coming five weeks of the regular season.
For the most part, that's precisely what the Tar Heels gave against Boston College---their absolute best.
It may have been absent on a few isolated plays, but this was easily the most dominant effort for Carolina this fall, and quite possibly in a few seasons when you're talking about games of consequence (aka games against ACC or BCS conference opponents).
The Tar Heels showed against Boston College that they're capable of dominating a game. That they're capable of overcoming early adversity, jumping on top of a quality opponent and not letting them up. That they'll fight for respect and credibility.
And now, heading into a contest that few UNC fans will forgive them for losing compared to most any other game on the schedule, they're going to need to remember that empty, anguished feeling after the Miami game.
That defeated but encouraged feeling which sometimes can be one's greatest motivation as a football player.
It appears that empty feeling after the Miami game triggered this team into a determined, aggressive, angry effort that produced results on both sides of the ball against Boston College. And they'll need a similar effort to guarantee victory in Carter-Finley Stadium for the first time since 2005.