CHAPEL HILL — The game went about as expected. North Carolina (1-1) got its first win of the season, defeating their guest from Greensboro, North Carolina A&T, 53-14 Saturday night at Kenan Stadium.
This one was out of reach early. UNC had a 22-point lead after one and a 36-point margin at halftime. The Carolina defense forced three turnovers after getting zero in their opener against South Carolina. North Carolina used a balanced attack against an over-matched A&T (1-1) defense. They had 215 yards on the ground and 248 through the air, mixing and matching personnel with no drop off in performance.
Nine different players got carries, while 10 different Heels caught at least one pass.
“It was good to get a win,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “It was obviously good to come into our stadium and in the Tar Pit and play well in front of our crowd … kind of set the tone for how we want to play here throughout the season.”
North Carolina out-gained the Aggies 463-273, and most importantly, got a lot of minutes from guys who did not see the field in the opener.
“We got to play a lot of kids, which is going to pay off down the road,” Fedora said. “All those guys are going to have to help us at some point. Every rep they get is critical to our success.”
The Tar Heels contained A&T running back Tarik Cohen, holding him to 73 yards on 15 carries. The Aggies didn’t get on the board until the third quarter, by that time the Heels were up 53.
North Carolina scored on its opening drive, a 1-yard run by Elijah Hood. Instead of going for the extra point, the Heels went with the old ‘water bucket’ formation, throwing the two-point conversion. It was almost too easy, and that would be the theme for most of the night for UNC. The strategy for the Heels were to enforce their will on A&T early, taking them out of the game soon as possible.
“Of course at any game, we think the enemy has no face,” North Carolina linebacker Cayson Collins said. “Any team can pose a threat no matter who they are. For A&T, this is probably for them the biggest stage they are going to play on this year. We knew coming into this game they would have some fight. It was important for us to shut them down early, like coach says ‘put your foot on their throat and keep it there.’ I felt like it was really important to do that.”
Collins said the Aggies had done some trash talk on social media sites leading up to the game.
Stick with it
North Carolina got away from a tradition run game a lot last year. Through two games, it seems the Heels have made a true commitment to running the football. North Carolina wanted to average 200 yards on the ground this season, and had 215 against the Aggies. Carolina averaged 4.9 yards per rush.
Get rid of it
Whatever UNC is doing – or attempting to do – generate a pass rush isn’t working. The Tar Heels didn’t record a sack, and a few times the Aggies had receivers running wide open. Kris Gardens averaged 16.3 yards per catch for A&T.
Numbers don’t lie
23 – Marquise Williams rushed for a touchdown in the third quarter, the 23rd rushing TD of his career, tying him in 8th place in ACC history with former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
48 – UNC kicker Nick Weiler made a career-long 48-yarder in the first half.
3 – Number of turnovers forced by UNC. The Heels had two interceptions – one each by M.J. Stewart and Shakeel Rashard – and a fumble recovery by Sam Smiley.
“It’s huge,” Rashard said. “Our goal each week is to get two plus turnovers. Every week there are keys to victory we need to have and that’s one of them.”
Marquise Williams, UNC – Williams finished with 211 yards passing and two scores, putting to rest his horrible game in the opener versus South Carolina.
“I was just focusing on not turning the football over,” Williams said. “I was able to just relax and have some fun tonight. My main key was to have some fun tonight.”
Brandon Fritts, UNC – The red-shirt freshman tight end caught three passes for 11 yards, two going for scores. His first catch of the season in the second quarter was also his first career touchdown. The pass came from Mitch Trubisky, a high school teammate of Fritts at Mentor High in Ohio.
“It felt great,” Trubisky said. “All I have to do is throw it anywhere near him and he’s going to come down with it. I’m really happy for my boy to get his first touchdown tonight.”