But once Jackson scampered 43 yards for touchdown on Louisville’s first drive of the second half, the tide began to turn.
Despite UNC briefly retaking the lead after a 94-yard kickoff return by Anthony Ratliff-Williams and a 22-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Brandon Harris, Jackson was in incredible form down the stretch, as Louisville scored 20 consecutive points.
Playing against a group of Tar Heels who looked vulnerable against Cal a week ago, Jackson completed 25 of 39 passes for 393 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, he was just as impressive, as he added three more scores and 132 rushing yards on 19 carries.
Clinging to a five-point lead, the Cardinals eventually put the game away on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Dez Fitzpatrick before scoring one final touchdown.
Louisville’s impressive finish came after a brief resurgence by UNC that was powered by Ratliff-Williams’ heroics on special teams, and the good play of Harris, who was forced to replace a seemingly injured Chazz Surratt.
Harris finished 17 of 23 for 206 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over, something he did multiple times against Cal. After the way UNC started offensively, many figured Harris wouldn’t see the field at all.
On the Tar Heels’ first drive of the game, a flip pass from Surratt to first-year wide receiver Dazz Newsome went for 54 yards and led to a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Fritts that put UNC ahead 7-3 in the first quarter.
After allowing the Cardinals to tack on a touchdown and a field goal on their next two possessions, UNC once again went ahead 14-13 on another touchdown pass from Surratt to Fritts, this one coming from five yards out.
But it took Louisville just one play to answer, as Jackson evaded UNC cornerback Patrice Rene in the backfield, before connecting with Jaylen Smith for a 75-yard touchdown.
That play concluded the scoring in the opening half, as UNC entered halftime trailing by just six points, despite Louisville accumulating 355 yards on offense, 313 of which came courtesy of Jackson.
The reigning Heisman dominated in the second half in the Cardinals' win.
Who stood out?
There will most likely be ups and downs throughout the year at the quarterback position for the Tar Heels, but both Surratt and Harris showed positives at different points Saturday.
With Surratt leading the offense, UNC was more explosive than it was at any point against Cal. Surratt didn't play at all in the second half. When Harris had his opportunity, he was much more accurate than he was in his first game as a Tar Heel, and one of his favorite targets was Austin Proehl.
Proehl, who is the leader of UNC’s wide receivers this year, finished with a career-best 120 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Ratliff-Williams also had a career day. In addition to recording the special teams touchdown, the converted quarterback had three catches for 41 yards and also downed a punt at the one-yard line.
Why does it matter?
Not many expected UNC to earn a win against Louisville, especially after last week’s loss to Cal.
Still, the Tar Heels will enter Week Three without a win and as a group that has many questions to ask itself and issues to sort out.
Some things must be taken with a grain of salt when the opposing quarterback is Jackson, but UNC’s bend-but-don’t-break approach eventually faded away, as blown coverages and the inability to contain Jackson did the Tar Heels in.
Meanwhile, Harris’ good play in the second half might once again complicate UNC’s quarterback situation.
When do they play next?
Remember when UNC scored 80 points in a game in 2013? That was against Old Dominion, who the Tar Heels pay a visit to next week in Norfolk, Va.
The Monarchs have improved quite a bit since then, having since won 10 games a season ago as a member of Conference USA. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.