“He’s got a low center of gravity, very good vision (and he) knows how to set up blocks well,” Withers said.
“He understands where he needs to be, who’s leading him, and he does a good job of deciding when to go outside or cut back. It’s a natural trait for him.”
For the first three quarters against the Cavaliers, it appeared as if UNC’s turnover trauma was behind it.
Ahead 28-10 less than three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels were on the two yard line and in position to make the matchup a three possession game.
Tailback A.J. Blue had rushed for 39 of his 40 total yards in what could have been North Carolina’s victory-sealing drive.
But as if to bring back old habits, quarterback Bryn Renner, who completed 15 of 21 for 143 yards and two touchdowns, fumbled the snap, and the Cavaliers recovered.
“We wanted to leave A.J. in there just to get him the touchdown,” Renner said. “It was kind of one of those things where we had a little mix up, and I was trying to hurry, and you just can’t do that. I can’t turn the ball over right there.”
Virginia capitalized off Renner’s mistake with a four-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Michael Rocco, bringing the Cavaliers within two scores.
But in the final three minutes, safety Matt Merletti intercepted two of Rocco’s passes to stop the Cavaliers dead in their tracks.
The interceptions and a first-quarter fumble recovery were UNC’s first three forced turnovers of the season.
“Ultimately, I’m happy to get the win,” Merletti said. “If I can help out in any way, getting interceptions, that’s a thrill to me.”
Senior Ryan Houston might not have made any flashy runs like his counterpart Bernard, but the tailback’s 1- and 2-yard touchdowns and Blue’s contributions against Virginia proved that UNC doesn’t have just one go-to guy.
It has three.
“They want to see success for each other,” Withers said. “So I think it’s important, when you have depth like that at running back, you want to use it.”
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