BLACKSBURG, Va. — A Virginia Tech kickoff in the second quarter danced along the North Carolina sideline, flirting with going out of the field of play and giving UNC the ball at the 40-yard line.
But before the ball could bounce across the painted white line, A.J. Blue gathered the ball in and returned it to the 36-yard line for 17 yards. Blue, a backup tailback, rarely gets to touch the ball during meaningful time in the game.
However, when starting running back Giovani Bernard exited the game late in the second quarter with a concussion and was ruled out for the game, Blue was named the second-half starter for the first time in his career.
But UNC couldn’t get the offense going out of halftime and Blue saw his chance slip away as the game went along. Enter Ryan Houston, who fumbled away his chance at second string on the 5-yard line in the first quarter. He, too, could not get his legs churning for enough positive yards for UNC.
Sans Bernard, UNC was helpless on the ground. The first 1,000-yard rusher at UNC since 1997, Bernard ranks second among all freshmen in the nation with 101.2 yards per game. Take away his 45 yards from the first half and the Tar Heels finished with just 89 rushing yards on Thursday night.