Off to a sluggish start, the North Carolina football team’s coaching staff decided to make a change on Saturday — playing backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky over fifth-year senior Marquise Williams for most of the game.
The move sparked a lot of questions after the game. But it also sparked the Tar Heels’ dominant second-half play.
The Tar Heels scored 28 points in the second half to defeat the Delaware Blue Hens 41-14 in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
UNC (3-1) allowed Delaware (1-3) to score on its opening drive, as freshman running back Thomas Jefferson scored on a 72-yard run on the Blue Hens' second offensive play. The Tar Heels' defense responded, holding Delaware scoreless for the rest of the first half.
But after Williams' 18-yard touchdown run on UNC’s opening drive, the Tar Heels’ offense fell flat. Twice, UNC walked away with a field goal instead of a touchdown.
Coach Larry Fedora said he wasn’t pleased with first-half play, mostly due to decision-making by Williams.
“I wasn’t happy with the way we were executing, so we put (Trubisky) in, and (Trubisky) ran the offense well and did a nice job,” he said. “So I decided to leave him in.”
The Tar Heels went on to score four touchdowns and racked up 366 offensive yards in the second half.
“The guys kind of flipped a switch, a switch we should have had coming out into the game, but for some reason, we didn’t,” said junior wide receiver Ryan Switzer.
Trubisky set four single-game career records and threw two of his four long touchdown passes to junior Mack Hollins, who had two touchdown receptions in a game for the first time since UNC beat UVa. in 2014.
Junior wide receiver Bug Howard and Switzer also added touchdowns of their own in the fourth quarter, both on passes from Trubisky, to close the game.
Trubisky said he was ready to play and that he and Williams supported each other regardless of who was playing. Williams was not available for comment after the game.
The rushing game was notably absent for UNC, with the Tar Heels recording a season-low of 191 yards on the ground.
On the defensive end, UNC struggled to contain Delaware’s rushing game. While the Blue Hens passed for only 24 yards, they picked up a season-high of 279 rushing yards.
Senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad led UNC in tackles with 10, a career-high for him.
UNC heads into ACC play with a 3-1 record for the first time since 2011 and for the first time in Fedora’s coaching tenure.
“Just turn it up. Schematically, they weren’t doing anything to upset us, we were just shooting ourselves in the foot.” — Switzer on Fedora’s halftime message.
Trubisky came in for UNC during the second quarter on Saturday and finished the game with four single-game career highs, including 312 passing yards and four touchdown passes. Trubisky's 64-yard touchdown pass to Hollins in the third quarter marked the longest pass of his career.
Trubisky’s play and Fedora’s comments about Williams’ decision making raised questions about who will start next week at Georgia Tech. “As of right now, there are no changes,” said Fedora when asked if Williams was still the starting quarterback.
Three numbers that matter
282: Trubisky finished the game with a quarterback efficiency rating of 282 — setting a new school record. Jason Stanicek held the previous record with a 263.48 quarterback efficiency rating, which he recorded against Maryland in 1993.
0: The Tar Heels did not have to punt the ball during Saturday’s game, a feat they hadn't accomplished since a win over Maryland on Oct. 15, 1994.
14: UNC has only allowed 14 points in three of its past four games, the exception being the 17 points South Carolina posted in its win over the Tar Heels in Charlotte. The last time UNC allowed 17 or fewer points in four consecutive games was in 2010.
The Tar Heels travel to Georgia Tech next Saturday to open ACC play. The game is set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. UNC hasn't won at Georgia Tech since 1997.
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