With 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter of a one-score game, Michael Carter lined up to the right of Brandon Harris and saw the look.
As two Virginia linebackers inched closer to the line of scrimmage, almost on the backs of the crouching defensive linemen in front of them, the Cavaliers’ defense looked familiar.
The North Carolina football team had practiced against the exact same blitz in Friday’s walkthrough in Kenan Memorial Stadium. When Carter took a handoff during that drill, he attacked the wrong gap.
“Hey, it’s not going to be there,” running backs coach DeAndre Smith told his first-year tailback. “It’s going to be here.”
Now, Carter had a chance to go where Smith wanted him to. Virginia led 10-7 as Harris took the snap and held it to Carter’s stomach while he stared an intentionally unblocked Virginia rusher in the eyes. The quarterback waited until the last moment to finally relinquish the ball to his running back.
With the ball tightly tucked under his left arm, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Carter saw the hole Smith wanted him to hit in Friday’s walkthrough. It was hard to miss — offensive linemen Bentley Spain and Nick Polino had made quick work of the two blitzing linebackers.
“I was like, ‘Oh yeah. To the crib,’” Carter said. “‘This one’s going all the way.’”
Carter went untouched up the left sideline for a 47-yard touchdown. The score put UNC up, 14-10. It was the Tar Heels’ first lead in a game since the third quarter of a Sept. 23 game against Duke.
It wasn’t his first touchdown of the game, either. On UNC’s first third-quarter possession, Carter took a shotgun hand-off to the outside and danced behind the line of scrimmage for a split second. He decided to cut to the inside of the pulling guard in front of him.