"It's just so weird that there's absolutely no crowd noise," Brown said. "When you're looking up, it's like a scrimmage. There's just nothing (in the stands). The young people have to create their own energy."
That energy — and a necessary focus — was missing early. After a pandemic-shortened offseason, UNC started the game with more miscues than a first-time pool player.
There was a tipped Howell pass that resulted in an interception in the first quarter. A Dazz Newsome muffed punt that led to an Orange field goal. A roughing the kicker penalty, on a 4th-and-16, that gave Syracuse life late in the second quarter. (The Orange missed a chip-shot field goal attempt to end that drive, pretty much summing up the game to that point.) And then, somehow, a snap infraction while trying to take a knee to end the first half. The Tar Heels were more than lucky to take a 7-3 lead into the locker room.
"We weren't playing like ourselves in the first half," Howell said. "We just had to adjust a little bit at halftime and come out ready to go in the second half."
Except things didn't get much better until late in the third quarter. Howell, who had just seven interceptions all of last year, threw his second pick of the day. The lead was 10-6 when UNC rolled up its sleeves and proved that it's still, like last season, a fourth quarter team, with junior running back Javonte Williams ripping off three scores against a tired Orange defense in the final 15 minutes to cover a 23-point spread.
"We just had to get back in our rhythm," Williams said. "We ain't really played and gotten tackled since December, so we had a lot of time off. In the second half, we came together and made plays."
"Once we started scoring, it seemed like they faded away a little bit," he said.
UNC's vaunted offense showed up late, which is better than not showing up at all. After the game Brown and company mostly chose to focus on that final quarter instead of the uninspired three that preceded it. They know that some amount of rust, especially this season, is to be expected early. The question going forward is how the Tar Heels can learn from those mistakes to reach their potential.
"In your first ballgame, you usually are fixing so many things anyway," Brown said. "We feel like it's a great opener for us because there's a lot of things we've got to fix, and at the same time, they can see that we have a chance to be really good."
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