“We did not handle being fifth in the country well,” head coach Mack Brown said. “We were way too full of ourselves. They wish they had that (FSU game) back. You don’t get them back.”
The team will always have at least one mark in the losing column for the season, but that FSU hiccup seemed to push UNC to fix the costly mistakes from a week ago. Namely, the Tar Heels' lack of turnovers in the previous four games.
“It’s obviously the way you win football games,” Brown said. “We come in here on Saturday afternoon, we come in here on Sunday, I’m going to look right at that (rushing yards) stat and I’m going to look at turnovers and tell you who won the game.”
The UNC defense got the message: Brown wanted turnovers.
They gave him four.
“As coach Brown always says, they come in bunches,” sophomore defensive back Don Chapman said.
One was simply not enough. The defense wanted bunches.
Chapman took his coach’s message to heart and made a crucial interception in the end zone to help maintain a 14-point lead in the second quarter.
From there, the momentum shifted into high gear and UNC dominated the second half, scoring on three consecutive possessions in the third quarter. After an interception and a forced fumble by Surratt on N.C. State quarterback Ben Finley, the Tar Heels quickly sealed a comfortable 38-7 lead with less than two minutes left in the third frame.
But the defense didn’t stop at just making an impressive show of forcing turnovers.
Not only did UNC win the turnover contest, but the defense held N.C. State to 34 rushing yards.
After allowing 31 points in the first half against the Seminoles last week, the defense made a crucial bounce back; 34 yards allowed was the smallest mark by a UNC opponent since 2011, when the Tar Heels held Rutgers to one yard.
“We hear the outside noise,” Surratt said. “We were having problems stopping the run. We just came together and were like, ‘Look, we got to go out there and show these people what we can really do.’”
After showing that the UNC defense is capable of stuffing the running game and forcing crucial turnovers that swing the momentum in the Tar Heels' favor, Surratt rested in the fourth quarter.
Like in any rivalry game, there was the potential for emotions to run high, tempers to flare and egos to show. But UNC didn’t pay much attention to a pregame N.C. State hype video that questioned UNC’s ability. The Tar Heels were confident in themselves. And as the final minutes ticked off the clock, North Carolina's confidence multiplied — from the Tar Heel starters' resting spots on the sideline, of course.
“That’s for them, to give them false confidence before the game,” Howell said. "We don’t really care about them. We know what a Ram is to a Wolf. I think we saw that out there today.”
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