Rapid Reactions: Carolina 80, Old Dominion 20
Don’t blink, Larry Fedora seemed to say at his introductory press conference back in December 2011, or you might miss a Tar Heel touchdown. Perhaps he was looking forward to Saturday. Carolina made an emphatic statement to get to six wins and bowl eligibility with an 80-20 win over Old Dominion. By mutual agreement of the head coaches, the fourth quarter was shortened to ten minutes, and Carolina attempted just one pass in the last 19:44. With all kinds of school records set, including the single-game record for points scored (by 14), it’s difficult to pull out the highlights. But here we go:
Carolina scored a school-record 11 touchdowns, all of them by freshmen or sophomores, and eight of them by freshmen. T.J. Logan had four, Ryan Switzer three, and Khris Francis added a 28-yard score in the third. “It’s really exciting, because you’ve got something to look forward for the future and even now,” Logan said of the he and his companions’ contributions. “The coaches really trust the younger guys and they’re giving us a chance to make plays.”
The master of the punt return, Switzer impacted the game even when he wasn’t on the field. Old Dominion clearly watched tape of his performance at Pittsburgh. Last week, the freshman had two punt returns for touchdowns, including the game-winning score. The Monarchs used a short punt formation, choosing to go with quarterback Taylor Heinicke in an attempt to keep Switzer off of the field. That strategy worked at first, with Tre Boston muffing a return opportunity in the first quarter and setting up the Monarch offense with good field position.
But you can bet the Tar Heel coaching staff noticed Switzer’s performance too. They chose to take advantage of Switzer’s terrific field vision by getting the ball in his hands by any means necessary. He had four carries for 11 yards, but really was able to get behind the defense down field on pass routes. Switzer scored two touchdowns on five catches and 118 yards receiving. And . . . Switzer got to the end zone for a third time on his fourth punt return touchdown of the season, finding a hole that was bigger on the inside for a 64-yard scamper late in the third quarter. The Tar Heel punt team set up a return and blocked well for the freshman. “I wanted one really bad, and I didn’t get a lot of opportunities today, but that was a big one for me,” Switzer said.
Logan had the finest game of his young career. Logan became the first Tar Heel of the season to rush for more than 100 yards (he got 137), with nearly half of them coming on a terrific 63-yard rush in the third quarter. He evaluated his time and relative dimension in space and cut from one sideline to the other for the score. He was responsible for four touchdowns, three of them rushing, and the fourth on a 99-yard kickoff return after an Old Dominion score.
Marquise Williams was fantastic, coolly efficient running the offense. The redshirt sophomore was 20-27 passing and set the single-game record for total offense by a Tar Heel. He was responsible for 469 yards (409 passing, 60 rushing) and five passing touchdowns, tying a school record there. As he’s as good with his feet as his arm, Williams is incredible running the read-option, making the opposing defense respect the threat of the run. That opens things up for his fellow runners and eventually gets the secondary to creep forward. Then, the Tar Heels can go downfield. “He did a really nice job again today,” Fedora said of his quarterback. “He took care of the football and distributed it where it was supposed to go. He doesn’t have a whole lot of reps in him, so he’s getting better each week.” Williams picked up where Bryn Renner left off and is playing as well as anyone carrying that torch would hope.
The Tar Heel defense isn’t going to get a whole lot of attention on a day that featured the offensive fireworks of Saturday, but they should. The Tar Heel defensive front mixed looks and attacks and made ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke uncomfortable all afternoon.
In the secondary, a tip of the hat goes to freshman defensive back Brian Walker. Walker had a single solo tackle, but four pass break-ups that helped stymie any thought of an Old Dominion passing game. On the first Monarch possession of the second quarter, with the Tar Heels up 21-13, Walker stepped in front of a 3rd and 10 Heinicke pass that could have gone for a big gain.
Carolina certainly learned from last week, when the squandered a 24-point second-half lead at Pittsburgh. The Tar Heels outscored the Monarchs 35-7. “That was the challenge that we had from last week’s game,” Fedora said, “and then it was just try to get out of the game.”
Carolina rose to the occasion after a 1-5 start, regenerating themselves to become 6-5 and bowl-eligible. It’s the first five-game win streak for Carolina in 12 years and sets up a terrific matchup with 9-2 Duke. With a win, Duke will represent the Coastal Division at the ACC Championship Game. Though the Tar Heels can’t go themselves, they’d love to exterminate the Blue Devil hopes. That game will be closer than Saturday’s was, but the Tar Heels have to feel good about the way all three phases of the game contributed to a record-setting win.