CHAPEL HILL, NC – – Sam Howell threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns and North Carolina outscored Duke 38-7 on Saturday, keeping their hands on the coveted Victory Bell for a third straight year.
“Really, really proud of our guys,” said UNC coach Mack Brown. “People had better hang on because we’re going to keep improving. The program is improving. We saw signs of that in defense today. And now we just have to make sure that our attack continues to grow as well. “
The Tar Heels (3-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) took the lead with a pair of explosive plays in the first half.
Howell connected with running back Ty Chandler on the sideline for 75 yards to open the scoring. Less than two minutes later, Kevin Hester hit Duke’s Gunnar Holmberg as he pitched, floating the ball out of his hand and Trey Morrison returned the fumble from 63 yards for a touchdown.
Allowing the scoop-and-score embodied a frustrating performance for Duke (3-2, 0-1 ACC). The Blue Devils kicked nine times, returned the ball twice and converted just 2 of 15 third downs.
Duke scored his only points on an 80-yard catch-and-run by Jalon Calhoun in the third quarter. The loss ended a three-game winning streak for the Blue Devils.
“We’ll learn from that, but we’ll put that behind us quickly in our preparation,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “The difference in the game, to some extent, was their explosives versus our explosives.”
UNC sidelined the game in the fourth quarter when Howell found wide receiver Josh Downs for 63 yards. It was another big game in a game littered with them. Downs was targeted by Howell 13 times on Saturday, and this is the fifth game in a row he’s managed to catch eight. Brown called Downs “one of the best receivers in the country”.
“He’s an incredible player. Even if (Downs) drops the ball, I’m going to continue towards him, ”Howell said. “He’s only getting better.
Take it away
Duke: ACC leader Mataeo Durant ran for 114 yards, but the Blue Devils were otherwise mostly ineffective offensively. Duke entered that game with one of the best attacks in the country – averaging 38.8 points per game – but was stifled by a stingy defense from UNC.
UNC: Tar Heels can be successful on offense when their line protects Howell. UNC has allowed 22 sacks this season, the most for the ACC, and against Duke they’ve tried three different players down center. But when Howell has the space to operate, he looks like the Heisman candidate he has pitched as being in preseason. Howell is now second in the ACC – and among the top 10 in the country – in responsible points this season with 104.
DEFENSE IMPRESSES MACK
The UNC haven’t maintained a team at seven points or less since their first game of the 2020 season, a 31-6 victory over Syracuse. This season, the Tar Heels had allowed 29.5 points per game before they met Duke. After the game, Brown had nothing but praise for the defensive unit.
“We played our best defense of the year, and maybe since we’ve been here, and I was really proud of these guys,” Brown said. “I thought the defensive front was dominant, but I also feel like (Cam’Ron Kelly) played well today.”
Kelly, a junior defensive back, led UNC in tackles with seven and also had an interception. The Tar Heels also had five sacks and six other hits on Duke’s quarterback.
COMFORTABLE IN KENAN
Since Brown returned to coach the Tar Heels ahead of the 2019 season, UNC has lost just four times at home. In front of the announced crowd of 45,812 fans on Saturday, Brown extended his winning streak against Duke to 11 games, a streak that dates back to his first stint as head coach of the Tar Heels.
Duke: The Blue Devils return to Durham next Saturday to host Georgia Tech.
UNC: The Tar Heels will be looking for another victory in the ACC game next Saturday, welcoming the struggling Florida State.
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