For the fourth time in as many weeks, North Carolina led going into the fourth quarter of its game against Duke. But like three of those four games, the Tar Heels couldn’t hold on as Duke took home the Victory bell for a second consecutive season.
Chazz Surratt, who has clearly become the starter for this team, was under constant pressure early in the first half. North Carolina’s offensive line allowed three first half sacks which led to five three-and-outs for UNC in the early goings.
However, Surratt made two big plays at the end of the first half that led to the Tar Heels first touchdown of the game. The freshman quarterback finished the game 17-of-32 for 259 yards and a touchdown. He also threw his first interception of the season on an ill-advised third down pass.
Additionally, Surratt ran the ball 17 times for 177 yards and a touchdown.
Anthony Ratliff-Williams also had a big game, finishing with five catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
The biggest issue for UNC’s offense is still the run game, and it got no help from the nation’s top rush defense. In the first half, the Tar Heels had 32 yards on 17 carries. Surratt’s legs helped make the number look respectable, but otherwise it was a tough day on the ground for UNC.
UNC also struggled on third down, going 3-of-16 on the day. That included Surratt’s interception late in the fourth quarter that was returned for a touchdown to put the game away.
The defense did a decent job early. The Blue Devils got into the red zone twice in the first half, thanks to great field position. Duke came away with three points on those plays. If not for those plays, it may have been a blowout in favor of the team from Durham.
M.J. Stewart continues to show why he is in line to be a first round draft pick in 2018. The senior defensive back was everywhere making tackles, breaking up plays, and even getting after the quarterback. Stewart also fielded punts for the Tar Heels
The Tar Heels also got after the quarterback. A week after recording two sacks against Old Dominion, UNC finished with three sacks against Duke, including one from Stewart.
It wasn’t all great for the defense, though. Duke’s first touchdown came on a three play drive. Two of those plays went for 20 or more yards, something UNC has struggled with this season. The Tar Heels allowed another big play that led to Duke’s second score.
Special teams continues to be the best phase of the game for the Tar Heels. Week after week, they are constantly coming up big with something and this week was no different.
Late in the first half, with the Tar Heels down seven, the Blue Devils had advanced to the UNC six-yard line. On fourth down, Duke lined up to kick a 24-yard field goal.
Jason Stowbridge wasn’t going to have any of it, though, as he busted through the line and blocked the attempt. Two plays later, the Tar Heels tied the game just before halftime.
UNC Punter Tom Shelton also got a workout. He finished the game with eight punts for 361 yards, including two inside the 20.
On the down side, Hunter Crafford picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty on a punt after the play was over. It gave Duke good field position, but the defense forced a three-and-out.
In the first half, the coaching staff made some interesting calls. The first came on UNC’s third possession as the offense pulled off a flea flicker that turned into a 47-yard reception for Austin Proehl.
The second call was not calling timeout on fourth-and-three with about a minute left. The Tar Heels let the clock run down to 22 seconds before the Blue Devils attempted the aforementioned field goal.
It ended up being a moot decision as UNC was aggressive and two plays later Chazz Surratt was hitting Anthony Ratliff-Williams for a 36-yard touchdown. Still, the team went into halftime with two unused timeouts that they couldn’t use in the second half.
One of the worst calls the coaching staff made on Saturday afternoon was on fourth-and-12 from inside the 20. UNC was down 10. Instead of kicking the field goal and trying the onside kick, the Tar Heels went for it, coming up way short and guaranteeing Duke the victory.
Overall, the coaching staff did well. The biggest knock falls on Fedora, who lost to the crosstown rival once again. Fedora is now 2-4 against Duke during his tenure at UNC.
The Tar Heels will take their injury ridden team down to Georgia Tech next week, still seeking their first conference win of the season.