CHAPELL HILL, NC (WNN) – Sam Howell threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns and North Carolina topped the Duke 38-7 on Saturday, holding onto the coveted Victory Bell for the third year in a row.
“Really, really proud of our people,” said UNC coach Mack Brown. “People stay better because we keep getting better. The program is getting better. We saw signs of it on defense today. And now we have to get our offense to move on as well.”
The Tar Heels (3-2, 2-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) went ahead with a pair of explosive plays in the first half.
Howell added to open the scoring with Ty Chandler running down the sideline for a 75-yard score. Less than two minutes later, Kevin Hester hit Duke’s Gunnar Holberg as he was throwing, causing the ball to slip out of his hand and Trey Morrison returning a 63-yard fumble for a touchdown.
Allowing a scoop-and-score signifies a disappointing performance for Duke (3-2, 0-1 acc). The Blue Devils punt nine times, swung the ball twice and converted only 2 of 15 in the third down.
Duke scored his lone point in the third quarter on an 80-yard catch-and-run by Jalon Calhoun. The defeat broke a three-game winning streak for the Blue Devils.
“We will learn from this, but we will soon leave it behind in our preparation,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “The difference in the game was, in part, their explosives versus our explosives.”
UNC took the game away in the fourth quarter when Howell got receiver Josh Downs for a 63-yard score. This was another big game in the game filled with them. Downs was hit 13 times by Howell on Saturday and it was the fifth game in a row in which he took eight catches. Brown called Downs “one of the best receivers in the country”.
“He’s an incredible player. Even if (Down) drops the ball, I’ll keep going to him,” Howell said. “He’s only getting better.”
Duke: ACC chief Rush Matteo Durant ran for 114 yards, but the Blue Devils were otherwise offensively ineffective. Duke entered the game with one of the nation’s top-scoring attacks – an average of 38.8 points per game – but was suppressed by a stingy UNC defense.
UNC: The Tar Heels can be successful on offense when their line defends howl. UNC have allowed 22 sacks this season, the most in the ACC, and against Duke they tried three different players in the centre. But when Howell does have a place to work, he looks like the Heisman candidate he was hypnotizing for being in preseason. Howell is now second in the ACC – and in the top 10 in the country – with 104 responsible for this season.
defense affected mac
UNC has not put a team on seven points or less since their 2020 season opener, a 31-6 win over Syracuse. This season, the Tar Heels were allowing 29.5 points per game before their meeting with Duke. After the game, Brown had nothing but praise for the defensive unit.
“We played our best defense of the year, and probably ever since we got here, and I’m really proud of those guys,” Brown said. “I thought the defensive front was the key, but I also think (Cameron Kelly) played well today.”
Kelly, a junior defensive back, led UNC with seven and one interception. The Tar Heels also hit five sacks and an additional six on Duke’s quarterback.
Casual in Canaan
Since Brown returned as coach of the Tar Heels ahead of the 2019 season, UNC have lost only four times at home. In front of a declared crowd of 45,812 fans on Saturday, Brown extended his winning streak against Duke to 11 games, a run that dates back to his first stint as head coach of the Tar Heels.
Duke: The Blue Devils return to Durham to host Georgia Tech next Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels will look for another win in ACC play next Saturday, hosting struggling Florida State.
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