UNC sophomore quarterback Sam Howell (7) makes a pass during a game against Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. UNC beat Syracuse 31-6.
The No. 18 North Carolina football team (1-0) defeated Syracuse (0-1), 31-6, in a crowd-less Kenan Memorial Stadium after a slow first half offensively.
Entering the game as heavy favorites, UNC was the first to strike by way of an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Sam Howell to tight end Garrett Walston in the game’s opening drive. The Tar Heels’ first touchdown would be the only score of the first quarter after a Syracuse kickoff return into the end zone was called back for an illegal blindside block.
Syracuse put its first points on the board to start the second quarter by way of a 37-yard field goal after UNC wide receiver Dazz Newsome dropped a punt deep inside of Tar Heel territory, pulling the game to 7-3. Both offenses looked sluggish throughout the first half, with the two sides combining to go 5-19 on 3rd down.
During a half in which points were hard to come by, North Carolina was led by its defense, with the Tar Heels holding the Orange to just 114 yards for the half. Sophomore Tomari Fox led the way with two sacks, two tackles-for-loss and three total tackles in the game’s opening frames. After a missed field goal attempt by Syracuse as the clock wound down on the first half, UNC took a 7-3 lead into the break.
In North Carolina’s opening drive of the second half, Howell threw his second interception of the game. After Syracuse safety Andre Cisco took the intercepted ball back into UNC territory, Syracuse drove the ball into the red zone before eventually settling for a field goal, shrinking the Tar Heel lead to 7-6.
The Tar Heels struck back in the next possession, putting the ball through the uprights after a long position to spread their lead to 10-6 with three minutes remaining in the third quarter. A 45-yard rush into the red zone from Michael Carter was punctuated with a hard nosed run from Javonte Williams through the heart of the line and into the end zone to extend UNC’s lead to 17-6.
In UNC’s next possession, Carter once again led the Tar Heels into the red zone — this time through the air — and Williams punched the ball in for a touchdown extending North Carolina’s lead to 24-6.
As the fourth quarter went on, UNC continued to spread its lead. Another touchdown from Williams secured a 25 point lead that the Tar Heels would hold for the rest of the game.
The dual rushing attack of running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams made its presence known down the stretch after a slow first half. The tandem combined for 217 yards from scrimmage and put the Tar Heels in position to score quickly in second half possessions. Javonte Williams’ three rushing touchdowns put him close to the five he punched in last year after just the first game of the season.
UNC’s defense forcing short possessions for the Orange was the determining factor in moving the Tar Heels’ to 1-0. A talented group of Syracuse defensive backs were kept on the field with quick stops by the UNC defense and it showed in the second half when Howell and the UNC offense began to click. A UNC defensive line unit that came into the year inexperienced made big plays on third down and put pressure on Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito, forcing seven sacks, the most UNC has had in a single game since 2013.
After a slow first half, the UNC offense started to click. Opening the season after stopping workouts twice due to COVID-19 clusters made for an especially rusty opening game, but the team made adjustments and pulled away with a 25 point victory.
North Carolina looked like the top-25 team it was expected to be in the second half despite the early miscues and rust.
The Tar Heels will host Charlotte in Kenan Stadium next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in their lone out-of-conference matchup of the regular season.
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