TV/ESPNU — No. 19-ranked North Carolina beat unranked UConn, a team picked to finish in the bottom tier of the Big East, on a holding penalty.
Let that sink in for a moment. UNC’s defense bailed out its predictable offense that briefly turned it on in the fourth quarter, rallying from a 10-point deficit to tie the game.
UConn offensive lineman Dan Ryan committed the penalty in UConn’s own endzone after the Heels pushed the Huskies back to a third-and-23 situation. The penalty combined with the Huskies’ inability to move the ball after starting quarterback, Zach Frazer, went down with an injury gave Carolina enough of an opening to rally for the win.
But it would’ve been worse if Carolina’s defense hadn’t shown up. Charles Brown forced a fumble and picked off a pass in the first half to end UConn scoring drives that would’ve put the Heels even more in a hole.
Running back Shaun Draughn struggled the entire game, carrying the ball 14 times and gaining only 21 yards. A brief appearance by Ryan Houston in the fourth quarter provided the lone bright spot in the offense. Houston rescued the offense with 32 rushing yards that set up the late touchdown pass to Zack Pianalto, who dislocated his foot on the ensuing celebration.
And quarterback T.J. Yates (pictured) struggled as a result of the failures in the running game. Yates was sacked six times and couldn’t get in rhythm until the Heels abandoned the running game midway through the fourth. Yates threw two interceptions, the first a terrible read and the second a fluke deflection.
While the offense struggled, Carolina’s defense looked the part of a top-25 team. Linebackers Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant sacked backup quarterback Cody Endres on fourth down near midfield to seal the victory and bail out the offense. The front seven smothered the vaunted UConn rushing attack, limiting the Huskies to only 72 yards on 35 attempts.
Yet Carolina’s rushing attack was disrupted by an inferior opponent compared to the competition the Heels will face in the ACC. Houston should have carried the ball earlier than the fourth quarter after Draughn struggled in the entire first half. The Huskies weren’t even stacking the box and still made Draughn look lost.
ECU comes to town next week and will be a much more difficult test for Carolina. Yates led an excellent fourth quarter comeback, but the offense must put more points on the board to sustain the No. 19 ranking and have a chance to finish third or better in the Coastal Division.