Kenan Memorial Stadium/Chapel Hill — So much for not forcing turnovers.
UNC’s famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) linebacker trio combined for three out of the six turnovers — six being the most turnovers forced since the Duke game in 1999.
Those three turnovers churned out 21 points and put the Golden Eagles out of this game before halftime as UNC rolled 42-12.
“We try to do that every week but it hasn’t been happening, but this week it happened,” linebacker Quan Sturdivant said. “So we are going to try to continue to do this every week … everybody wants to do it, everybody wants a piece of the action.”
The defense also cloaked yet another average performance by the offense. UNC managed to gain only 289 yards with the majority coming in the first half.
“It’s a positive step, but I still want to take a look at the film and see if we did some of the things that I think we did,” UNC coach Butch Davis said. “The only way that an offense can grow is to have the same guys playing together week after week after week after week.”
The starters on offense weren’t by any means bad. T.J. Yates led a touchdown drive to open and end the half. But the excellent field position the defense created made up for the punts, and UNC couldn’t seem to dominate the inferior athletes of Georgia Southern — which was evident in the second half.
“First of all, I know the score didn’t indicate it, but our defense played outstanding,” Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher said. “We gave up a 14-play drive and a 12-play drive and that was kind of our gameplan going in, to not give up the big play and make them work the ball down the field.”
For what it’s worth, the Golden Eagles outscored UNC 5-0 in the second half.
Although the starters had a few possessions in the second half, the backups — led by quarterback Branden Hanson — were awful. Hanson threw a pick, fumbled and looked out of sorts. Running back/quarterback A.J. Blue fumbled and Markeith Wylie tackled him in the endzone for a safety.
“I don’t like the way we played in the second half,” Davis said. “Particularly, I thought we were sloppy and ineffective offensively.”
Any calls for Yates to be benched in favor of these two backups was obliterated by this performance against an FCS team. Yates has the poise and the arm to win games — and the experience.
The running game, meanwhile, quietly had a productive game. The return of left guard Jonathan Cooper contributed to the 164 rushing yards and should benefit the team heading into a bye week.
And Carolina’s punt coverage was outstanding. Punter Grant Schallock averaged more than 43 yards and pinned the Golden Eagles inside the 20-yard line twice.
UNC moves to 4-2 on the season and still must win three games to become bowl eligible. The defense regained some of its mojo from the 2008 season as it should have against an FCS opponent. With a week and a half to prepare for Florida State, the passing game must improve for the Heels to start winning ACC games
“We’ve got more ACC games; we have to jump right back in the schedule, and this game really helped us get back from our little slump,” running back Ryan Houston said. “Two ACC losses and we’ve got this win, so we just have to build off this one.”