North Carolina hits the road
CHAPEL HILL ó North Carolina went from looking battered, beaten and confused midway through the season to clinching bowl eligibility in its final home game.
Now the Tar Heels are hoping for a strong finish on the road.
North Carolina travels to Boston College on Saturday followed by a trip just down the road to face rival North Carolina State on Thanksgiving weekend to close the regular season.
It’s a stretch that gives the Tar Heels a chance to earn their way to a better postseason locale, not to mention a strong finish that eluded them last year in their first bowl trip under Butch Davis. The Tar Heels needed seven wins to have a chance at the postseason because only one of their victories against Championship Subdivision teams ó they played both The Citadel and Georgia Southern ó could be counted for bowl eligibility.
“This is another one of those tests with your players and your program,” Davis said Monday. “This season’s not over with and we want to finish well.”
North Carolina (7-3, 3-3 ACC) has won three straight games since blowing a big second-half lead in a home loss to Florida State last month. That includes a win at Virginia Tech and Saturday’s 33-24 victory against then-No. 12 Miami, the Tar Heels’ fifth straight win against a ranked opponent.
That kind of run didn’t seem possible after the Florida State game, which had followed a lackluster offensive showing in a loss at Georgia Tech followed by a clunker performance at home against Virginia in which the Tar Heels failed to find the end zone. In those games, North Carolina’s offense ó young and battling numerous injuries on the offensive line ó looked overwhelmed while putting the burden on the team’s stout defense.
Yet the Tar Heels have persevered.
“If you have doubt, you’re just giving up on yourself,” tight end Zack Pianalto said. “We just knew we were going through a rough time. We figured we’d keep going at it and giving it all we had. We felt pretty confident that eventually the kinks would get worked out.”
The Tar Heels certainly sound confident about their chances on the road. They’ve won two of three away from home this year, including a fourth-quarter comeback at Connecticut in September and that 20-17 win against the Hokies in Blacksburg on a last-play field goal on Oct. 29.
In fact, they sound more concerned with not repeating last year’s late-season fade than the challenge of closing on the road. Last year, North Carolina was 7-2 and contending for an ACC division title before losing two straight games.
“That’s kind of when we hit our speed bump after we got our seventh win last year,” quarterback T.J. Yates said. “We don’t want to do that again. We’ve talked about it as a team, just trying to get past the bowl-eligible thing and focusing on what we have to do.”