UNC Football: Tar Heels Find Young Wide Receivers in Win
T.J. Yates is finally getting acquainted with his wide receivers.
The junior quarterback—who lost his top three receivers from 2008 to the NFL Draft—went 19 of 24 for 227 yards and two touchdowns as No. 24 North Carolina defeated in-state rival East Carolina, 31-17, on Saturday at Kenan Stadium.
Erik Highsmith had six catches for 113 yards and a score, while Jheranie Boyd reeled in a 59-yard touchdown for his first career grab to help the Tar Heels improve to 3-0.
It marks the first time North Carolina has started a season with three-straight victories since 1997, when the team won eight consecutive contests en route to an 11-1 year.
Ryan Houston ran for a pair of touchdowns, and Shaun Draughn added 84 yards on the ground as UNC showed a balanced offensive attack for the first time this season.
Jamar Bryant gave ECU an early lead with a seven-yard touchdown catch midway through the first quarter before Highsmith tied it with his first career score.
Boyd juggled and held onto Yates’ bomb at the start of the second quarter to give UNC its first lead, but Dwayne Harris again knotted the game with a six-yard run less than two minutes later.
Houston bulldozed in his first touchdown before halftime to put the Tar Heels ahead for good.
The teams exchanged field goals in the second half, and Houston capped a late drive with his second trip to the end zone to give North Carolina a two-score lead with less than two minutes remaining.
The Tar Heels’ defense, which had only allowed 16 points in their opening two games combined, had another strong effort.
They held the Pirates to 247 total yards, recovered a fumble, and also blocked a field goal. Robert Quinn, who drew the flag that led to North Carolina’s game-winning safety at Connecticut last week, led the unit with two sacks.
The big story of the day, though, was Highsmith and the rest of UNC’s receivers.
Highsmith became the first true freshman at North Carolina to break the 100-yard mark since Hakeem Nicks did it three times in 2006.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he wears the same No. 88 jersey that Nicks donned during his three seasons at UNC.
Despite the strong effort, there were still some glaring errors in North Carolina’s offense, especially in the first half.
The team fumbled on its opening two possessions, continuing a trend of slow starts.
Punter Grant Schallock also showed no leg in his kicks, often giving ECU outstanding field position.
The Tar Heels will have to fix these blemishes when they open their ACC schedule next weekend at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, who were ranked No. 14, will be hungry for a win after getting embarrassed on national television last week by Miami.
If Saturday’s performance is any indication, North Carolina should have confidence in its young offense to come through again in its first true test on the road.
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