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North Carolina offense may be ahead of last year’s slow start

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With North Carolina’s offense coming to life, let us honor the late Gene Wilder with his legendary words from “Young Frankenstein.” They apply to the Tar Heels’ 48-23 win Saturday night at Illinois.

“Alive! It’s alive! IT’S ALIVE!”

North Carolina has the weapons to keep up with Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, but only when the Tar Heels are right. They weren’t in a demoralizing season-opening loss to Georgia that cost them their No. 22 preseason ranking.

Against Illinois, North Carolina rolled up 462 total yards. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw two touchdown passes, ran for two more and Elijah Hood added two TD runs.

A few observations:

— Trubisky’s performance looked like something out of quarterback Marquise Williams’ senior season playbook last year.

Williams needed until the ACC opener against Georgia Tech to fully right himself from a disappointing season-opening loss to South Carolina. Once he did, though, he finished second only to Clemson’s Deshaun Watson in total yards.

Compared to Watson (who labored against Troy in Week 2), Trubisky bounced back quicker from his subpar performance in last week’s loss to SEC member Georgia.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior who waited patiently behind Williams was 19-of-24 for 265 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions against Illinois. He also tapped into a level of running ability that was thwarted by Georgia. He scored on 1-yard run for a 7-7 tie and six yards for a 17-14 lead. He carried nine times for a net of 42 yards (12 yards in losses).

— Someone needs to keep reminding head coach Larry Fedora Elijah Hood is a nationally elite running back.

After North Carolina gave Hood the ball only 10 times for 72 yards against Georgia, the 6-0, 220-pounder was called upon a little more — 15 times — at Illinois. His net yardage was only 88 (101 gained), but he scored two touchdowns on runs of 7 and 62 yards.
Hood also should have had a third TD run as time expired at halftime. That’s why somebody has to push a blinking light on Fedora’s play sheet.

With two seconds left in the second quarter and the Tar Heels on Illinois’ 2-yard line, Trubisky threw an incomplete pass. Kicking a field goal was a safer call, but Hood running the ball was wiser than risking a pass.

MORE NOTES

— Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney needs an anti-DeSean Jackson showboating rule. For all future breakaway touchdowns, Clemson players must cross the goal line and leave the ball resting on the back end zone line for the referees to recover.

Fans no doubt shook their heads watching replays of Clemson’s Ray-Ray McCloud as he dropped the ball one yard before crossing the goal line. The sophomore punt return’s bonehead move – it was all about the glorification of the individual — resulted in a touchback for Troy rather than 75-yard punt return score for the Tigers.

A “Dabo Rule” can also limit high school and youth football kids from copying what they see on TV. Such mimicking is the bane of coaches at those levels.

It reminds one of a rule once instituted by the high school coach of Pro Football Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, Bill Christopher. His team’s kicker so routinely kicked the ball into the end zone, the coverage players began trotting downfield. Sure enough, the one time a kick was short it was fielded for a long return. The coach then required his players to run until they touched the goal line on all kicks, including touchbacks.

— Duke must play better in the trenches on both sides of the following a Saturday’s 24-14 loss to Wake Forest.

Offensively, the Blue Devils had 19 plays gain 1 yard or less. On 14 of those plays they lost yardage. They also faced 11 yards for a first down on 11 snaps.

Defensively for Duke, Wake Forest’s 239 yards rushing were the most Demon Deacons gained since 2010. Cade Carney’s 108 yards rushing was the first century-mark performance for a Wake Forest running back since 2012.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe didn’t fault his players’ effort. The Blue Devils are a young team that started fast with a 7-0 lead but then hurt itself with mistakes.

“We need our older people executing to perfection and we need our younger players learning more and learning quickly so they can be as effective as their athleticism,” he said.

September 3, 2016 East Carolina Pirates quarterback Philip Nelson (9) scores a touchdownin a game between the East Carolina Pirates and the Western Carolina Catamounts at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, NC. (Photograph by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire)

East Carolina Pirates quarterback Philip Nelson (9) — (Photograph by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire)

— East Carolina senior Philip Nelson is providing the Pirates (2-0) with strong and consistent play they lacked at quarterback last year. He has thrown for 695 yards with six touchdowns and one interception through two games. He is 61-of-75 (81.3 percent) passing.

New head coach Scottie Montgomery also shifted former quarterback James Summers into a multi-position role. Summers scored twice on quarterback keepers out of wildcat formations from 27 and 16 yards in the 33-30 win Saturday over N.C. State. Summers (6-3, 218) is listed as a wide receiver but also can drop in at running back and tight end.

Follow Tom Shanahan of Today’s U on Twitter: @shanny4055

North Carolina offense may be ahead of last year’s slow start

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