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November Men: North Carolina poised for strong finish

Chris Rodier/Icon Sportswire

There’s always uncertainty when Georgia Tech is the opponent.

That’s the dilemma North Carolina faced going into Saturday. The Tar Heels’ 6-2 start mattered only so much. The Yellow Jackets’ spread-option offense is considerably different from anything Larry Fedora’s group had seen at any other point this season. How it would respond was impossible to predict.

UNC was prepared in a 48-20 win over the Yellow Jackets in Kenan Stadium. For the second year in a row, the Heels are in position to rock and roll through the month of November.

Unlike last fall, Fedora’s team isn’t in a spot to control its own destiny in the final month of the regular season; Virginia Tech still needs to lose another ACC game for that to happen. However, much like a season ago, the schedule is set up for UNC to go undefeated in November and enter the postseason with double-digit wins.

It was at this time in 2015 that Carolina played its best football. First, it recorded a 66-31 thrashing of Duke. Then, to prove the triumph over the Blue Devils wasn’t a fluke, it delivered the 59-21 throttling of Miami. Soon to follow was a 30-27 overtime win over Virginia Tech to claim the Coastal Division title in Frank Beamer’s last game at Lane Stadium. To wrap up the month: a 45-34 victory over rival N.C. State in Raleigh.

Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech was a sign that this year’s Tar Heel team might also be peaking in the final month of the regular season.

UNC clicked in all three phases.

The offense moved the ball at will. North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky finished 20-of-32 for 329 yards and a touchdown, adding 44 rushing yards and a score on the ground. Running back Elijah Hood churned out 168 yards and three touchdowns, while receiver Bug Howard pulled in six receptions for 120 yards and a score. It marked the first time in school history that individual players rushed for 100 yards, passed for 300 yards, and posted 100 receiving yards in two consecutive games (Hood, Trubisky and Howard also reached those milestones against Virginia on Oct. 22).

The defense surrendered 518 yards on the day but held its own when it mattered most. Georgia Tech was 3-of-6 on red-zone chances, managing only one touchdown and two field goals in those tries.

The Tar Heels’ special teams showed up as well. Nick Weiler made field goals of 37 and 50 yards, while UNC blocked Harrison Butker’s 32-yard attempt at the end of the first half.

It was a well-rounded performance for a North Carolina team that needs to keep winning if it’s going to have any shot at claiming the division crown. The rest of the slate is manageable: a Thursday night trip to Duke on Nov. 10 and home matchups against The Citadel (Nov. 19) and N.C. State (Nov. 25) to round out the docket.

The Tar Heels can’t control whether or not Virginia Tech slips up, a scenario that would put UNC in the driver’s seat for the Coastal. With the way Fedora’s squad played Saturday, though, the Tar Heels look like a team that will capitalize should the opportunity present itself.

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