CHAPEL HILL—Although tens of thousands were in attendance for Homecoming in Chapel Hill, Duke’s defense did not appear to be among them.
No. 21 North Carolina blew out the Blue Devils 66-31 Saturday afternoon at Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Tar Heels cruised to their eighth straight win behind a record-shattering performance from quarterback Marquise Williams and one of the worst defensive outings the Blue Devils have had in the past three years. The win puts North Carolina in the driver’s seat for the ACC Coastal Division title, and the 66 points are the most given up by a Duke defense since surrendering 64 to Navy in 1996.
“Their quarterback played exceptionally well,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “You give up explosive [plays] and a game can get away from you. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Williams had one of the best days through the air in Tar Heel history—and that was the case after just the first half.
After forcing Duke (6-3, 3-2 in the ACC) to punt on its opening drive, North Carolina caught the Blue Devils off-guard on its very first play, as what initially seemed to be a dive play by the halfback turned out to be a flea flicker. Williams hit a wide-open Ryan Switzer for an 89-yard score—the fourth-longest pass in school history—to draw first blood for the Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 in the ACC). But the bleeding was far from over for Duke.
“The opening play, we just didn’t get our coverage communicated,” Cutcliffe said. “We certainly had some issues with the ball being thrown over our head one-on-one, and we can’t let that continue to happen or you won’t be in games, period.”
The Blue Devils got on the board with a Ross Martin field goal on their next possession, but just as Duke seemed to be gaining some ground, the Tar Heels marched back downfield. Following a screen pass from Williams to T.J. Logan for 49 yards, North Carolina punched it in on a Williams four-yard run to push the lead to 14-3.
The Tar Heels stuck to the ground game once again on their next drive, which started when Jeff Schoettmer scooped up a Joseph Ajeigbe fumble. After another big pass play—this time a 34-yard strike from Williams to Brandon Fritts—running back Elijah Hood scored on a four-yard rush to put North Carolina up, 21-3.
Despite the ominous first-quarter deficit, the game still seemed within reach for Duke. The false hope continued on the next drive when redshirt junior running back Jela Duncan ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run with 12:04 remaining in the half, bursting through the line and past the linebackers to close the gap to 11.
“We had an effective run game today,” Duke quarterback Thomas Sirk said. “[The] backs [were] running their hearts out. Made some things happen, and so unselfish when they’re not getting the ball. We saw a lot of three-back [sets] there today. Guys lead-blocking for the other. [We] just have to learn from our mistakes and continue to improve and press our running game, because right now our backs are playing at a high level.”
That was as close as the Blue Devils would get for the rest of the day.
Before the half came to a close, the Tar Heels tacked on three scores in less than five minutes. Williams picked on freshman cornerback Jeremy McDuffie, hitting Mack Hollins for a 74-yard score and Bug Howard for a 49-yard strike to blow the game open.
By halftime, with North Carolina up 38-10, Williams had already totaled a school-record 404 passing yards and four touchdowns—three through the air and one on the ground. He finished the game 23-of-35 for a school-record 494 yards and four passing touchdowns.
“He is a big, physical, athletic guy, and he out-performed us,” Cutcliffe said. “All day long, I thought he made great decisions within their offense, got the ball where it needed to be.... You just have to continue to try and play more soundly to get in that mode.”
The second half was merely an extension of the first 30 minutes, with North Carolina tacking on three more touchdowns in the third quarter alone. Sirk—who finished the day 18-of-37 for 191 yards and two interceptions—picked up a pair of rushing touchdowns, but it made no difference.
The sole silver lining for Duke was its ground game. Duncan had a career-high 115 yards and one score on 13 carries and Sirk and senior Shaquille Powell combined for another 172 yards, giving the team a season-high 304 rushing yards.
“That’s definitely something as an offensive line that we took out of this game,” senior center Matt Skura said. “I told those guys in the locker room, ‘You know there’s going to be mistakes, but we played hard through all four quarters.’ We never backed down. We rushed for over 300 yards, so I think that’s something you’ve got to think highly of as an offensive line.”
The Blue Devils will try to break their two-game losing streak next Saturday at home against Pittsburgh.