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North Carolina

Tar Heels ease back into offensive rhythm without Hollins

Posted October 22, 2016

North Carolina's 35-14 win against Virginia earned the No. 22 Tar Heels bowl eligibility, but more importantly confirmed the team's offensive capability without Mack Hollins.

UNC overcame a first half that head coach Larry Fedora deemed inconsistent offensively to show its ability to produce evenly, even without standout wide receiver Hollins, who broke his collarbone ending his season a week earlier.

"We did not have it in the first half," quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. "In the second half we had a little better time playing and were moving. We needed to convert more third downs and got more rhythm in the second half."

A 14-7 halftime lead was too slim a margin, UNC thought, after striking first on a four-yard Elijah Hood rushing touchdown to close the first quarter, then a 7-7 tie-breaking 40-yard trick-play touchdown pass to Bug Howard, who wore Hollins' No. 13 jersey in the fellow senior's honor.

"It felt good to execute the play and come to the sideline and fist bump (Mack) first, let him know that it was for him," Howard said, who plans to wear No. 13 until senior night, when Hollins will wear his own jersey again.

Howard's 109 receiving yards and Hood's 107 rushing yards reflected the team's balance in the win, which was established even in a less-steady first half to help the trick play -- which began with a wildcat snap to TJ Logan -- work.

"It's a gadget play we've had in the offense for about four weeks," Fedora said. "We were trying to set it up against Miami and weren't getting the right separation. We didn't feel like we had to do anything else to set it up in this game, we were just waiting.

"Coverage wise, we were going to get what we wanted, they hadn't seen it from us," he continued. "The last time we ran that play was against Notre Dame a few years ago."

"(Virginia) probably watched our film last week and said, 'It's wildcat so we're going to bring the safety down and try to stop the run with TJ,'" Trubisky said. "We hand it off (to Ryan Switzer), then I catch the pitch and throw it deep.

"We definitely want to take advantage of those plays, especially when they are creeping up trying to stop the run."

NC finished with 178 rushing yards and 310 passing yards in an dual-threat win, after an even 95-rushing-yard, 160-passing-yard first half.

The Tar Heels lost possession on a fumble on their third play of the second half, but scored on the next two drives -- on a pass to Thomas Jackson, then a rush by Logan -- to lead 28-7 as the defense held Virginia to a scoreless third quarter.

UNC's quarter-splitting drive ended in the Tar Heels' first punt of the second quarter, then Virginia scored for the second and final time.

North Carolina's answer was a two-play touchdown drive, punctuated by a 46-yard Austin Proehl receiving touchdown.

"We started finally getting that rhythm back," Hood said. "It felt good to start moving the ball well and we were able to put up points. We have not really put up points in the second half of games in a while, so we were specifically challenged to play a full 60 minutes of football."

Tailback Hood notched his tenth career 100-yard rushing game. Hood, who was injured three weeks earlier against Florida State and did not play the following week against Virginia Tech, scored his first touchdown since Week 3 getting back on track as his team played its first full game without Hollins.

"Losing Mack is definitely going to hurt," Hood said. "(But) we lose Mack as I get a little healthier, the way injuries happen it's on and off.

"We just have to keep that next-man-up mentality. I think we did that today."

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