Bug Howard

Associated Press

Defense leads McCaffrey-less No. 18 Stanford past North Carolina in Sun Bowl

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Who needs Christian McCaffrey? Or a starting quarterback for that matter? Playing without its regular backfield battery, No. 18 Stanford used a standout effort from running back Bryce Love and a relentless defense to hold off North Carolina 25-23 in an overcast Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.

Keller Chryst started the game at quarterback and, after a three-and-out and a UNC touchdown to open the game, put Stanford on the board with a 49-yard snatch-and-dash toss to Love. After a Tar Heels punt, Chryst maneuvered Stanford to within scoring territory before he was forced to leave the game after injuring his right knee on an 8-yard scramble. Conrad Ukropina put Stanford on top with a 44-yard field goal with 14:13 to play in the first half.

The Cardinal eventually pushed the lead to 16-7 thanks to a defense that stifled North Carolina’s offense. Playing in perhaps his final college game before a possible first-round selection in this spring’s NFL Draft, Stanford forced Mitch Trubisky into an interception inside his own territory and a fumble inside his own red zone. Nick Weiler, hero of the Florida State win, added to the misery when he missed a 51-yard field goal, leading to Ukropina’s third field goal of the game (with one miss mixed in) to push the Cardinal lead to nine.

North Carolina responded with its best offensive stretch of the day, moving a combined 123 yards over 17 plays to secure a 37-yard Weiler field goal and a 5-yard Jordon Brown rush, staking the Heels to a 17-16 lead with 2:09 to play in the third quarter. But Stanford got Trubisky one last time, taking as Dallas Lloyd claimed his second interception of the day and returned it untouched for a 19-yard pick-six at the 14:13 mark of the fourth quarter. Ryan Burns, playing for Chryst, saw his 2-point pass fall incomplete, forcing Stanford to live with a 22-17 lead. Burns managed the offense and produced just enough points for the win, completing 6-of-11 passes for 86 yards without a turnover. (Chryst left the game with 86 passing yards, 14 rushing yards and a touchdown.) Love rushed 22 times for a game-high 115 yards with a 49-yard touchdown reception.

The Heels moved 35 yards on a would-be go-ahead possession before punting, and Stanford put together a vintage Stanford (10-3) drive, consuming more than seven minutes to run 12 plays. But Stanford, un-Stanford-like fashion, could not push the ball across the goal line, settling for Ukropina’s fourth field goal of the day instead.

North Carolina (8-5) took the field at its own 25 with an eternity — 3:23, to be exact — and all three of its timeouts, needing a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to force a 25-25 tie, but could not gain a first down. Trubisky completed a pass to Ryan Switzer for no gain on first down, threw incomplete on second down and was sacked by Solomon Thomas on third down, forcing a punt with exactly two minutes remaining.

The Cardinal killed only ten seconds on three Love runs — with a third down one puzzlingly going out of bounds — but a 56-yard Jake Bailey punt pinned North Carolina at its own three with 1:34 and one timeout remaining. That inability to cross the line once, either to score the game-winning touchdown or a game-ending first down one drive later, proved costly. Given new life, Trubisky moved North Carolina 97 yards in one minute, as Trubisky scrambled to his right and found Bug Howard opened in the left side of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown that traveled about 40 through the air.

Needing a 2-point conversion to extend the game, Trubisky again scrambled to his right but was swallowed by Thomas and a host of Cardinal defenders.

Stanford recovered the ensuing onside kick and expired the final 25 seconds to hold on for the win. In what may be his final on-field audition for the NFL, Trubisky finished 23-of-39 passing for 280 yards with two touchdowns and three turnovers (one a pick-six).

With the win, the first of the post-Christian McCaffrey era on the Farm, Stanford secured its second consecutive 10-win season and top-20 season, its fifth such season in six tries under David Shaw and its sixth double-digit, top-20 season in the last seven years dating back to the Jim Harbaugh era.

Big plays make for entertaining first half between UNC and Georgia Tech

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Mitch Trubisky completed a 68-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard two plays after Georgia Tech closed to within three points of the Tar Heels late in the first half. North Carolina, which led Georgia Tech 17-7 after one quarter, now holds a 10-point edge in a 27-17 game at halftime in Chapel Hill.

North Carolina’s game-opening touchdown drive was keyed by a 45-yard run bu Elijah Hood, who later capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 UNC lead. Nick Weiler tacked on a 37-yard field goal on UNC’s next offensive possession following a Georgia Tech three-and-out.

Georgia Tech’s first touchdown came on a big play as well, with an 83-yard pass from Justin Thomas to Clinton Lynch. The Tar Heels would answer on the ensuing possession with Hood ripping off a 36-yard touchdown run on a 4th and one play.

Defense has been lacking, with each team already over 300 yards of offense, and each over 140 yards on the ground. We could have a bit of a wild finish here in this key ACC Coastal battle. A win for North Carolina keeps them tied for first place in the division, although they lose on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech.

North Carolina jumps on Miami to take big lead into halftime of ACC Coastal tilt

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North Carolina scored on all but one drive in the first half as they jumped on a lifeless Miami to take a 20-3 halftime lead in a huge game in the ACC Coastal standings.

Tar Heels quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked much more like himself playing the Hurricanes rather than playing in one, going 14-of-19 for 162 yards and two scores. Those numbers are more than double what he threw for last week in a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech.

Bug Howard took care of big plays in the passing game by getting a big 40 yard reception to open things up deep while teammate Ryan Switzer was surprisingly held in check (four yards on four catches but one score).

Miami signal-caller Brad Kaaya had virtually no rhythm when dropping back to pass as the Canes could not get much going aside from a few catch and runs from receiver David Njoku (four catches, 82 yards). Mark Walton did chip in with 60 yards on the ground in the offense’s lone bright spot of the first half.

You probably could have seen a big let down coming for the Hurricanes after an emotional last minute loss to Florida State a week ago. North Carolina took advantage of the slow start by the home team in the first half but will need to keep their foot on the pedal if they want to leave South Florida with a win in the final two quarters.

UNC smoking Duke on Tobacco Road, 38-10 at half

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Maybe Duke is still stunned over the events of last week against Miami. Maybe UNC is just a better team. Whatever the case, the Tar Heels are looking to score a second straight big win in the ACC Coastal and put themselves one giant step closer to playing in its first ACC Championship Game. A 49-yard touchdown pass from Marquise Williams to Bug Howard on the final play of the half gave UNC a 38-10 lead.

UNC jumped all over their rivals in the first quarter with three touchdowns.  Williams connected with Ryan Switzer for a big 89-yard touchdown play on their first possession of the game for the early 7-0 lead. Williams would later run in for a four-yard touchdown on its next drive, and Elijah Hood scored a rushing touchdown at the end of an 11-play drive before the end of the first quarter.

Duke seemed to bounce back in the game early in the second quarter when Jela Duncan ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run, but the Tar Heels continued tacking on with a field goal and a second touchdown pass from Williams, a 74-yard scoring play with Mack Hollins doing the damage.

With UNC’s win over Pittsburgh last week, the Tar Heels are in prime position to take a commanding lead in the ACC Coastal with a win. If the Tar Heels hold on to win this one, they will have a one-game lead in the loss column on Pitt and head-to-head tiebreakers against the Panthers, Blue Devils with Miami coming to town next week.