CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP)—North Carolina built its identity the past few years around three star receivers. During their first game without them, the Tar Heels wound up defining themselves by their ability to run—and to stop The Citadel from doing so.
Shaun Draughn rushed for 118 yards, Ryan Houston had two short touchdown runs and No. 21 North Carolina had its best rushing game under coach Butch Davis during a 40-6 rout of the Bulldogs on Saturday night.
“Great way to start a season,” Draughn said. “It didn’t even feel like I had that many yards.”
T.J. Yates threw for two touchdowns in the decisive first half, finishing 9 of 20 for 114 yards in three quarters with scoring passes of 18 yards to Johnny White and 21 yards to Greg Little for the Tar Heels (1-0).
North Carolina rolled up 375 total yards, and its 261 on the ground marked its most productive rushing performance since 2004—three years before Davis’ debut in Chapel Hill.
“There’s definitely some things we can work on in the passing game, but our running game was absolutely awesome,” Yates said.
The Bulldogs couldn’t get anything going against a defense returning an Atlantic Coast Conference-best nine starters, finishing with 30 yards rushing— North Carolina’s stingiest game since 2005.
“These guys weren’t trying to line up and just run the ball,” North Carolina safety Deunta Williams said. “They were trying to trick us and do different things. … There’s not a lot of teams that’s just going to be able to run the ball against our front seven.”
Da’Norris Searcy returned a late punt 77 yards for a touchdown for the Tar Heels, who played their first opener as a ranked team since they were No. 12 in 1998 and were upset 13-10 by Miami (Ohio). This one was nowhere near that close after a second quarter in which North Carolina scored on four straight possessions.
The halftime stat sheet was all Tar Heels: They led 23-0, outgained the Bulldogs 204-73, held a 108-16 advantage in yards rushing and forced four turnovers.
Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said his defense “was on the field too long, and they got worn down. That was obvious to see.”
The only thing in question after the break was whether North Carolina could polish off its first shutout since beating Duke 38-0 in the 1999 finale. Sam Keeler spoiled that with a 42-yard field goal with about 7 1/2 minutes left and added another kick in the final minute.
Bart Blanchard was 21 of 37 for 117 yards for The Citadel, but threw three first-half interceptions. Two were picked off by Williams—including one in the end zone that thwarted the Bulldogs’ best chance for a touchdown.
At least The Citadel kept things closer than it did its last time out—a 70-19 loss to eventual national champion Florida in last year’s finale. That wasn’t much consolation for a Championship Subdivision team looking to beat one of the big boys for the first time since 1992.
This was a punishing all-around effort from the Tar Heels. They entered Davis’ third season hoping to take the next step toward becoming an annual contender in the ACC—but also looking for a way to replace Hakeem Nicks, Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate.
Yates spent his night spreading the ball around. Six players caught passes from him, although nobody had more than two catches and his numbers were marred by several drops.
He capped the Tar Heels’ second possession of the second quarter with his scoring pass to White to make it 10-0, before hooking up with Little shortly before halftime for the play of the game.
Yates was flushed right but found Little outside the hash marks. The one-time running back spun around one defender and shook off three arm tackles while cutting back across the field for his first touchdown catch since 2007.
“It was kind of a scramble,” Little said.