CHAPEL HILL — Javonte Williams ran for three fourth-quarter touchdowns and No. 18 North Carolina overcame a mistake-filled performance to beat Syracuse 31-6 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
Michael Carter added 138 yards of total offense for the Tar Heels (1-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who won in an empty home stadium after the school opted to open with no fans in attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Tar Heels opened with a touchdown drive only to sputter well into the third quarter in a performance plagued by turnovers and penalties. But they gradually settled into a rhythm, looking much more like the team expected to be a contender in the ACC race.
“I thought we probably scored too quickly and felt like it was going to be an easy day, and then had some lapses against a new defense,” coach Mack Brown said. “They were blitzing and moving all over the place and we had some inconsistencies. … And then the second half, we settled down and became the offense that we thought we wanted to be coming into the ballgame.”
By the fourth quarter, they were rolling, with Williams scoring from 1 yard out on the first play of the period followed by a 6-yard score on the next drive. And by the time he bounced off a tackler and scored on another 6-yard run, the Tar Heels had turned a 10-6 lead into a 25-point margin.
“I think this game really helped us because it showed us football is and we got back in our groove,” Williams said.
Syracuse’s offense did little well, generating little from its running game unless it came on quarterback Tommy DeVito scrambling to keep plays alive. But DeVito completed just 13 of 31 passes for 112 yards while taking seven sacks, as the Orange (0-1, 0-1) finished with 202 total yards.
“The bottom line is they had a convincing win over us,” Orange coach Dino Babers said. “We’ve got an idea of where we’re at now. I still think we’re good. Now we need to go back and work on some things and bring some other people along.”
Syracuse: The move to a 3-3-5 scheme under new defensive coordinator Tony White has some good moments, including when preseason Associated Press All-American Andre Cisco picked off Howell when the UNC sophomore threw into double coverage. But the offensive line that left DeVito battered all last season again had him taking a lot of punishment in this one, a problem the Orange must fix.
UNC: The Tar Heels have enjoyed a lot of preseason hype, namely due to the return of quarterback Sam Howell at the helm of an experienced offense. Instead, UNC gave the College Football Hall of Fame member plenty to address going forward, from three turnovers to nine penalties for 91 yards.
The Tar Heels didn't do much to impress voters in the AP Top 25 until late in this one. But they could move up considering teams ranked ahead of them in the preseason poll but aren’t playing this fall won’t be eligible beginning with the first regular-season poll Sunday.
The Tar Heels opened the season with an ACC win for the first time since beating Clemson 45-0 in 1996, back during Brown’s first stint as coach.... This was Syracuse’s first visit to Chapel Hill since joining the ACC before the 2013-14 season. The Orange’s last trip here was in 2003.... The 202 yards were the fewest allowed by UNC against an ACC opponents since giving up 198 to Boston College in 2009.
Syracuse: The Orange stays on the road by visiting Pittsburgh next Saturday.
UNC: The Tar Heels play their lone nonconference game next Saturday by hosting Charlotte of Conference USA.
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