Sunday Storylines: What's On Tap
•Just over two minutes in to Saturday's game with Virginia Tech, Carolina gave up the first touchdown they'd allowed in Kenan Stadium in 2012. With the offense stagnating, that also meant the Tar Heels would be playing from behind at home for the first time this season. That feeling lasted 14 seconds.
The ensuing kickoff bounced at the 16-yard line and was fielded by Carolina returner Sean Tapley on the far sideline at the 6. At the 15, Tapley turned to his left. He then made a hard cut upfield and pushed the turbo button. At the Carolina 32, three Hokies dove and missed. Tapley was off to the races, eluding last-gasp dive attempts from Virginia Tech's Martin Scales and Brooks Abbott to score the first kickoff return touchdown allowed by the Hokies since 1993, an FBS-record 237 games. After the Casey Barth extra point, the game was tied and momentum back on the Tar Heel sideline.
"That’s when adversity hit, so somebody had to make a play, and I wanted to make the play, and I did," Tapley said after the game. "I think it really helped us start to get in a rhythm."
Tar Heel head coach Larry Fedora said the team had been one play away at times during the season, and Tapley's return was a game-changer. "He handled it clean, and our guys got on everybody. He made one guy miss and he outran them. That ignites your team," he said. Fedora said expecting to make a play is an important part of executing a play. "When you believe it's going to happen, it usually happens."
Fellow wideout Erik Highsmith said there had been a feeling that the Tar Heels were going to be able to run back a kickoff. "Coach Jordan is kickoff return coach, and he just knew he was going to get a big one today and Sean was the right guy to do it, and he did. It was pretty," Highsmith said. "He’s got a lot of catches on offense (and he) moved the chains for us.
Two weeks ago after his first career touchdown against East Carolina, Tapley kindly asked reporters to wait while he updated his Facebook page. Saturday, he waited until after interviews to post his stats (two catches for 43 yards and a touchdown plus the return TD) and the following: “BIG TIME PLAYERS SHOW UP IN BIG TIME GAMES!” They certainly do.
•Second-string quarterback Marquise Williams entered the game in a wildcat formation and rushed twice for 15 yards. Fedora said the offense had been working on a way to get Williams involved. "He definitely has a role on this football team, and that also kind of gets him in the flow of the game a little bit more so that if something ever happens, he's already been out there, he's been hit, so he's going to feel more comfortable," Fedora said. "That's a nice little adjustment."
•It's remarkable enough that the Tar Heels were able to put up 48 points and beat Virginia Tech by two scores. What makes that even more remarkable (and confounding) is how ugly the game was at times. Carolina false-started three times for 15 negative yards on their first offensive series. They had eight penalties for 62 yards in the first quarter alone and finished with an astounding 15 for 162 yards. That's on a day in which the offense racked up 533 total yards.
"I don't know what to attribute it to," left guard Jonathan Cooper said of all the laundry on the field. "Some of it was just being antsy with the false starts, some of it was their good players, we were just trying to get on them and get a holding call. It comes with the territory. We need to work on it and eliminate them if we can, but for sure cut them down."
Tapley said he wouldn't have thought a team that committed 15 penalties would be able to win. "I would have thought we would have lost, so that shows that we’re a real good team to have that many penalties and still come out on top," he said.