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North Carolina sustains through record night from Armstrong in 59-39 win

brennan armstrong unc
UVA QB Brennan Armstrong. Photo courtesy UVA Athletics.

Remember the talk from Mandy Alonso about how North Carolina couldn’t sustain in a physical game with Virginia? You might see Bronco Mendenhall putting a muzzle on that kind of talk now.

UNC gashed the Virginia defense for 392 yards on the ground, 699 yards all told, outpacing a record night from UVA QB Brennan Armstrong, who threw for 554 yards and four TDs, but it wasn’t nearly enough in a 59-39 loss Saturday night in Kenan Stadium.

“I mean, UNC, they always try to come physical. But um, what Mendenhall has been saying the past four years is that it’s our culture versus theirs, like, we’re going go harder, longer each play, and, like, the whole game, than they will. And even if they come out swinging, like, we just have to be able to sustain it. And we know that they can’t sustain it, because the past four years, they haven’t been able to,” Alonso said on Monday, no doubt providing material for the bulletin board in the Carolina locker room.

Which was by UNC coach Mack Brown’s design.

It had been Brown who had planted the topic in the media with remarks in his weekly press conference to the same effect.

And, it worked like magic, because it was the Virginia D that couldn’t sustain in this one.

UNC (2-1, 1-1 ACC) scored on three quick-strike drives in the first quarter, Sam Howell connecting with Josh Downs on strikes of 59 and 37 yards, and a 75-yarder to Khafre Brown.

What that did was get the UVA defensive staff to be overly conscious of providing help in the passing game, opening things up underneath for the run game as the game went on.

But in the short term, Armstrong actually rallied the ‘Hoos (2-1, 0-1 ACC) to a 28-24 lead at the half, the last score with six seconds left, a 21-yarder to Billy Kemp IV.

North Carolina took control in the third quarter, piling up 162 yards on the ground, and taking advantage of the only mistake of the night from Armstrong, an INT a play after a Ty Chandler TD had put the Tar Heels up 45-31 late in the third.

A Howell-to-Kamari Morales 3-yard TD pass made it a three-score game early in the fourth quarter.

An Armstrong-to-Kemp TD pass with 7:11 left got Virginia back to two scores, but UNC put it away late with a 7-yard run from Ty Chandler, who ran for 198 yards and two TDs.

Ugh.

Howell, who had looked barely even normal in the 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech two weeks ago, throwing for 208 yards on 17-of-32 passing, with three INTs, was 14-of-21 for 307 yards and five TDs and one INT, and had 112 yards on the ground.

The UVA defense had come into the game ranked second in the ACC in total defense, but looked nothing like a competent unit really from the get-go Saturday night.

And the D maybe lost its leader, safety Joey Blount, who had 11 tackles in the game, but left in the third quarter with an arm injury, and returned to the sidelines in the fourth with his right arm in a sling.

Alonso, who had called out UNC’s lack of toughness in the past four games in this series, all Virginia wins, had a quiet two tackles, with no QB pressures.

Womp, womp.

The lack of physicality on defense wasted a huge night from the offense, which racked up 574 yards, almost entirely through the air – UVA gained just 21 yards on the ground on the night.

Dontayvion Wicks had a career night – seven catches on eight targets for 183 yards and a TD.

Kemp had eight catches on 11 targets for 106 yards and two scores.

And Virginia lost by 20.

Back to the drawing board.

Story by Chris Graham