Javonte Williams rushed for three fourth-quarter touchdowns to help No. 18 North Carolina post a 31-6 victory over Syracuse on Saturday in the season opener for both teams in front of empty stands at Chapel Hill, N.C.
Sam Howell passed for 295 yards and tossed a touchdown pass to Garrett Walston as the Tar Heels pulled away to win a sluggish ACC matchup. North Carolina (1-0 overall, 1-0 ACC) outgained the Orange 463-202 and racked up seven sacks with Chazz Surratt and Tomari Fox each recording two.
Tommy DeVito was just 13 of 31 passing for 112 yards for Syracuse (0-1, 0-1).
“It comes down to, when you have the opportunity, you have to make plays,” SU head coach Dino Babers said. “When the receiver is open, you’ve got to make the throw, when the throw is made, you have to make the catch, and then when you get an opportunity to make a big play, you need to finish the play. I just thought there were a lot of mishaps and when you’re as on the edge as we are, we need those plays and need those throws to happen, that’s how we get our big momentum and we just didn’t have it today.”
The Tar Heels led just 10-6 before pulling away in the final quarter.
Williams scored on a 1-yard run on the first play of the quarter to boost the lead to 11 points. A 45-yard run by Michael Carter was the key gain on the six-play, 77-yard drive.
The next time North Carolina had the ball, it needed just four plays to travel 68 yards. Williams capped the drive with a 6-yard scamper to make it 24-6 with 11:33 remaining.
Dazz Newsome’s 38-yard punt return to the Orange 44-yard-line set up the next score. Howell connected on a 38-yard gain with Dyami Brown (six receptions, 94 yards) and Williams followed with a 6-yard run with 9:37 left to push the margin to 25.
“We just got to come together as a defense and finish the game out strong, finish it how we started it,” said SU senior defensive end, Kingsley Jonathan. “Guys have to keep running around and making plays, we’ll fix it and be ready to go next week.”
Howell completed 25 of 34 pass but also was intercepted twice. Syracuse star Andre Cisco recorded his 13th career pick while Mikel Jones collected the first of his college career.
Giovanni Biggers had an interception for the Tar Heels as he picked off Orange backup Rex Culpepper in the final quarter.
“We had some lapses against a new defense,” said North Carolina coach Mack Brown. “They (the Orange) were moving all over the place, and in the second half we settled down and became the offense we wanted to be coming into the game.”
North Carolina led 7-3 at halftime. The touchdown came on the Tar Heels’ first possession when Howell tossed an 11-yard scoring pass to Walston to cap a 10-play, 65-yard drive.
The Orange got on the board in the second quarter when Andre Szmyt kicked a 37-yard field goal with 10:43 left in the half. Szmyt later missed wide to the right with 29 seconds to play in the half.
Szmyt redeemed himself with a 24-yard field goal with 8:11 left in the third quarter to pull Syracuse within one. But Grayson Atkins connected on a 31-yard-field goal to give the Tar Heels a 10-6 advantage with 3:18 remaining in the quarter.
BABERS CONFIRMS RB OPT-OUTS
Syracuse head coach Dino Babers confirmed previous reports that running backs Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard – expected to be the top two backfield options entering training camp – opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns.
Babers also clarified that linebacker Tyrell Williams and guard Dakota Davis are dealing with injuries that kept them off the Week 1 depth chart, but each is expected to return at some point this season.
BLEICH WAIVER DENIED
Florida transfer guard Chris Bleich was denied a waiver by the NCAA to gain immediate eligibility and will thus be required to sit out the season to comply with NCAA transfer rules.
Bleich announced the decision via social media Thursday night, thanking SU fans for support in his message.
NO FANS FOR SU OPENER
Syracuse University confirmed late last week that no fans will be allowed to attend fall sporting events for the time being, including the home opener against Georgia Tech on Sept. 26.
SU athletics is complying with state mandates regarding COVID-19 and reiterated that individual game tickets would go on sale if fans are permitted to attend games at any point during the season.
More details can be found at the FAQ section of the SU athletics website, cuse.com.
SOCIAL JUSTICE PHRASES
Seven players from the SU football team chose to replace the name patch on the back of their jersey to a message calling for social justice on Saturday.
Wide receiver Taj Harris, punter Nolan Cooney, linebacker Mikel Jones, and offensive linemen Airon Servais, Pat Davis, and Mark Petry each chose the word: ‘Equality,’ while freshman quarterback JaCobian Morgan displayed the phrase: ‘Black Lives Matter.’