The North Carolina Tar Heels finished 2019 hot. After winning the last two games of the regular season to become bowl eligible, the team brought its momentum to the Military Bowl in Annapolis. The result was a 55-13 thrashing of the Temple Owls and well-deserved optimism for 2020.
Tar Heels Finished 2019 Hot
North Carolina’s bowl prospects looked questionable in November, with a 4-6 record through 10 games. However, the Tar Heels saved their best football for the end of the season. A predictable blowout of Mercer was followed by a 41-10 demolition of NC State. The team scored nearly 100 points in the two final games, and the defense became stingy, surrendering only 17 points.
The season was on the line, and everyone stepped up. Once the team hit its late-season stride, a new air of confidence surrounded North Carolina football. That confidence was on full display Friday in Annapolis. The Tar Heels took control early, and never took their feet off the gas pedal.
Temple came to Annapolis with plenty of confidence as well. This postseason marked five straight bowl trips for the Owls, who had just finished the season at 8-4. Led by quarterback Anthony Russo and a stout defense, Temple represented a formidable adversary for North Carolina. Once kickoff arrived, it was obvious Mack Brown’s squad was prepared to blow out a third straight opponent.
Another Offensive Explosion
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell continued the sensational play that has characterized his season. The true freshman threw 35 touchdowns passes during the regular season the way to being named ACC Rookie of the Year. On Friday, he let it fly once again. Once the Military Bowl was over, Howell had passed for three more touchdowns. He even caught a touchdown pass from receiver Rontavius Groves,on a razzle-dazzle play. Howell looked like he was simply having fun on the way to earning Military Bowl MVP honors.
The rest of the offense got involved as well. Senior running back Antonio Williams finished his college career in style, with a pair of rushing touchdowns. Javonte Williams rushed for 85 yards, and Michael Carter ran for 84. Howell added 53 yards on the ground, although he only carried the ball three times.
Temple’s secondary struggled mightily with North Carolina’s speedy receivers. Dyami Brown caught five receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown, and Dazz Newsome recorded eight receptions for 71 yards and two scores. Howell’s two favorite targets have become two of the best in the country. Their coming of age was on full display in the Military Bowl.
Defense Grounded The Owls
The Tar Heels’ defense played at a different level at the end of the season, and the unit rode the momentum to Annapolis. On Friday, North Carolina made a good quarterback look bad. Russo was sacked three times on the way to passing for only 128 yards. This is a player who twice surpassed 400 passing yards in a game. He threw no touchdown passes in the Military Bowl. However, Russo did throw one ugly pick-six that Storm Duck took to the house. Myles Dorn dropped a would-be interception that very well could have been another score.
The Owls have a budding star in running back Re’Mahn Davis, but on Friday, the future had to wait. Davis did rush for a touchdown; otherwise, he was completely shut down. The freshman only gained 36 yards on 15 carries in one of the worst performances of his young career. The Temple offense was sharp on rare occasions, but never could consistently get much going.
The Tar Heels played completely different football during the final three games. More than anything, this was due to the defense forcing punts and keeping Howell and the offense on the field. The Military Bowl was more of the same. Every time Temple started to put a drive together, players on defense stepped up and held against an Owls offense with more talent than several ACC units the Tar Heels struggled against, earlier in the season.
Expectations For 2020 Will Be High
The Tar Heels finished 2019 hot, both on the field and off. In addition to winning the Military Bowl, Brown and his staff have a top-20 recruiting class headed to Chapel Hill. The new players join many of the ones who just had great seasons.
Brown is having the time of his life right now. During his first run in Chapel Hill, he won two games over his first two seasons before turning the program around. He faced excruciating pressure at Texas from a fan base that expects to win a national championship every year. Brown came back to Chapel Hill and took over a sagging program with low expectations for this season. North Carolina fans and players view him as a savior, and rightfully so. Tar Heel football is fun and relevant once again.
The future looks bright at North Carolina, and never more so than after the Military Bowl victory over Temple. The Tar Heels enter 2020 with new expectations. Their eyes will be on even bigger prizes than the one they just brought back from Annapolis.