Tar Heels spoil Illini feel-good feeling in 48-23 win
CHAMPAIGN -- Nursing an eight-point lead with just over 12 minutes left Saturday, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trupisky heaved the ball deep toward Ryan Switzer but instead connected with the back of an Illinois defensive back.
No problem, as it turned out. The ball bounced high and came down in the hands of Tar Heel tight end Jake Bargas for a first down that set up a touchdown that gave North Carolina a 38-23 lead.
Sometimes, it's just your night, and Saturday was Trupisky's.
The junior quarterback threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns and ran for two more scores Saturday to lead the Tar Heels to a 48-23 win at Illinois.
"We took what the defense gave us," Trupisky said. "We were just rolling; whoever was open was making plays. Our o-line did a good job all night. We just kept attacking the areas they were giving us on the field."
Trubisky was coming off a workmanlike performance a week earlier against Georgia that wasn't enough to deliver a win.
On Saturday, he was 19-24 passing and didn't throw an interception. And he carried the ball nine times for 42 yards.
"He played well tonight, he took care of the football," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "He ran the ball effectively and I thought he was into it, sharp, focused and tough and that's what I expect from him."
Early on, Trubisky had to lead the Tar Heels (1-1) from behind.
Illinois (1-1) went up 7-0 on the opening drive on a 65-yard Ke'Shawn VAugh touchdown run while North Carolina's offense started slow.
Trubisky jump-started the attack, rushing for two short touchdowns by the end of the first quarter and giving UNC a 17-14 lead it never gave up.
The Tar Heels held Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt to 127 yards and two touchdowns on 17-35 passing.
Illinois also struggled with penalties. They were flagged 13 times for 99 yards.
First-year Illinois coach Lovie Smith called the game a learning experience for his team, but had no explanation for the penalties.
"If you have a penalty, how do you explain it? Don't do it," he said. "Sometimes you have to see what they do to your team. Winning teams don't do it."
A year ago North Carolina easily handled Illinois at home, winning 48-14 and beginning a run that took the Tar Heels to the ACC title game and a bowl game.
NORTH CAROLINA: Trubisky looked like a quarterback who can take North Carolina places, and while he was sacked twice his line otherwise protected him against an Illinois defensive line that punished Murray State in its opener. But before a late 62-yard touchdown when the game was all but decided, North Carolina struggled to get tailback Elijah Hood going. Aside from that TD he finished with 26 yards on 14 carries. UNC will need him when ACC play starts Sept. 24.
ILLINOIS: A week after a 52-3 win over Murray State gave the beginning of Smith's tenure a feel-good start, the new Illinois coach has a much better idea of what he needs to fix. The Illini ran the ball well at times and the defense limited the Tar Heels' run game. But 13 penalties cost Illinois 99 yards. And North Carolina's speed exposed Illinois' secondary.
LUNT IN CHECK
Lunt credited the North Carolina defense for shutting off his receivers for much of the night, calling the Tar Heel secondary the strength of their defense. Just seven of Lunt's 17 completions went to Illinois wideouts.
The game was potentially costly for Illinois. Starting left guard Gabe Megginson had to be helped off the field in the fourth quarter with a leg injury and a Tar Heel defender fell over the back of his legs. And backup safety Caleb Day had to be helped off the field late I the second quarter after injuring his left leg. He did not return. The Illini also played without starting punter Ryan Frain, who Smith said was injured in a biking accident. It was not clear when Frain will return.
NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels will finally see their home field on Saturday, playing their first game at Kenan Memorial Stadium this season, against James Madison. James Madison opened season with an 80-7 win over Morehead State.
ILLINOIS: Illinois will play its third straight home game, hosting Western Michigan on Saturday. The Broncos will come to Champaign having already upset Northwestern.