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North Carolina took control early at No. 23 Pitt on Thursday and never relinquished it, holding on for a key 26–19 win. The victory means the Tar Heels now control their own destiny in the ACC Coastal race.

By Zac Ellis
October 29, 2015

North Carolina earned the top spot in the ACC’s Coastal Division with a 26–19 win at No. 23 Pittsburgh on Thursday. Here are three thoughts on the Tar Heels’ victory:

1. Pitt couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s offense

The Tar Heels ventured to Heinz Field boasting the top offense in the ACC (7.4 yards per play). They used that offense to engineer a crucial fast start against Pitt.

North Carolina built an early 20–3 lead after two quarters by playing smart football. It controlled the clock, holding the ball for almost two-thirds of the first half. Plus, the Tar Heels took advantage of a Pitt fumble late in the second quarter, taking it 38 yards for a touchdown. That led to a double-digit lead at the break.

Pitt seemed to find its mojo early in the third quarter. It forced North Carolina into a three-and-out on its first series and blocked the ensuing punt. But the Panthers couldn’t turn that momentum into a touchdown; instead, a field goal made it 20–6.

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The Panthers eventually found the end zone twice in the second half, but it was too little, too late. For most of the night coach Pat Narduzzi’s team struggled to actually get into the end zone. Field goals aren’t enough to keep up with North Carolina’s offense. They might not be enough in Pitt’s next two games against Notre Dame and Duke, either.

2. Peterman-to-Boyd has turned into a successful recipe

It’s no surprise that Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd is one of the ACC’s best pass-catchers. But transfer quarterback Nathan Peterman has teamed with Boyd to form an effective aerial duo for the Panthers.

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Boyd, who entered the week as the league leader in receiving yards per game (81.5) and catches per game (8.8), hauled in 10 catches for 89 yards. The junior didn’t find the end zone but came up huge on third downs with Peterman, who completed 27 of 42 passes for 262 yards. It’s worth noting North Carolina came in with the league’s best pass defense, allowing just 5.4 yards per attempt.

Peterman, the ACC’s third-most efficient passer (154.43 rating) through eight weeks, is a much better quarterback than he was in his previous stint as a backup at Tennessee. Narduzzi and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney have instilled much more confidence in the redshirt junior. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Peterman has Boyd as a weekly safety valve. The Panthers won’t put up the league’s best passing attack, but Peterman and Boyd can make things happen for this offense in key situations.

3. Don’t be shocked if the Tar Heels make their way to Charlotte

North Carolina’s win pushes it to 4–0 in the ACC and earns it sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division. Duke is likewise unbeaten, but it has one fewer win than the Tar Heels. So for the moment, anyway, coach Larry Fedora’s crew looks like the team to beat in the race for the division title.

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North Carolina fans shouldn’t celebrate just yet, however. The program must take care of business next week against Duke, which faces Miami on Saturday. The schedule is much more favorable after that, with games remaining against the Hurricanes, Virginia Tech and NC State.

But Thursday’s win was a telling one for the Tar Heels. They had yet to beat a ranked opponent during their 6–1 start, and winning on the road against a much-improved Pitt squad is a statement. This kind of momentum could carry North Carolina all the way to the ACC title game. How many fans expected that in August?