by Jacob Swiger
KENAN MEMORIAL STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL -- North Carolina pulled out all the stops for the visiting Florida State Seminoles.
New uniform combination. First Thursday night contest in Kenan Stadium. The best fan atmosphere since the Notre Dame victory in 2008. Oh, and a bounty of gadget plays that healed the pathetic offensive performances against UConn, Georgia Tech and Virginia.
But it wasn't enough as quarterback Christian Ponder directed a 24-point second half, including three touchdown passes. The UNC secondary looked as though it took a step back to 2008. The defense was content to stay in zone coverage and rarely showed blitzes prior to the snap.
Ponder threw for 395 yards and rushed for a crucial first down as the Seminoles milked the clock.
UNC got one more shot with 47 seconds left on the clock but managed to only reach around the 30-yard line before FSU cornerback Patrick Robinson appeared to pick off T.J. Yates and return it for the clinching touchdown but the pass was ruled incomplete.
After the 23rd penalty, Yates was sacked to end the game.
A costly interception by Yates led to the turning point in the game. Ponder completed a 98-touchdown pass -- the longest play in Kenan Stadium history -- after the interception, which resulted in at least a 10-point swing as the Heels were approaching field goal range. Yates should have been picked off another two times in the fourth quarter.
The Heels led 17-6 at halftime and scored a touchdown early in the second half. For a change, the defense let down the offense and routinely allowed big plays through the air. Ponder's pocket poise allowed the Seminoles' speedy receivers to find soft spots in UNC's coverage.
So now UNC is left searching for answers in the secondary as the No. 1-rated passing defense looked terrible against the 3-4 Seminoles.
Carolina's offensive line and new schemes allowed for the Heels to put together 238 rushing yards. Shaun Draughn led the way with 126 yards on 23 carries in easily his best game of the season.
The Heels had a chance to put the game away late in the fourth quarter but coach Butch Davis elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-2 even though UNC had shred the FSU defense on the ground.
The two halves were strikingly different as UNC's defense allowed only 100 yards in the opening 30 minutes and 338 yards in the final half. The Heels' bugaboo of not forcing turnovers continued as a Ponder fumble was the only turnover forced.
The Seminoles achieved their first ACC win, and UNC falls to 4-3 overall on the season, including an 0-and-3 start in the ACC after being picked to finish second or third in the Coastal division.