CHAMPAIGN—Nursing an eight-point lead with just over 12 minutes left Saturday, North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky 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 Trubisky’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,” Trubisky 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.