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‘We gonna run that thing’: UNC back Ty Chandler’s breakout game born from focus on details

Burlington Times-News logo Burlington Times-News 9/22/2021 Adam Smith, Times-News
a man on a football field: North Carolina running back Ty Chandler skips into the end zone against Georgia State on Sept. 11 for his first touchdown with the Tar Heels. © Chris Seward / AP North Carolina running back Ty Chandler skips into the end zone against Georgia State on Sept. 11 for his first touchdown with the Tar Heels.

CHAPEL HILL — More vibrancy and assertiveness and cohesion.

For his North Carolina football coaches and teammates, the forces that propelled running back Ty Chandler during the Tar Heels’ last game became readily noticeable and significant.

“I definitely saw a different side of Ty,” offensive lineman Marcus McKethan said. “He seemed more juiced and energetic than ever before. It was really exciting to see.”

As No. 21 North Carolina (2-1 overall, 1-1 league) prepares to visit Georgia Tech (1-2, 0-1) in an Atlantic Coast Conference matchup on Saturday night, the fifth-year senior Chandler is riding an impactful performance that has him ranked third in the conference in rushing on the young season.

He ran for a career-high 198 yards to go along with two touchdowns, while the Tar Heels cranked out 699 total yards to defeat Virginia 59-39 in a shootout. It was a breakout the Tennessee graduate transfer delivered with North Carolina’s offensive line in makeshift mode — reserves Ed Montilus (left guard), Quiron Johnson (center) and William Barnes (right tackle) were called on with three starters on the mend — and an encouraging moment for which Chandler has worked.

Big production, in his third game with the Tar Heels, born from the details of preparation.

“Going back and watching film,” Chandler said, “and just seeing where I was going wrong, what I could do better. Focusing on the little things. Focusing on point of attack, my footwork, my eyes, vision, stuff like that. It’s just the little things that helped me succeed a lot.

“But we’ve got to keep getting better. Keep building on those things and keep progressing.”

Speedy receiver Josh Downs, who tends to exude confidence, said he approached Chandler before last week’s game at Kenan Stadium with a motivational question, and their chat quickly had him believing a special night might be brewing.

“I was like, ‘We gonna run that thing?’ ” Downs said. “And he said, ‘We gonna run that thing a lot.’ So I knew it was going to hit.”

Chandler darted 17 yards on his first carry against Virginia, then ripped off a 28-yard gain on the next play, the type of burst that had North Carolina coach Mack Brown observing “he hit a lot of creases that we might’ve missed” in the first two games of the season.

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Virginia surged ahead 28-24 by halftime on the strength of 21 straight points across the final 9½ minutes of the first half. North Carolina started the second half by feeding Chandler four straight carries, and he dashed away on a 60-yard run to set the table for quarterback Sam Howell’s touchdown toss to tight end Garrett Walston, putting the Tar Heels in the lead to stay.

Chandler had five runs of 11 yards or more against Virginia, three of which covered 21 yards or more, among his 20 carries for the game. He surpassed his previous career best of 158 rushing yards, set against UTEP in September 2018, during his sophomore year at Tennessee.

a football player holding a baseball bat: North Carolina running back Ty Chandler celebrates one of his two touchdowns last week against Virginia with tight end Kamari Morales, right. © Bob Donnan / USA TODAY Sports North Carolina running back Ty Chandler celebrates one of his two touchdowns last week against Virginia with tight end Kamari Morales, right.

“I think Ty, he’s kind of kicked it into gear a little bit,” North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “I thought he was a lot more decisive. I thought he ran a lot more downhill. I thought he ran with a lot more authority in this past game than the first two.

“And keep in mind, he’s a veteran, he played in the SEC. But he hasn’t played in the ACC. Defenses are different here schematically than they are there, and he’s in a different offense. And he’s also playing on an every-down basis for the most part. We rotate some guys in, but he’s the guy right now, and I think that takes a little bit of getting used to. And so things kind of clicked.”

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Longo said Chandler left the Tar Heels’ frustrating season-opening loss at Virginia Tech — his debut in Carolina blue and introduction as the team’s new featured runner after the NFL departures of former standout backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams — displeased with himself for not contributing more than his 66 rushing yards on 10 carries.

Chandler ran for 58 yards on 15 attempts and scored his first touchdown with North Carolina the following week, when Howell’s comprehensive effort of 352 passing yards, 104 rushing yards and five total touchdowns powered the Tar Heels’ trampling of Georgia State.

“I just think he made it a point in his mind to prepare as best he could,” Longo said of Chandler, “and run in the Virginia game with some authority. And I’d like to believe now that we’re going to see that type of running back out of Ty for the rest of the season. I think he got in a groove, a little bit of a rhythm.”

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Brown said that progress and look of increasing comfort from Chandler has North Carolina’s offense “getting an identity,” and developing the potential run-pass balance that proved prominent in fueling last season’s team, which reached the program’s first-ever Orange Bowl.

“Ty Chandler stepped up and had his best game by far,” Brown said. “We haven’t had that many transfers, but I do think it takes time for him to get chemistry with the team and learn the offense. So he’s like a freshman coming in. He’s got experience at Tennessee, but not with us in this place, on this campus, with these coaches. I see him get better every day.”

Adam Smith is a sports reporter for the Burlington Times-News and USA TODAY Network. You can reach him by email at asmith@thetimesnews.com or @adam_smithTN on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Times-News: ‘We gonna run that thing’: UNC back Ty Chandler’s breakout game born from focus on details

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