North Carolina keeps coming up with big wins on the road — and that has the No. 22 Tar Heels in strong position to win their Atlantic Coast Conference division again.
Entering Saturday’s trip to Virginia, the Tar Heels have won three road games this season — two against ranked Florida State and Miami teams — and haven’t lost a game on an opponent’s home field since 2014. That eight-game run in true road games is tied for fourth-longest in the country.
Even quarterback Mitch Trubisky doesn’t have a clear way to explain it.
“I think it’s really more of an in-the-moment thing, because you can’t prepare for the environment down at Miami or at Florida State or at Virginia until you’re actually there in the week,” he said Monday. “And I think when you’re in that moment, either you respond to it and you rise to the occasion or you don’t.”
The Tar Heels (5-2, 3-1 ACC) have done that so far. They won big at Illinois in Week 2, edged then-No. 12 Florida State in Tallahassee on a last-play 54-yard field goal on Oct. 1 and then won at then-No. 16 Miami 20-13 over the weekend.
UNC hasn’t lost on an opponent’s home field since falling at Miami in November 2014, though the Tar Heels lost to Georgia in Atlanta to open this season in front of a largely pro-Bulldogs crowd.
Still, the eight-game streak in true road games is tied for fourth in the country with No. 4 Clemson and No. 16 Oklahoma, trailing No. 2 Ohio State (20), top-ranked Alabama (10) and Iowa (nine).
It’s also UNC’s longest as a member of the ACC, founded in 1953.
Coach Larry Fedora, who repeatedly talks about the importance of treating every game the same, pointed to the way his team has handled practices leading up to road trips.
“The preparation’s been very consistent,” Fedora said. “They understand what it takes to be successful. … We knew we were going to have to be good on the road, if we were going to accomplish the goals that we wanted to. It was something that we talked about in the very first team meeting. And so I think they’re doing that to this point.”
The Tar Heels are now sitting atop a crowded and messy-once-again Coastal Division race with head-to-head tiebreakers against contenders Pittsburgh and Miami. Their Oct. 8 home loss to Virginia Tech (4-2, 2-1) played in a heavy downpour from Hurricane Matthew means the Tar Heels will need the Hokies to lose again to put them back in control of their own destiny in the division.
UNC is trying to become the Coastal’s first repeat winner since the Hokies did it in 2010 and 2011.
The challenge did get tougher in the Miami win. The team said Monday that top deep threat Mack Hollins is lost for the season to a broken right collarbone, which required surgery Sunday. Hollins led the country last year by averaging 24.8 yards per catch, and his 20 career TD catches rank third in school history.
Perhaps more importantly, he was a three-time special teams captain playing on punt and kickoff returns.
“We’ll miss what he brings to us on offense,” Fedora said. “But probably more than anything, his leadership. And hopefully we’ll be able to keep him still involved and help him continue to lead this football team.”