R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The “chain-moving gang” was true to its name Saturday, spearheaded by its “angry” leader.
With the trio of Antonio Williams, Michael Carter and Jordon Brown playing together for the first time, North Carolina’s wielded some dangerous options out of the backfield and held on for a 38-35 victory over Pittsburgh in its home opener Saturday.
Running backs coach Robert Gillespie brought the chain-moving gang name over from Tennessee and the three have embraced it.
After transferring from Ohio State, Williams brought a rebrand of the name — “Run CMG” — and a different element from his physical running style and run-angry mentality.
“I’ve always been angry on the football field,” Williams said.
“I always say the football field is the easiest place to release your anger. You’re hitting other people, so any chance I have to release that anger, I’m going to run angry.”
He also hit angrily against East Carolina in the first half.
That got him ejected for targeting when he leveled a crushing block.
It also ended a promising game after he already had 96 rushing yards at that point.
Two weeks of anger from that probably wasn’t good news for Pittsburgh since Williams ran for a career-high 117 yards and two touchdowns.
“I was eager to get back out there, yeah. Definitely eager to get back,” Williams said.
The New London product opted to play for the Buckeyes after running for 7,999 yards and 81 touchdowns as a 4-star prospect at North Stanly High School.
He collected only 318 yards on 63 rushes in two seasons at Ohio State, then decided to transfer closer to home.
Coach Larry Fedora is glad to have him.
“He ran well. You saw — the guy was violent with his runs. He finished runs off, he broke tackles. He was a horse out there, he really was,” Fedora said.
Carter made his season debut after a hand injury kept him out of the first two games.
He ran for 30 yards and had 35 reception yards.
He also made the key block against a blitz that gave quarterback Nathan Elliott enough time to connect with Dyami Brown on a 19-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
“If he doesn’t pick up that blitz, we don’t have that touchdown,” Fedora said.
“He just stoned the guy. Mike is very unselfish, he cares about this football team and he had a smile on his face. Just getting back on the field for him was crucial.”
Also bringing a smile to Carter’s face is the addition of Williams to the backfield.
“He’s a physical dude. He’s a good leader on and off the field,” Carter said.
“Me, Jordon and Antonio —we try to lead and always take care of each other, and so I think he just adds another dimension to our group that I don’t think we had that before.”
Having all three running backs available also meant that none of them had to shoulder the workload like Brown was forced to do in the second half of the loss at East Carolina.
“It was great, man,” Williams said of having Carter back.
“It felt good. Got some air. I stayed fresh a lot. Mike stayed fresh. Jordon stayed fresh. When you keep fresh legs in the game the way we were running it with the offensive line, that’s dangerous, man.”
The running game also made it easier for Elliott, who was much sharper than in the first two games.
He still overthrew receivers at times but connected on 22 of 31 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns.
“You can’t have a good passing game without a good running game,” Elliott said.
“That’s up front in the offensive line, great run and pass protection and the running backs making great runs. It helped me and the receivers loosen things up and find some throws.”
But what about all this anger?
What are the underlying reasons why Williams has anger that he needs to channel during games?
“My journey,” Williams said.
“I wish it had went other ways. I’m here now, though, and me being here, I’m happy to be here. But I’m also upset that things didn’t happen the way I thought it was going to go. Nobody goes to college and plans on transferring.
“Always got to be angry when you’re running. Got to be physical, use my bigger body to my advantage,” said the 5-11, 210-pound junior.
There were moments in the game that gave him extra motivation.
In the first half, he got stopped short of a first down on a screen pass on a third-and-4.
“I turned away too slow, I should have got the first down. I didn’t do my job,” Williams said.
He whipped through the line with a few jukes on fourth-and-1 on the next play for a sensational 37-yard scoring run.
It was UNC’s first touchdown on an opening drive this season.
He leaped over the line on a 1-yard touchdown play for his second touchdown.
“As soon as I saw the guys kind of get cut to the ground, I was like, ‘I’m not stepping over ‘em, I could get tripped up, why not take it to the air. So I did,” Williams said.
Williams put the game away with a 15-yard run for a first down to allow the Tar Heels to run the clock out.
“Our job is to move the chains, CMG, so all I was thinking was to get the first down, seal this game, let’s go in the locker room and celebrate,” Williams said.
The two years in Columbus, Ohio, also has him feeling as though he always must prove himself.
“I don’t care if I run for 300 yards, the next week I’m going to say I have to prove myself,” Williams said.
“If you doubt me, I’m going to get angry. That’s part of it.”
There was no anger once the game was over and he was able to win a college game in his home state for the first time, and with his parents in the stands.
The mood in the dressing room was decidedly different than after the first two games.
“A lot of jumping around, a lot of yelling, dancing. Typical big-time win locker-room thing,” Williams said.
“It’s a really big win. We needed it. We’re 1-0 in the ACC and that’s all that matters. We’ve got to keep chopping these teams down. We’re going to keep doing that.”
Just one suggestion to the Miami Hurricanes, who face the Tar Heels on Thursday night: Don’t make Williams angry.
Triangle Sports Network: 401-323-8960, @TSportsNet