After 2 easy wins to start the season, Illinois stumbles in 48-14 loss at North Carolina

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CHAPEL HILL, North Carolina — Illinois' fast start to the season hit a thud in its first road game.

The Fighting Illini's offense managed one touchdown through three quarters, couldn't stop North Carolina's attack and gave up huge plays in special teams in Saturday's 48-14 loss.

It was a bumpy follow-up to the first two games, when the Illini (2-1) outscored two overmatched opponents by a combined score of 96-3.

"We have got to show our kids what went wrong, where it's at," interim coach Bill Cubit said. "You're not as bad as you think you are. You're never as good as you think you are."

Josh Ferguson ran for 133 yards and a touchdown to lead Illinois, but the offense didn't manage a second touchdown until the final minute — long after the game had turned into a blowout.

Along the way, Illinois' first drive reached the UNC 2 before ending with a fourth-down incompletion, while another drive ended with a field-goal attempt plunking the upright.

For North Carolina, Marquise Williams threw three touchdown passes and also ran for 105 yards.

Williams led a big offensive performance for the Tar Heels (2-1), who had plenty to feel good about in a rout of a Power-Five nonconference opponent. The overhauled defense continued its improved play, Ryan Switzer had two big punt returns after a frustrating drought and kicker Nick Weiler hit two more field goals to stay perfect on the season.

It was the kind of solid across-the-board performance UNC coach Larry Fedora has been hoping to see, one that has eluded his team for four straight games dating to last season.

But the Tar Heels dominated this one after halftime, rolling to their most lopsided win against a power-conference opponent in five years.

Williams shook off an early interception and threw for 203 yards before exiting with the Tar Heels up big early in the fourth.

Then there was Switzer. He tied an NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for touchdowns as a freshman, but didn't manage any last year and had largely been bottled up since his last TD return in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati to the end the 2013 season.

On Saturday, he had a 71-yard return early in the second quarter to set up a short field goal, then broke free for an 85-yard touchdown in the fourth. The junior finished with 168 punt-return yards to set a UNC single-game record that had stood since 1951, and he also made amends for dropping a sure long TD pass with a 34-yard scoring catch late in the third from Williams.

Elijah Hood also ran for 129 yards and a touchdown, giving the Tar Heels two 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since 2010.

And Weiler, who couldn't make a kick longer than 23 yards last season, connected on an early 48-yarder and stands at 5-for-5 on the season.

UNC led 20-7 at halftime, then scored 28 straight points to turn the game into a rout.

UNC's Quinshad Davis had a 9-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, setting the school's career TD receiving mark with 22.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at and the AP's college football site at .

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