I'm not sure you can overstate the effect the 2008 win over Rutgers had on Carolina fans. Butch Davis's second season at UNC had started as underwhelming as his first, with an eight-point win over McNeese State, and the opening loss to the Scarlet Knights two seasons ago was still fresh in many people's minds. That game had sent the team into a downward spiral that cost John Bunting his job; the best anyone could hope for in a road game with a team who suffered from a ridiculous losing streak outside their home state is an eked-out win.
Instead, it was a rout. It was the defense's coming-out party, with four interceptions, while T.J. Yates steadily led the offense to 378 total yards. Every aspect of the game was a joy to watch, and coming as it did on national television on a Thursday night, it was an announcement to the college football that things were going to be different.
Ten days later Yates went down with an injury against Virginia Tech, and the offense sputtered through the rest of the season, as well as the next. And of course now they are playing some of their best football in quite some time, only to be let down by a defense depleted by scandal. Now, they sit as 0-2 and looking back to Rutgers to reignite a season once again.
And to be fair, this Rutgers team could be quite the fuse. They've struggled offensively, managing only 172 yards of total offense against Florida International. They'll have two receivers back from injury this weekend, however, in Quron Pratt and J.T. Tartacoff, although neither has seen significant play on the college level. They may also be without primary running back Joe Martinek. Without a running game, they'll have to rely heavily on sophomore quarterback Tom Savage. He threw for 2,211 yards in his freshman season, but has struggled so far this year.
The defense is the strength here; they generated five turnovers against FIU, all at the hands of senior safety Joe Lefeged. He forced two fumbles, blocked two punts and nabbed one pick. Yates has yet to throw an interception this season, but the risk is certainly there; UNC's struggling offensive line makes that and a blocked punt a possibility.
So the question really becomes, which team gets their act together first – UNC's young and distracted defense or Rutgers' equally young offense. The Heels are definitely the team in more dire straits at this point, but frankly, have looked better so far this season. When you add in the fact that the Big East is the only major conference threatening to take away the ACC's futility title, and this could be the beggining of another UNC turnaround.