And just like that, it was 2009 again. The offense went back to being frustrating slow and turnover prone – fumbles at the start of drives! Fumbles at the end! – while the defense rediscovered their favorite method of getting the crucial last stop, the interception within the ten-yard line. It was all there, the long stretches of futility, the strange play calls from John Shoop that no one can quite understand, and the one sustained scoring drive that UNC needed. This one came at the start of the second half, where T.J. Yates completed 6 of 9 passes and got a crucial drive-saving pass-interference call to give the Heels a 14-10 lead they would never relinquish.
The defense spent much of the game in a situation they were all too familiar with – defensing a short field after bad special teams play or stupid turnovers. Five of Rutgers' 11 drives started in Carolina territory, and three more began beyond the Rutgers 30. The last drive was the most critical, starting as it did on the UNC 34 after a horrible three-and-out for Carolina when all they needed to do was grind away the clock. But mostly they relied on Bruce Carter, who can be held responsible for 10 of UNC's 17 points, coming as they did on scoring drives begun on his interception and blocked punt. The interception was particularly crucial, as the Scarlet Knights were driving deep in UNC territory and close to putting the Heels behind another insurmountable first-half deficit. Instead, Carter too the ball 55 yards in the opposite direction, setting up a short 28-yard scoring drive to put UNC within three.
The win gives the Heels good momentum going into their last nonconference FBS opponent ECU, and avoids the disastrous press an 0-3 start would have brought. You can't help but walk away from this game feeling more nervous than anything else. The special teams defense is atrocious, and the offensive displays of the first two games are looking weaker in retrospect as neither Georgia Tech (a 45-28 loser to N.C. State) or LSU (4-0, but possibly the least impressive undefeated team around) have done much since to make those early losses more understandable. The team still feels like it's biding time until more of the exiled defensive players find their way back on to the field, and UNC doesn't have that kind of time. Once ECU comes through town, the Heels face a stretch of three ACC games they have to win to remain competitive, and nothing to date gives the indication they're up to the task. Depending on how Rutgers plays from here on out this win may look better in retrospect, but this team is still a long way off from where they were expected to be.