Well that was harder than it had to be.
This was really one of the strangest games I think I have witnessed. I am hard pressed to think of a game where the Tar Heels dominated every facet of the game from a statistical standpoint but undermined it all b committing a series of odd turnovers and a rash of stupid penalties. Not just dinky five yard penalties but the 15-yard personal foul variety which was half of Rutgers offense on at least one drive or so it seemed. Couple that with Rutgers figuring out how to exploit UNC's secondary(not a tough job) what should have been a comfortable win for UNC was nip and tuck to the end.
In the preview for this game I thought focus and discipline would be the real hallmarks of this game. That certainly turned out to be the case. The UNC team that last week executed so well in so many aspects of the game this week took complete leave of their senses at times. Of course that is what makes it really odd because for the most part the offense looked good. Bryn Renner and Dwight Jones hooked up early for a big TD pass. Gio Bernard did some nice things on the ground. At halftime UNC has 286 yards of total offense(vs Rutgers' 91 yards) but only 17 points to show for it because turnovers galore ran the train right off the tracks. Renner threw two INTs which were clear cases of a young QB trying to force something that wasn't there. Dwight Jones and Erik Smith both had the football stripped loose after making big catches. After two quarters UNC has committed four turnovers that probably cost them at least ten points if not more.
In the second half, Rutgers came out with a six plus minutes drive covering 74 yards and resulting in a FG. During the course of that drive UNC committed two personal fouls which accounted for 30 yards of the drive. After UNC responded by ramming Gio Bernard down Rutgers throat to take a 24-15 lead, Rutgers then decided it was time to really test the UNC secondary with predictable results. UNC's front seven did a great job pressuring Rutgers QB Chris Dodd. In fact at two points on this drive, UNC had Rutgers pushed back into fairly difficult long 3rd and 4th downs. Rutgers converted both times using pass plays to do it. So if you were concerned about the UNC secondary before, you are probably standing on the ledge now. While the front seven consistently did a great job containing the Rutgers run game(1 yard rushing.) However the work in defensive backfield was suspect at best which is not surprising but highlights the need to avoid being in that position in the first place.
On the upside it is clear the offense is capable of doing good work moving the football while the defensive front can be extremely disruptive. However turnovers and penalties negated those gains like clockwork. In fact the penalties and turnovers were so oddly frequent it was almost comical and actually made be hopeful that it was just a fluke day. The INTs from Renner were clearly his fault and on at least two of those he should have taken the T.J. Yates route and thrown it away. The fumbles were good plays made by the defense but there were also issues fumbling the ball in general. Heck, Renner fumbled the snap in the victory formation that is how odd a day it was in the turnover department. The bottom line is I think Renner will learn and you won't always see Jones or Highsmith or anyone else put the ball on the ground that much. As for the penalties, that is a partly a matter of focus and partly a matter of players inadvertently committing penalties. For example, Quinton Coples was hit with roughing the passer because his hand struck Dodd's helmet. Coples wasn't trying to hit Dodd's helmet. He came flying in and his extended hand just happen to hit the helmet making it a penalty. On the flip side you had Jordan Nix clearly hitting Dodd late drawing a roughing the passer flag. That penalty came on 3rd and 10 and extended the drive. These kinds of penalties plagued UNC under Butch Davis and clearly is still an issue to be addressed by Everett Withers.
Essentially I think the turnovers are not a huge concern but the secondary will be, especially as UNC faces even tougher teams, such as ones who can run the football more effectively. Regardless, a win is a win and UNC pulled it out to move to 2-0 on the season. It would be nice if the Heels had played better but all you can do is take the win, hope for improvement and beat the living crap out of Virginia next Saturday.