Off to a 3-0 start.
Like last week vs Rutgers there were things to be pleased with and things that give you pause. Regardless, UNC got the only thing that mattered right and that was winning the game. It wasn't a perfect effort by any means but the Heels found a way to get it done on a day when the defense was a tad too flexible and the offense was not as efficient as we have been accustomed to in this young season. Still UNC only turned the ball over once and kept the penalties mostly in check so that is a good start.
After two games that saw UNC contain opposing running backs, Virginia was able to get a push early and run the football at will, especially in the first quarter. UVA racked up 120 yards in the first quarter through a balance attack on the ground and in the air. The fact UVa got what it wanted passing the ball is not a surprise. The running game and the degree to which UVa was able to create running room against the UNC front seven was a bit shocking. Despite UVa's ability to move the football, UNC got stops when it needed forcing two FGs, only one of which was converted. It was the resurrection of "bend but don't break" defense of a few years ago which nearly drove me insane.
After falling behind 3-0, the UNC offense got going with a mix of weapons. Bryn Renner hit multiple receivers all day including Gio Bernard on screen passes, Erik Highsmith and Jhay Boyd downfield before finally sending the ball Dwight Jones' direction. UVa apparently did a good job early on checking Jones but Renner was able to work the ball to other receivers to keep the offense moving. This is an encouraging sign as the season progresses knowing Renner can use what is given him effectively. The running game was much the same way. UNC used Gio Bernard but for only 12 carries. As it turns out those 12 carries yielded 103 yards to go along with 31 receiving yards. A.J. Blue saw nine carries in the third quarter and even had a pass which went just a bit out of Highsmith's reach. Ryan Houston was used extensively in short yardage situations including the goal line resulting in two TDs for the senior.
In fact it almost seemed like once UNC was up 28-10 that Everett Withers really wanted to work in some of the reserves for some meaningful experience. A.J. Blue saw almost all the touches in the backfield on one 3rd quarter drive that nearly went for a TD before Renner fumbled the exchange and gave UVa the ball back on their own 5. That TD would have sealed the deal. Still Blue looked pretty good and I honestly wonder if maybe John Shoop wanted Blue out there as a feature back for a series simply to make sure future opponents don't automatically assume he is out there as a pass option. UNC's RB depth is probably the bigger reason and if Blue can run like that in the future it gives UNC another option in the backfield.
UNC did finally force some turnovers with a fumble recovery and two INTs by Matt Merletti which were created by pressure on UVa QB Michael Rocco. Why UNC has not seen more INTs of that nature is a slight mystery or speaks volumes about how poor the pass coverage is that opposing QBs have enough options which keep them mistake free. Speaking of INTs, Renner avoided that particular turnover today which like resulted from not being nearly so risky with the passes he made. Renner also showed off some incredible touch throwing two TD passes on fade routes to Boyd and Jones.
UNC is 3-0 and won their ACC opener for the first time since 2000. Now the schedule really gets tough as UNC goes on the road to Georgia Tech and ECU. The Yellow Jackets have put up some ridiculous numbers offensively which has included a better passing game that past versions of the offense under Paul Johnson. Plus the game is in Atlanta followed by a night game in Greenville. UNC took care of the business in the three games at home they should have won. Now the real test of the season begins.