Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
When: September 2nd at 3:30 PM
TV: ABC Regional
Records: UNC 0-0, Rutgers 0-0
This is the opener for both teams. And, in this fan's opinion, it is one of the three most important games UNC will play. Of the four non-conference games on UNC's schedule three are winnable games. The fourth at South Bend will likely be a loss. The third game of the season against Furman should be a win. That leaves two crucial dates: South Florida and Rutgers. Since the ACC schedule is tougher with the expansion there is little room for error on the OOC. This is perhaps why some teams have chosen the cupcake diet over real meat on the plate. Six wins is all you need for a bowl but if you can only get three at most from your conference schedule you need three more. And it should be noted that there is less sugar on UNC's schedule that other ACC schools out there. Rutgers, South Florida, and Notre Dame all went bowling a year ago and the Scarlet Knights scored 40 points on Arizona State but gave up 45 in the Insight.com Bowl loss. That is pretty much all you need to know about Rutgers. A great offense with over 1800 yards in the backfield but a QB who only played some of the time last season. The defense can be characterized as inconsistent giving up huge totals to South Florida and Louisville but turning in great performances against some of the lesser schools on the schedule.
Another dangerous aspect about this game for UNC is it would in all likelihood mean UNC starts off 0-2 if they lose to Rutgers. Virginia Tech comes to Kenan next week and there is very little doubt the mountain there would be too steep to climb to even the record at 1-1 should they lose on Saturday. Of course Furman should stop the streak but I can think of nothing worse for this team given the teams they must play in-conference and a still dangerous South Florida looming on the horizon for the Heels to drop this one to open things up.
UNC will be depending on a heavy running attack from Ronnie McGill and Barrington Edwards. Junior transfer Joe Dailey will get the start and be charged with running new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti's newly installed West Coast style offense. An offensive line with three new bodies at center and on the right side will see a lot of pressure and be expected to protect Dailey(and Sexton if he sees time) and open up running lanes. Given the lack of defensive prowess from Rutgers I expect this to be an excellent game to put the new offense and young line to the test. The UNC defense will get all they can handle and more. Senior linebacker Larry Edwards will be the lynch pin to a front seven that will be tasked with stopping Rutgers twin running threats and pressuring their young QB. Cooter Arnold has converted from tailback to strong safety due to the injury of Trimane Goddard. The secondary should provide some consistent coverage although most of the Scarlet Knight offense will come from the run.
This means we will see a lot of running from both teams and if that bogs down it will be a matter of which team can sucessfully put the ball in the air. Bunting maintained that although Dailey is the starter Cam Sexton is slated for some minutes though he did not elaborate other than to say it was not like 2001 when they had a set rotation of series between the two QBs. The way that reads to me is Sexton will be used only when the situations dictate but the lion's share of the work will go to Dailey.
In my opinion there is a great deal at stake with this game. Questions about the offense, the QBs, and the defense in general all get addressed. I think avoiding an 0-2 start is paramount for the confidence of the team in general. However, I think it is of even greater importance that UNC get to a level where they win these games consistently and predictably. In a previous post I said it was time for Bunting to start winning more often than he loses. I can think of no better place for winning time to start than this game against Rutgers.
UNC 24 Rutgers 21