So this it what this feels like?
Setting aside the fact UNC ended six years of frustration outside the state of North Carolina. This was a great win for a team looking to serve notice that they can play a little bit of football. It was not a perfect effort and UNC had a slow start on both sides of the ball but once it started clicking it really worked. Of course I will channel my inner Roy Williams and say there were plenty of plays Rutgers could have made and did not. Rutgers had 383 yards of offense and Mike Teel was 25-40 for 243 yards passing. In short Rutgers did have their offense working in spurts. The difference maker than basically slammed the door on the Scarlet Knight offense can be captured in this stat here:
Rutgers 3rd down conversions: 0-9
And credit to the coaches on the way UNC handled those 3rd down situations which were stopped various times just short of the marker. UNC really clamped down on the yards after catch on the Rutgers pass plays which left the home team short. Couple this with four intercptions, one of which went back for a touchdown, the Heels put together a solid defensive effort. And when yon consider that most teams in the ACC have serious offensive deficiencies, it might be enough to make UNC a serious player.
The only other issue with the defense is the fact there was only one sack and that came with the backup unit in. UNC has played two games and recorded one meaningless sack while not really pressuring the opposing QB. In many cases it appeared that UNC only had the four lineman going after the QB and not much in the way of blitzes from the linebackers or secondary. The question is whether Davis and Withers decided to only pressure with the front four and leave the linebackers and seconday back. It will be interesting if Davis addresses it because the alternative to UNC make a concious effort not to aggressively pressure the QB is that UNC has issues in this area.
Two other stats jump out here:
Zero turnovers(and a +4 turnover margin)
Three penalties for 24 yards
The point there is UNC did not make mistakes. In fact I am not sure you can play a college football game with fewer mistakes on the stat line than the one UNC played tonight. This is a big deal for a young team still developing at many key positions. UNC did not do a great job forcing turnovers last season. That appears to not be an issue so far this season with six through two games versus only two by the Heels both in the opener.
The offense was a little sluggish to start. The offensive line did not do their job through the first few possession. Butch Davis got on their case and things improved. TJ Yates missed some of his receivers badly early in the game. Greg Little did not have a lot of room to run during the same stretch. When the offensive line starting controlling the line of scrimmage a little better things opened up. After completing only one of four passes to start the game, Yates settled down and completed three of the next five. Then came the big series early in the 2nd quarter. The Heels got the ball on their own 49 and proceeded to score a TD on a five play drive that included three complete passes from Yates and two runs from Little. From there the offense started clicking. Yates hit Tate on a big bomb to make it a 17-6 game and in the 2nd half found Nicks for his 3rd TD pass of the game. Little ended up with 71 yards on 18 carries. Solid and obviously enough for this game but I am thinking we still need more from him. Overall 157 yards of rushing is a step in the right direction though it should be noted that Shaun Draughan collected 44 of those during garbage time.
And a quick nod to the special teams. Jay Wooten was perfect on three field goals, including a 43 yarder. While we did not get a TD from Tate, he still made the most of what he was given. The special teams play of the game was the 2nd half kickoff. Butch Davis opted to have Wooten kicked it high and short. Rutgers misplayed it, it bounced at the 20 and rolled down to the two where Rutgers grabbed it and went out of bounds. Rutgers was bottled up to start the 2nd half and went three and out. UNC got the ball in great field position at midfield and exploited it with a TD that gave the Heels a 24-6 which all but closed the door on the Scarlet Knights.
Overall, good stuff. UNC played well, took it to a team on the road and showed that the McNeese State game was a bit of a fluke with season opener jitters. UNC played at a high level tonight and while there is still plenty to work on with the defense and the running game, UNC has set the tone for the rest of the year. The important step they must take now is moving past this win and getting ready for Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill next Saturday. UNC gets a couple of extra days to process this win and get ready to focus on the Hokies.
For now, this is great feeling. UNC is relevant in football again. Glad to see it.