Where: Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
When: Thursday, September 11th, 7:45 PM
Records: UNC 1-0; Rutgers 0-1
Beginning of a new era or more of the same.
The last time UNC was in a Thursday Night Game on ESPN it was a 23-0 loss at Virginia. That game turned out to be a seminal moment in the Tar Heel football program. The Coach Who Shall Not Be Named was under the gun from everyone not named Dick Baddour and Dennis Rogers heading into the game. After it was over Dick Baddour's name was stricken from that very short list as he stated in AD codespeak that the end was nigh. Three days later he made it so and the rest, they say, is history.
Nearly two years later UNC will again play on Thursday night and like that game in Charlottesville this could also be a watershed moment for the Tar Heel football program heading in the opposite direction. It also offers a tinge of irony that is comes against Rutgers which was the opponent in the season opener in 2006 and seen as the first domino to fall in the downfall of TCWSNBN. This is a definite opportunity. To win on the road. To beat a Big East team. To show a national audience on ESPN that UNC has risen from 10 years in purgatory since Mack Brown left.
UNC finds Rutgers at a dangerous state. The Scarlet Knight dropped their opener to Fresno State and would really love to avoid the 0-2 start since many of their toughest games in the Big East are on the road. Rutgers has a 3rd year starter at QB in Mike Teel and some good receivers which means they will rely on the passing game. This should challenge the UNC defense which got decent play from the secondary and linebackers with nothing to write home about from the defensive line. If the defensive line is look for redemption the best way to get is get Teel, early and often. This would make sure the passing game never gets going and force Rutgers to rely on the run which was a tick over 100 yards versus Fresno State.
When the Heels have the ball, I think we can reasonably assume Butch Davis will not push the running game as much as he was willing to do against McNeese State. UNC's strength is in the passing game with the running game there to keep things balanced. There will be plenty of pressure on the offensive line as well as Greg Little and Shaun Draughan to churn some yards on the ground. However, if UNC does not look to break open some big plays with Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate in the passing game, it might be a long night.
Speaking of Tate. He is now the big X factor. At the very least he will change how Rutgers handles their kickoffs and punts. At the college level any time you force the kickers to kick away from a runback threat I think it only helps the receiving team. UNC cannot rely solely on Tate but if he can pop off another TD run, it could shift the momentum and silence a hostile crowd.
So UNC has before them a golden opportunity to serve notice as a program on the rise, avenge the loss in 2006 and at least look like they are one of the top teams in the ACC...for whatever that is worth.
UNC 26 Rutgers 17