If I did not know better, I could have sworn there was an effort to derail this particular train on Friday. Inside Carolina made it sound like any serious competition for the starting role had fizzled out like a wet firecracker. The consensus was T.J. Yates was still option #1 and Bryn Renner would be the backup. Then the spring game happened and IC went all in by saying there was indeed a QB controversy afoot....in the minds of the fans with the media also tossing kerosene on the flames.
If there wasn’t already a quarterback controversy at UNC, there’s one now, even though that controversy exists largely in the collective psyche of the Tar Heel fan base – at least for the time being.
While it may not be fair to draw quarterback comparisons based on the spring game, back-up quarterback Bryn Renner had the better day – a better day moving the ball, a better day moving the chains, and a better day scoring points. Renner’s "White" team defeated the "Blue" team, quarterbacked by T.J. Yates, 17-0.
Everyone seemed a little in awe of the day Renner had, though it was far from perfect. Renner was picked twice, and was sacked three times. Still, his teammates were impressed with his play.
"Most definitely, he came to play today," wide receiver Greg Little said. "He stepped up and made some plays. It really shocked me. I mean it is one thing to do it practice, because it is scripted, but to actually come out here when the pressure’s on, the light’s are on, people are watching, and to make plays like that, I mean it is really something tremendous to see him to progress into a playmaker."
Translation? Renner sucked in practice. Well, maybe he didn't suck but if Greg Little's comments are any indication, the RS freshman did not show as much as he did on the field Saturday. Which was sort of the same deal with Cam Sexton who was slotted 3rd behind Yates and Mike Paulus before Yates broke his ankle in 2008 vs Virginia Tech. After watching Paulus struggle to do anything meaningful with the offense for roughly two quarters, Butch Davis tossed Sexton out there trailing 14-0 at Miami and UNC ultimately won the game. And thus enters the great tension you get between fans who only see on-the-field performance and take it as gospel versus the coaches who factor practice into the equation. Regardless of what may have happened over the past few weeks in practice, what the fans saw on Saturday was a mobile QB with a great arm who could throw accurately in almost any situation, yes running included. Renner did throw one INT but even that was a great pass on a poor read of the safety who came over to pick off the pass. Renner did a great job moving the White Team offense up and down the field while the Blue Team got very little traction with Yates at QB. The presumptive starter continued to display those maddening tendencies that had us all facepalming our way through the 2009 football season.
So does one spring game a starter make? It should be noted that was almost certainly the case for Yates three years ago with the caveat being Yates was not displacing a three year starter. Cam Sexton had a few starts and was not very good in any of them. Yates was a breath of fresh air after watching Sexton and Joe Dailey do unholy things with the offense in 2006. The problem here is Renner looks very much like a breath of fresh air himself when compared to Yates. Not to mention the most popular guy on any team is the backup to the guy fans believe is screwing things up. Ask Deon Thompson about that some time.
The main issues in starting Renner lies with his experience and the fact his skills were ultimately evaluated in a game where he was under no threat to have his clock cleaned by an opposing defensive linemen. In other words, the pressure was there but in no way real. How Renner will react under true pressure is anyone's guess. That being said, should we take anything away from the fact Yates was not under pressure either but still ended up being "sacked" five times? Maybe. The other issue with anointing Renner the starter is UNC's early schedule. If the Heels had some I-AA team lined up in the first game, then maybe you trot Renner out there or at least give him a ton of snaps. Unfortunately, UNC's first opponent is LSU and I am not sure you want Renner's introduction into the starting lineup to be versus killer SEC speed on ESPN.
During the game broadcast, Mark May made a rare salient point about experience at QB and what not. May pointed out that Alabama won a title with a QB who saw zero live snaps before the season. This is true but I would also point out that Alabama also had a Heisman winning running back and a massive offensive line. UNC does not have an offense that is nearly that complete where the QB is less of a factor. The Tar Heel OL is still a question until proven otherwise(not to mention injury free.) The UNC running game has tons of potential with Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston but still needs to prove something. And right now the receiving corp is basically Greg Little, Zach Pianalto at tight end and a few other guys like Erik Highsmith who need to breakthrough. The point is, UNC still needs a QB who can fill the gaps so to speak until these other pieces fall into place. Will those pieces coalesce? They might and it makes the QB's job easier. Can Renner fill those gaps if needed?I am not sure but Yates with experience might have a better shot at it, at least early on.
Butch Davis said the job is Yates to lose and I am fairly certain that means Yates will start the season as the #1 QB but if he proves ineffective, Davis is going to be quick on the trigger to replace him. Until then I would not put to many eggs in Renner's basket just yet though if anything, the future at QB looks very bright for UNC regardless of what happens this season.