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Previewing Rutgers

Savon Huggins of Rutgers runs for a touchdown against North Carolina Central Eagles.
Savon Huggins of Rutgers runs for a touchdown against North Carolina Central Eagles.

I introduced last year's preview of Rutgers like this:

I'm not sure you can overstate the effect the 2008 win over Rutgers had on Carolina fans. Butch Davis's second season at UNC had started as underwhelming as his first, with an eight-point win over McNeese State, and the opening loss to the Scarlet Knights two seasons ago was still fresh in many people's minds. That game had sent the team into a downward spiral that cost John Bunting his job; the best anyone could hope for in a road game with a team who suffered from a ridiculous losing streak outside their home state is an eked-out win.

Instead, it was a rout. It was the defense's coming-out party, with four interceptions, while T.J. Yates steadily led the offense to 378 total yards. Every aspect of the game was a joy to watch, and coming as it did on national television on a Thursday night, it was an announcement to the college football that things were going to be different.

I still think that Rutgers game was one the top five UNC wins of the last decade – FSU in 2001 and Miami in 2004 are also on that list – but the rest of Butch Davis's tenure never lived up to promise of that Thursday night. T.J. Yates went down with an injury the following game, and the offense never fully recovered until 2010. By that time, of course, the defense was depleted by suspensions; the Heels would finish the last three seasons with identical 8-5 records. 

The contrast was clear with last season's 17-13 win. Carolina struggled with turnovers and poor special teams play, and limped to their weakest win of the season. The Scarlet Knights have since scrapped their quarterback in favor of now-sophomore Chas Dodd, and upgraded an anemic running attack with true freshman Savon Huggins, who almost came to Chapel Hill. Rutgers fans seem to think this might give him some excess motivation; he'll need it. He managed 32 yards on 10 carries against North Carolina Central, while the running game on a whole took 38 carries to go 130 yards. UNC's rush defense should be slightly stronger than NCCU's.

Rutger's defense is a bit of an unknown right now. They only return five starters, but handled NCCU well. 15 Rutgers players recorded tackles for a loss. But again, UNC's line is both experienced and larger – they should be able to hold off their opponents. The question becomes whether Bryn Renner can live up to his performance last week, and whether the running game will suffer without Devon Ramsayout for the year with a torn ACL and MCL. Ramsay is a very good blocking back, and his loss won't simply show up in his own stat line.

All that being said, however, UNC should be the more impressive team here, especially at home. You might not get a repeat of 2008, but a solid win should definitely be on the table.