I attended the Spring Game on April 14th, and I have to say it wasn’t as exciting an event as I had hoped. Here are a few observations from the scrimmage/practice:
- During the warmpus, I noticed that a few of the UNC players’ stretches were basic yoga poses (such as downward dog). What this means, I have no idea. Hopefully it means that our team will be less injury prone this season, but it could just as easily mean that they will play like girly-men. But hey, whatever gets wins.
- It looks like the battle for starting quarterback is down to incumbent Cam Sexton (#11) and redshirt freshman T.J. Yates (#13). Mike Paulus did not play, so where he stands in the race remains unseen. I will say that Yates has the stronger arm, and is able to quickly deliver the ball on passes that lead to good runs after the catch. For a conservative offense or an inexperienced quarterback, delivering the ball for yards after the catch is very important. The best example of this was a WR screen pass he fired to Hakeem Nicks on the right side; he was able to avoid tacklers and take the ball for a 65 yard touchdown. Yates ended up completing 10 of 15 passes (although 2 passes were near interceptions) for 3 touchdowns.
- Even when Joe Dailey is a wide receiver, passes thrown to him get intercepted. I’m not kidding.
- UNC played four tailbacks during the scrimmage. Of the four, two played well: Anthony Elzy and Justin Warren. If the Heels play with two backs, Elzy would likely take runs to the inside, while Warren would be able to make inside and outside rushes. Richie Rich and Anthony Parker-Boyd did not accomplish much when in the game.
- I’m anxious to see how our wide receivers will fare this season. Hakeem Nicks and Brooks Foster were rare bright spots from 2006, and the arrival of Greg Little, Rashad Mason, and Dwight Jones from this year’s recruiting class makes the position one of UNC’s biggest strengths. But the best athlete I saw at the Spring game was 6-4, 225 pound sophomore WR Kenton Thornton. His game is unrefined, but he definitely has the capacity to be a big contributor in the passing game.
- Both in the warmups and in the scrimmage, UNC’s defensive line seemed to have a clear advantage over the offensive line. I like to think that means the D-line is a strength rather then to think the O-line is going to suck. It is likely a combination for the two, but we’ll see.
- Secondary may also be a concern. Overall they played solid, knocking down intermediate passes and making good tackles. For the first time in a while, I saw a UNC player, Jermaine Strong (#38), deliver a decleater. Those are the kinds of plays that make me a football fan. Still, they allowed a few big plays, including that screen pass and a big run by Justin Warren. Brian Dixon (#30, Safety) had several chances to intercept passes, but he appears to have hands of stone.
- I was concerned by special teams. Brandon Tate is an excellent returner, and we now have not one but two good placekickers (Connor Barth and Lane Clemmons). However, our punter can’t kick the ball 40 yards, and the long snapper botched several snaps both in kicks and punts. In the ACC, games can be lost with bad snaps in crucial situations, so this needs to be remedied before the season.
- Butch Davis is trying to steal Jim Tressel’s thunder (or maybe after coaching in Miami, Chapel Hill is cold for him). He sported a navy blue sweater vest on the sidelines, and he is wearing the vest on promotional items. Let’s just hope that after chemotherapy, he can grow his hair back in time for the season. Recent history tells us that you can’t win championships in college football without good hair.
- In the middle of scrimmage, there were several people talking on their cell phones, especially to wave to their friends in other parts of the stadium. It absolutely killed the atmosphere, especially since everyone could hear them. Speaking of atmosphere…
- Considering this was the dawn of the Butch Davis era, the atmosphere at Kenan Stadium was decidedly underwhelming. Tar Heel Blue says about 10,000 fans attended, and I would agree with that number. There was no band, concessions were limited, and the Alumni Lunch before the scrimmage made me sick for two days. There wasn’t even any scorekeeping for the game; how were we supposed to know who was playing well? By actually paying attention? Please. By comparison, look at these attendance numbers:
Spring Game at the University of Alabama: 92,138 (sellout)
Spring Game at the University of Oklahoma: 40,000
Spring Game at the University of Florida: 70,000
Spring Game at Ohio State: 75,000
Late Night With Roy (UNC’s opening basketball practice): 21, 500 (sellout)
UNC Spring Game: 10,000
April 15 home opener for the New York Red Bulls, professional soccer team in the US’s most international city, coached by the U.S soccer coach who led America to their best World Cup finish in their modern history: 8,865
It’s comforting to know that meaningless practices by bad college football teams are still better attended than meaningful top-level soccer games in America. Take that, terrorists!
The Spring Game was fun, but it left a lot to be desired. At some point in the next couple of weeks I’ll write an article on If I Ran… about the college football Spring Game.