Probable Starter: Hmmm…that’s a tough one…Joe Dailey?
Key Reserves: Mike Paulus (#7), Cam Sexton (#11).
Overview: Injury aside, the Tar Heel quarterback discussion begins and ends with T.J. Yates. Based on this fact alone, UNC is better off at QB than half the ACC, and every team in the Coastal division except for Duke and Thad Lewis. In his redshirt freshman year Yates set a single season school record with 2,655 passing yards. That may have been at least partially due to the nation’s 107th rushing offense, but the stat is impressive.
Nevertheless, Yates wasn’t particularly consistent in his freshman year. After throwing for 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in his first three games, he threw for 5 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. That’s going from a 3:1 TD-INT ratio to a 1:3 ratio.
Can we blame this stat on his shoulder injury, for which Yates needed surgery in the offseason? At least partially, yes. Yates said that his injury robbed him of at least ten yards when throwing the deep ball, and accuracy may have also been compromised.
But there were may other factors that led to his struggles. Another obvious factor is the lack of run support. Some of his passing touchdowns in the early games were on playaction. Without an effective running game, defenses stop biting on the fake. A subpar rushing attack also increases the incidence of obvious passing downs, which increases the likelihood for the defense to make a play. In addition, Carolina’s offensive line was inexperienced and not cohesive, which led to Yates receiving a lot of defensive pressure.
However, at least some responsibility has to be placed on Yates’ own human error. Thrown into the fire that was UNC’s offense last year, mistakes were expected. Two his most common mistakes were not throwing the ball away (which isn’t all that surprising) and, it would appear, not accounting for linebackers while reading coverage. At least seven of his 18 interceptions in 2007 were thrown into the arms of a player in the defensive front seven. One of them was a freak play on the part of Chris Long, but it still needs to be mentioned.
This year, it is not unreasonable to expect that most, if not all, of the major problems for Yates have been solved. He has a year of experience and an entire offseason of watching game film under his belt, his shoulder is fine and better than ever, and he should get significantly improve support from his running backs and offensive line.
The biggest advantage he has, however, is the targets he returns from last year. Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate, and Brooks Foster combine for perhaps the best wide receiving corps in the ACC. The big advantage that these players have is the ability to get yards after the catch. And T.J. Yates, unlike most other QBs, has an uncanny ability to get the ball to his receivers to get the most yards after receptions. This was the trait that most stood out dating back to 2007 Spring Practice, and it was likely one of the main factors that led to him receiving the starting job. As much has we may enjoy watching the deep ball, it’s the five yards throws that turn into 15 yard gains that will make this offense tick.
Outlook: Which T.J. Yates will we see this fall? The early September version, or the late October version? It’s difficult to be certain, but I’m willing to bet on the latter. Who knows, maybe he will exceed everyone’s expectations. Whatever the case may be, if UNC wants to live up to the preseason hype, the Heels will probably need a big year out of him.