So, What Did We Learn From McNeese State?

In all honesty, not much. It was an ugly win against an FCS opponent. But we’re 1-0, and that’s what matters. So slowly step away from the panic button, if you would be so kind.

Here’s a quick look at what happened on Saturday.

On Offense:

  • John Shoop most likely showed us only the bare bones of the offensive playbook needed to win on Saturday. Nerve wracking, but ultimately the smart move.
  • Butch Davis said that he was committed to running the football to a fault. In response, McNeese State consistently put 8 or 9 guys in the box, especially on first down. Greg Little certainly didn’t look all that impressive, but he should improve over the season. Meanwhile, Shaun Draughn has established himself as the #2 back, making the move from safety look very smart.
  • T.J. Yates’s shoulder is completely healthy, and nothing about his performance is more important than that. Yates played well at times, but still made some of the mistakes he would make in his freshman year. It’s unclear how much of his play was affected positively or negatively by McNeese State’s defense, but he’ll need to improve on his 57.7 % completion rate.
  • Of greatest concern is the offensive line. They allowed Yates to be sacked twice, and only twice did the backs have a run of 10 yards or more. Most importantly, they never really seemed to control the line of scrimmage. Against most teams, that raises concerns. Against an FCS team, it sets off alarm bells.
  • There is nothing that can be said about Brandon Tate that has not already been said. He was simply outstanding.

On Defense:

  • The defense was on their heels against the spread option the entire night. Granted, it was the first time this defense has faced a true spread option offense, but the job of the defense is to act as the chaos to the order of the offense, and UNC never truly disrupted McNeese State’s rhythm.
  • The defensive line was not as effective as most expected. Not only was Derrick Forroux not sacked, but he was never truly pressured at any point in the game. On the bright side, E.J. Wilson did an excellent job of disrupting his side of the line, recording eight total tackles and three of UNC’s seven tackles for loss. Greg Elleby contributed four tackles, a forced fumble, and a TFL as well.
  • Not much was expected of the linebacking corps, but they kept themselves quite busy the entire game, with three of the team’s four leading tacklers. Quan Sturdivant QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT led the team with eleven tackles, followed by Mark Paschal with nine tackles and Bruce Carter with eight. Paschal also forced a fumble. Chase Rice contributed with two tackles off the bench. None of these players were much of a factor behind the line of scrimmage, but they did a solid job overall.
  • The secondary had its ups and downs. Carolina didn’t have much of an answer for McNeese State’s version of Tate, Quentin Lawrence. The Carencro, LA junior had 73 yards receiving and a punt return for a touchdown. As for UNC’s defense, Kendric Burney had a solid game with five tackles (all in the open field), including one tackle for loss. Jordan Hemby had two tackles (one for loss) in his first start at cornerback, but he struggled at times, give up McNeese State’s only passing touchdown. Charles Brown did not play due to nagging injuries. The Heels will likely need his presence for when they Rutgers and their tough receiving corps. Trimane Goddard had the team’s only interception, and Deunta WIlliams contributed with five tackles, albeit only one solo tackle.

Special Teams:

  • Casey Barth got the nod for starting kicker, but missing his only field goal attempt opens the door for Jay wooten once again.
  • Marvin Austin’s block of an extra point, obviously, helped swing momentum back in UNC’s favor when the Heels needed it most.

As unimpressive a game by the Tar Heels as it was, the team isn’t completely to blame. The rain delay obviously killed momentum and helped to level the playing field, and the coaching staff did not want to reveal too much to future opponents such as Rutgers. Not to mention the fact that McNeese State is one of the toughest FCS teams that Carolina could have scheduled, not only for their quality ranking, players, and spread offense, but for their stunning victory over God in 2007. As disappointing as an eight point margin against an FCS opponent appears at first glance, we started the season 1-0, and this game should act as a wake-up call for this team team between now and their next game against Rutgers.

2008 Season Preview: Cornerbacks

Starters: Kendric Burney (#16), Charles Brown (#12)

Key Reserves: Jordan Hemby, Tavorris Jolly, LaCount Fantroy, Richie Rich

Overview: Deunta Williams may be the most hyped defensive back on the roster, but cornerback Kendric Burney may be even more pivotal to the success of Carolina’s pass defense. The fellow Freshman All-ACC player was 7th on the team with 50 total tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. Despite only one interception and four pass deflections on the year, he succeeded in shutting down opposing receivers on a consistent basis, virtually shutting down the passing game in one half of the field. (Interesting sidenote: Burney played baseball in high school, and was good enough to be a part of UNC’s preseason baseball team at training camp. Ultimately, he decided to concentrate on football and left the roster.)

Burney is flanked by an equally impressive underclassman in Charles Brown. Unlike Burney, Brown had to enter the starting lineup after senior Jermaine Strong had a season-ending leg injury against Virginia Tech, and Tavorris Jolly’s outing against Miami did not work out so well. An oft-used nickelback prior to getting the call, Charles impressed in the final five games of the season, and finished among the top five in team tackles. If Brown doesn’t play to expectations this year, just be glad he isn’t a kicker.

Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

The two cornerbacks are both under 5’10”, but what they lack in size they make up for in speed and awareness. They may have only combined for three interceptions, but two of those picks were returned for touchdowns (granted, both against NC State).

As with the safeties, the Heels had better hope that Burney and Brown stay healthy; the rotation behind them is still a bit of an enigma.

Outlook: I am very confident that Burney and Brown can hold their own at the corners. Combined with the two starting safeties, Carolina’s starting secondary should be one of the better units in the conference. If one of the starters gets hurt, however, it’s anybody’s guess how it will turn out. As with most things Tar Heel Football, I’m cautiously optimistic.