Your Weekly Reminder of This Season’s Unbridled Awesomeness

(Photo: IC)

It’s been a week off from football for the Heels, so maybe this week you need a quick reminder of how great this season has been.

  • Trimane Goddard has, by himself, more interceptions than the entire team has in 2002, 2003, 2004, or 2006.
  • What was in August considered to be the team’s biggest weakness, linebacker, may now be its biggest strength. Bruce Carter, Mark Paschal, and QUANTAVIUS THE MAGNIFICENT have played beyond anyone’s expectations for 2008.
  • Goddard’s performance has made him a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, the first time that a UNC player has been a candidate for a season-ending award since Julius Peppers in 2001.
  • This year’s team has forced more turnovers than in those four seasons combined.
  • Cam Sexton is 4-1 as a starter. The same Cam sexton who went 0-5 in 2006 and many fans had since considered to be a doomsday scenario at QB up until the beginning of this season.
  • For the first time in a while, we have a legitimate rushing attack, with Shaun Draughn getting most of the carries and Ryan Houston being used in short yardage and goalline situations. in years past, even getting inside the five was not the sure sign of a touchdown. This year, we have yet to drive inside the 10 yard line and come up with anything less.
  • As a byproduct of that, the Heels offense is more efficient. They don’t administer many self-inflicted wounds, as they would have in years past. The defense creates a lot of opportunities, and now the offense is capable of making them pay.
  • UNC is much more efficient on third down situations. The Heels have a more effective running game, which they use often on first and second down. Given a short field on third down, the offense converts 45% of its chances this year, second only to Florida State in conference.
  • Because they convert third downs and can run the ball, the Heels are now very good at sustaing long, prodding drives that take time off the clock and keep opposing offenses off the field. This deeply contrasts with Tar Heel teams of years past. The 2003 memory of Arizona State still haunts me. The Heels needed onlt one first down on 3rd and 1 with less than two minutes to go against the Sun Devils to seal the win. Unfortunately, no one was confident in the running backs. So instead the coaches called…a QB sneak. Naturally, Darian Durant was stuffed, UNC had to punt, and Arizona State drove down the field to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired.
  • Conversely, look at the Virginia game of this year. With each passing possession the Cavs were gaining momentum, and with 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter the Heels started from their own six. thanks to some decent running and a few well-timed catches by Hakeem Nicks, the Heels were able to drive down the field for more than seven minutes and ultimately score a field goal, giving UNC a 10-3 lead with 2:22 to play. If not for the Everett Withers’ two-minute defense, that would have, and should have, been the drive that won the game and brought the Heels to 7-1. The times have certainly changed.
  • At least two of the players leading our offense, Cam Sexton and Shaun Draughn, were so deep down in the depth chart in August that few people expected them to have any factor this season.
  • By the end of next year, Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks may be the two most decorated receivers in school history.
  • UNC is 6-2 in November, and may win the ACC Coastal division without the help of T.J. Yates or Brandon Tate for most of the season.
  • Just for good measure, I have to say it one more time: Cam. Sexton. Is 4-1. As a starter. Meanwhile, four-star QB Mike Paulus has been relegated to standing on the sidelines and practicing his Blue Steel.

paulus_mike1Well, you can’t please everyone.

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I’m Not Worried

Coming into this Saturday’s game against Miami, the biggest fuss surrounding UNC is the quarterback situation. T.J. Yates is gone for half the season, and there doesn’t seem to be much separation between Mike Paulus and Cam Sexton (if you believe coach Davis, of course). No matter who plays the general consensus is that the Heels are going to be reeling from this loss.

But you know what? I’m not all that worried about Paulus or Sexton running the offense. Perhaps I should be, but I’m not. And here’s why.

The UNC offense will not change much. Both Butch Davis and John Shoop have made it clear that they are going to run the same offense as they would with Yates as their QB. Both Sexton and Pulus have taken a lot of snaps in this offense at some point, either while the QB situation was still in doubt last year or when Yates was recovering from shoulder surgery this past offseason.

That said, I think we will see a few tweaks to what Shoop has shown us earlier in the year. One of the offenses bread-and-butter- plays last year was the one step drop and quick pass to a receiver at the line of scrimmage. If the corners gave a bit too much space, Yates would take the snap and quickly throw it to Nicks, Tate, or Foster. I lieu of a true running game, this play consistently gained 5-10 yards for the Heels. Those types of plays have been strangely abesnt from the playbook so far in 2008 (presumably because Shoop trusts Yates to make riskier throws). Given the new QB situation and the continued struggles in the backfield, it would be interesting to see if the quickpass makes it back into the playbook.

Both QBs have their advantages. Sexton is certainly a more experienced player than Paulus. While he got a bit of a bad reputation after he was thrown into the fire that UNC’s disastrous 2006 season, people tend to forget that he, like Paulus, was a 4 star recruit out of high school, and was expected to ultimately become the starter before complications got in the way (foot injury, Joe Dailey, his 2006 performance, Yates). A more mobile QB than Paulus, it’s quite possible that he’s a much better quarterback now than he was two years ago. So, no matter what you think of him, Sexton may be every bit the talent (or enigma) that Paulus is right now.

As for Paulus, there is little doubt about his arm strength, but he definitely won;t threaten anyone with his legs. Like Sexton, he was recruited to be the eventual starter before Yates burst onto the scene. While he does have experience in practice, Virginia Tech was his first true in-game situation. For Paulus, the next five or six games are not just filling in at QB. This could be his to prove, if he plays well enough, that he once again deserves consideration for the starting job. (Or if nothing else, possibly auditioning to transfer in the offseason.) If he cracks under the pressure, we’ve got a stable QB situation when T.J. comes back. If he shines, we’ve got 2 very good QB’s from which to choose.

There are 21 other guys on the field, and their feet are fine. As much as we like to believe otherwise, a good quarterback isn’t always the game-changing talent. Often it’s the QB who just manages the offense, doesn’t make mistakes, and helps his team play better. Uh oh, I think I’m beginning to sound like Dr. Lou! OH NO! Too…many…cliches…(administers tranquilizer dart on self, faints)

(wakes up 4 hours later)…OK, where was I? Oh yes. My point is that how well our quarter back plays will depend, at least partially, on how the rest of the team plays. The defense has to continue performing well, starting against the very talented (if green) Hurricanes. In particular, we’ve seen our linebackers perform above expectations and the emergence of Robert Quinn at defensive end. The offensive line has to perform, giving time for the QB as well as controlling the line of scrimmage for the tailbacks. If everything goes as it should, pretty much all the QB will have to do is hand the ball off on half of the plays and find an open receiver on the other half.

The mistakes of last week are correctable. Let’s face it: Mike Paulus’ pick to Macho Harris, while costly, didn’t cost Carolina the game. Penalties cost them the game. A subpar rushing attack cost them the game. Defensive fatigue cost them the game.

Most importantly, experience seemed to cost them the game. Discounting the third quarter drive where everyone believes VT seized momentum, there were many other factors that led to their comeback victory. UNC committed two bad fumbles that led to 10 Tech points. Jay Wooten missed an early 40 yard field goal. The Heels tried to go for the first down on 4th and 1 at the VT 5 and were called for a delay of game, forcing the Heels to settle for a field goal. A late hit on a fourth quarter punt return ultimately led to the game-winning field goal. Discounting the infamous drive and Paulus’ pick, human error on the part of UNC led to a 23 point swing in favor of the Hokies, from a plausible 27-7 UNC lead.

The good news about all of this is that all of these mistakes can be corrected, and almost certainly will not be repeated to the same extent.

Hello, Deer. Have You Met Headlights?

Coming out of the tunnel in the second half…

Mike Paulus: Yeah, I am sooo pumped for this game, even though I’m probably not going to see a snap. But hey, if I’m in the game, it;s because you’ve slammed the door shut, T.J. Now let’s kick some! Let’s go, T.J.! Let’s go, Quan! Let’s go, Greg! WHOOOOOOOO!!!

(Mike Paulus has just patted the back of each player just mentioned, unwittingly giving them an radio chip in the process.)

Third Quarter. UNC is up 10-3 against Virginia Tech.

This game ain’t looking half-bad. Defense is dominating, we’re in field goal range, and T.J. is looking pretty sharp.

T.J. Yates: HUT HUT!

Radio: Beep beepbeedeedeep beedeedeep beedeedeepeep beedeedeepeep beeeeeeeeeeeeep

T.J. Yates:

Must…sprint…backwards…into…defensive…player…

(Yates is sacked for a loss of 20 yards, and hurts his left foot in the process)

Oh, no! T.J. can’t be hurt!

Butch: Get him out of there!

Yates: I’m…fine…coach…I’ll…stay…here…

(Yates performs 7 step drop on bad foot, is sacked)

Butch: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!

Yates: I don’t know what came over me OW OW OW OW

Alright Mike, get yourself together. This game is on your shoulders now. Hopefully we can get the running game going. Keep the pressure off, you know. You can do this, Mike, This is what you came here for.

Next possession…

Alright, Well start with a run up the middle. Can’t be that bad. HUT HUT! (hands of to Greg Little) GO! GO GO GO GO GO! YEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!! WAY TO GO GREG! WAY TO GO! Whoo, okay. 17-3. Defense is playing well. Pressure’s off.

VT possession. 3rd and 5. Tyrod Taylor has just been stopped for no gain.

Way to go defense! Way to go!

Unnamed Hokie Player:

Ron Cherry: After the play was over, personal foul, on the…

Radio: BEEEEP BEEDEEDEEP BEEPDEEDEEDEEPBEEEP BEEEEEEEEP

Cherry:

…on the defense. 15 yards from the dead ball spot, first down.

WHAT! He had Quan by the mask! How is that not on Tech, Ron? Oh, well, we can still force a field goal kick.

Virginia Tech scores after another, er, “odd” call, and the score is 17-10.

Okay, so they’ve cut the lead to seven. But come on, that was a fluke. We can still be in control of this game.

So, we’ll just do this like last time. handoff to Greg up the middle and see what happens. HUT HUT!

Radio: BEEEPBEDEDEEEPBEEEP BEDEDEEPBEEP BEEEEEEEEP

Greg Little:

Must…let…go…of…ball…at…inopportune…moment…

Okay, we’re in the red zone, getting into crunch time. We’ve made it this far, I think we can finish this drive get the momentum back, and walk away with victory. Alright, keep it cool.

HUT HUT!

Let’s see to the right here. Hey look! Foster’s open in the flat…

Radio: BEEPBEDEEPBEBEDEEEEEPPBEPBEDEEEP BEEEEP

Must…throw…deep…ball…into…coverage…hope…Hakeem…gets…lucky…

Macho Harris: Mmm yummy delicious interception

Crowd: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Wha…what just happened? Oh come on! What made me throw that to Nicks? How could i be so stupid!

Hokies win the game, 20-17.

Okay, something’s up. way too many weird things have been going on. How could this have happened? HOW!

Meanwhile, not far away…

(phone rings)

(phone rings)

(ph-)

Anonymous voice from Durham #1:

Cut here.

Ananymous voice from Durham #2:

Hey, it’s Greg. Just wanted to let you know that the plan worked. Phase one of Operation Sabotage is complete.

Anonymous voice from Durham #1: Excellent. But I still can’t believe you got your brother to become part of the plan.

Anonymous voice from Durham #2: I know! That dude is so gullible when he’s around me.

Anonymous voice from Durham #1: Muahahahaha….

Anonymous voice from Durham #1: BWAHH-HAHAHAHAAAAAAA…

TO BE CONTINUED…