Sophomore T.J. Yates was off to an excellent start in his second season as the starting quarterback. He won the job in the Butch Davis's first year as coach in 2007, throwing for 2,655 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 18 picks. Despite not going through spring practice drills because of injury, Yates looked very impressive in his team's first three games this season. Yates (6-3/210) completed 40-of-66 passes this season for 623 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. He suffered a major ankle injury against Virginia Tech last week, however, and that's when UNC's strong offense began to sputter a bit. Enter redshirt freshman Mike Paulus, a former four-star recruit. He struggled against the Hokie defense in the second half of that game, completing just 3-of-9 passes for 23 yards and two costly interceptions. Junior Cam Sexton, who has 849 career passing yards with four touchdowns and eight picks, also got some reps with the first unit this week, Davis said. The starter is still up in the air for Saturday's game. Paulus seems to have more upside, while Sexton more experience. Either way, losing Yates really hurts the Tar Heel offense moving forward.
When Greg Little picked North Carolina over a lot of major programs two years ago, many believed he'd be the next great wide receiver at the school. Instead, he was moved to running back as a freshman last season and is now the team's starter there this year. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he has rare height for someone at the position but he runs hard and has the speed to break some big plays. He carried the ball 59 times for 300 yards and two scores last season and has 50 carries for 179 yards and two scores so far this season. His primary backup has been sopuomore Shaun Draughn, a converted safety who came to UNC as a three-star recruit. Draughn has 20 carries this season for 84 yards and one touchdown. The two are averaging just 3.75 yards per carry this season and things won't get any easier now with the team's starting quarterback on the sidelines with an injury.
This is clearly the strength of the UNC offense this season. The top three-pass catchers are about as good a trio as Miami will face in conference play this season. The Tar Heels are led by standout senior Brandon Tate. At 6-1 and 195, Tate, who is a threat to make a big play every time he touches it, has 11 receptions for 297 yards and three scores already this season. Averaging over 25 yards per catch this season, Tate has averaged over 20 per catch throughout his career. He'll be sure to have a lot of attention from the UM secondary on Saturday. He's not alone, however. Junior Hakeem Nicks (6-1, 210) was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and has been excellent throughout his entire career at UNC. He has 129 career receptions for 1,842 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 16 for 224 and two scores so far this season. Senior Brooks Foster, a three-star recruit coming out of high school, gives UNC a big target outside at 6-3 and 205 and while he's not as dangerous as the other two, he's a solid number three option for the Tar Heels. Anytime your No. 3 receiver has 75 career receptions, you know you have a lot of proven experience at the position.
Only one player on UNC's roster at the tight end position has even caught a pass this season and that's starter Nick Pianalto. At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Pianalto was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and showed flashes of excellence as a freshman last season when he brought in 24 passes for 204 yards. He has just three catches for 31 yards this season but has to be considered a threat because of his ability to make things happen in the passing game for the Tar Heels.
The Tar Heels returned four starters from last year's line so there's plenty of experience up front. They haven't always played like it so far this season, however. They're getting just 4.27 yards per carry on the ground and rank 78th nationally in rushing offense. They've also given up seven sacks as a team this season in three games. The best Tar Heel lineman is considered to be right tackle Garrett Reynolds (6-7/290). Right guard Calvin Darity, a former four-star from Florida, has plenty of starting experience. Center Aaron Stahl was rock solid at left guard last season and it's left tackle Kyle Jolly (6-6, 300) that protects the quarterback's blindside. The top backup appears to be sophomore tackle Mike Ingersoll, who played in six games last season and has played in all three games so far this season.