North Carolina held a practice that featured an extensive scrimmage on Saturday. The offense was clicking and dominated the defense all afternoon.
Junior quarterback Darian Durant completed 11 of 15 attempts for 183 yards and two touchdowns, while wide receiver Jarwarski Pollock finished with four catches for 67 yards. It was the running game, however, that received praise from North Carolina head coach John Bunting.
When asked what has been the most pleasant surprise of Spring Practice offensively to date, North Carolina Bunting did not hesitate.
"It's been the running backs, (Ronnie) McGill. Chad Scott looks extremely good.
"Chad Scott has looked good in both scrimmages running the football," he continued. "Jacque Lewis has run the football very well. We are still anxious to see the Rikki Cook's run some. Ronnie McGill played extremely well last week. He did not play this week because his ankle is a little knicked up."
In fact, all of the running backs seem to be improved. Chad Scott started at tailback with the first-team offense and had five carries for 27 yards. Jacque Lewis split time with the first-team and second-team offenses and had five carries for 83 yards. Two of those carries combined for 82 of his 83 yards, including a 27-yarder and a 55-yarder that began at the 1-yard line. Lewis also added a 41-yard reception. Willie Parker had five carries for 30 yards, but did have one fumble. Fullback Rikki Cook had two carries for 12 yards.
"I'm really anxious to see how Jacque [Lewis], [Ronnie] McGill, Willie Parker, and all those guys [perform]. It's an open competition," Bunting said. "Willie Parker is running hard. Jacque Lewis is a good running back, and he is trying to make himself a better running back by his work ethic in the weight room. He worked hard in the weight room, works hard in conditioning. He's able to play better. Everybody has their limitations--everybody that steps on this football field. What Jacque is doing is expanding [his abilities] by working so hard in the weight room and in conditioning."
The offensive line, particularly the first unit, has looked effective blocking for the backs and providing pass protection.
"Our offensive line--particularly the first group is blocking things up good. Hal [Hunter] has done a great job with them," Bunting said. "Our offensive line looks better, and that helps."
Defensive end Jocques Dumas agreed that the offensive line has been a force this spring.
"They've gotten bigger, stronger, and they move their feet better," Dumas said.
The offense was extemely productive in the red zone, scoring on five of seven attempts from the four-yard line, and scoring in a variety of ways. Andre Williams scored on a pass reception, Chad Scott ran the ball in, reserve tight end Justin Phillips caught a touchdown pass, and Willie Parker scored on a run.
All the news on defense wasn't bad, however. In particular, Clay Roberson seems to have made strides at his outside linebacker spot. Roberson's day included one tackle for loss, one sack and one tackle for no gain. Derrick Johnson had an interception, a sack, and recovered the Willie Parker fumble.
When asked what the most pleasant surprise has been this spring defensively, Bunting said, "The cornerbacks--I'm excited about the way they've played. Watching Cedric Holt and Jacoby Watkins compete out there gets me excited about the way they are playing."
Bunting believes the defensive line is benefiting from practicing against the veteran offensive line. "It's extremely important for the young players that have never played before to get in there and play against the Jeb Terrys and the Jason Browns," Bunting said. "It's extremely important for the young defensive guys to get tested; otherwise, there is no test. That's why it's harder on freshmen, because they haven't played against really good talent."
Dumas said, "We don't look at inexperience as an excuse, you just play your best. Sometimes your best isn't good enough, but very seldom." Dumas also sees the spring as a time for the defense to come together. "We've been going through some changes," said Dumas, "What we are doing is trying to come together as a defensive unit and play as one."
"That's Dave Huxtable," Bunting said of Dumas' comments. "He's a team guy all the way. If one guy breaks down, more than likely we will have a breakdown on the defense, particularly when you pressure and we will pressure a lot. We did that last year early on last season, and we got away from it after the Texas game. Looking back, we probably shouldn't have. It's hard, with a young defense, to sit out there and play base defense--don't move people, don't blitz people. We made a decision to back off some after Texas, and it probably hurt us some."
Bunting seemed pleased with the scrimmage, but concluded by saying, "A lot of good things happened [today], but we have a long way to go."