Rutgers opened its 2011 season with a 48-0 dismantling of new Division I member N.C. Central on Sept. 1 and North Carolina followed suit two days later in defeating FCS opponent James Madison, 42-10.
For UNC red-shirt sophomore quarterback Bryn Renner, his first collegiate start couldn't have gone much better. The West Springfield, Va. product completed 22 of his 23 passes for 277 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while also running for a score. His completion percentage set a record for the highest mark in ACC single-game history for a passer with at least 20 attempts and ranks second-best in NCAA history for a player with 20 to 29 attempts, trailing only Tennessee's Tee Martin (.958 vs. South Carolina in '98).
"I read somewhere they call him "Baby Brett Favre" but I can see why," Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano said of Renner. "He's mobile and he can make every play. Not a ball hit the ground on Saturday, which is -- I don't know if I've ever seen that in a college football game. He's good. Very good."
Rutgers returned four starters – three of which changed positions during the offseason – to a unit that ranked 65th nationally (374.2 ypg) in total defense, 94th in sacks (1.4 per game) and 96th in pass efficiency defense (140.82). Those statistics forced Schiano to take over defensive play-calling responsibilities this season and his Knights responded as 10 players contributed to register nine sacks against N.C. Central.
Renner essentially went untouched against the Dukes, but Schiano's blitzing preferences have been a focus in film study and at practice for the Tar Heels this week.
"I would expect more guys, more pressure with numbers," UNC head coach Everett Withers said. "I think they're probably going to bring five and possibly six at times and then zone drop or play man coverage behind it. With the size of their line, I don't think they feel like they can just stand there and say, ‘We're going to play one gap defense.' They're going to do more things up front to try to confuse us."
Renner's opening day numbers were made possible by a veteran offensive line, a lethal wide receiver in Dwight Jones (9 catches, 116 yards, 2 TD) and a solid one-two punch at running back – Ryan Houston and Gio Bernard combined for 123 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries – so Schiano will have to draw straws when selecting which defender to blitz.
While North Carolina was stifling James Madison's offense to the tune of 211 total yards, Rutgers was breaking in a new pro-style offensive scheme installed by new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, who served as UNC's offensive coordinator in '06.
Starting quarterback Chas Dodd completed 9-of-17 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown in limited action, but the focal point was a multi-pronged rushing attack. Talented freshman Savon Huggins (32 yards and 2 TD on 10 carries) has garnered the preseason headlines, but red-shirt freshman Jawan Jamison (54 yards on 17 carries) led the Scarlet Knights in rushing last week.
Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (7 catches, 68 yards, TD) and receiver-turned-tailback Jeremy Deering represent additional play-making threats for Cignetti.
"We have a lot of stuff in our arsenal," Dodd told reporters earlier this week. "It all depends on who we're playing and what kind of stuff we need for that game. If we ended up not showing a lot last week it was because of the type of game plan we had in."
North Carolina limited the Dukes to 59 rushing yards on 39 carries, and the return of veteran cornerback Charles Brown provides a solid tackler in run support. The Tar Heels are confident that Rutgers's early focus will be in establishing a power running game.
"They're definitely going to come out and try to run downhill on us," senior defensive tackle Tydreke Powell said.
Saturday's game has been designated as UNC's Military Appreciation Day. Kickoff is set for 12:30pm on the ACC Network.