John Bunting – Carolina's first-year coach deserves a great deal of credit for the incredible job he did in so many ways. First of all, he got his 0-3 team to believe they could beat a club that had outscored them 105-24 over the past two seasons and was 71-2 in league play since joining. He and his staff also had the Heels' offense improve some of the many weak spots responsible for the winless start. And, he kept the team sharp mentally and made the necessary adjustments throughout the game. There shouldn't be any doubt amongst any Tar Heel fan that the school not only made the right decision to change head coaches last winter. Perhaps they found a gem in Bunting. The Heels are already better than at any time last year even though they aren't close to consistently playing up to their ability. The best way to gauge a coach is how a team improves over a season and the Heels have clearly made some strides.
Defense – The defense had been outstanding over the first three games and weren't responsible for the 0-3 start. Their effort on Saturday was perhaps the best and certainly most encouraging in decades, if not ever. The pass coverage was exceptional, other than a few plays - most notably FSU's touchdown when Billy-Dee Greenwood was beaten soundly - and the linebackers did a terrific job covering the middle. The Heels, who had forced just three turnovers entering the game, forced five: four fumbles and an interception. They held FSU to 224 total yards, but just 34 in the second half (10 in the decisive third quarter) and only 97 other than the second quarter. FSU was just 4-16 on third down conversions. They ran the ball 37 times for just 88 yards and threw for just 136 yards, an astonishing number for its program.
Julius Peppers – Peppers was sensational and displayed why he is as good a defensive player as there is in the nation. He had nine tackles, four for losses, including two sacks and had an interception. In fact, on the INT, he dropped back as LB Quincy Monk blitzed and played the ball perfectly.
Offensive line – The line still has a ton of work to do but did enough Saturday to not lose the game. They opened up enough holes and kept the always-dominant Seminoles off the QB's with the exception of three plays.
QB's – Darian Durant - aided by excellent field position – did a fine job of playing with poise and making big plays to get Carolina crucial first downs. He checked off his receivers well and had great command in the huddle. Ronald Curry looked a little more relaxed early on and when he came in after Durant slightly injured his leg in the third quarter, Curry began to resemble the player he was a year ago and then some. Even his teammates noticed a tremendous difference. Neither QB had great numbers, but their poise and growth throughout the game was extremely positive. This is excellent news for the Heels.
Few mistakes – Although the Heels struggled in the running game and made some mistakes (a TD was called back), they didn't make the killer blunders that plagued them the first three weeks. The special teams were excellent other than two foul-ups in the punt game and two nice kickoff returns by the Seminoles.
New Frosh – Bunting took the red shirts off some true freshmen during the break and each player contributed. Jacque Lewis reeled off a 27-yard run when the Heels were at their own 14, a hole where many problems originated in the trio of defeats. Freshman offensive tackle Jason Brown made a great block with FSU charging inside on his first ever snap from scrimmage. He drove the Seminole inside allowing Curry to roll out to the right and eventually find Kory Bailey for a 53-yard touchdown.
Victory/ending streak – The Heels finally defeated FSU bringing their record against Bobby Bowden's team to 1-11-1. It also ended an ugly three-game losing streak to start the Bunting era.
Turnovers – Carolina committed just two turnovers, both interceptions, but neither hurt them and one actually helped. The first was to close out the half as FSU's Chris Hope fell out of bounds as the clock ran out. The second was by FSU's Stanford Samuels, who promptly fumbled and the Heels recovered. It gave them a first down and eventually UNC scored on that possession when Durant and Chesley Borders hooked up for a 52-yard scoring strike to give UNC the lead (14-9) they would never relinquish.
Sam Aiken – Aiken's effort not only on his seven-yard reception in the first quarter that gave UNC a first down but two plays later when he flew high in the air into the end zone for a 20-yard TD exemplified this team's attitude and determination. It helped spring the team toward the amazing victory.
Goal posts – The UNC students tried and tried and tried, and the goal posts in the enclosed end of Kenan finally came down, 41 minutes into the celebration. Seen in the crowd was Carolina basketball player Kris Lang, hoisting fellow students up to the goal posts and sharing in the joy of this surprising victory as any college student would and should.
Ground attack – The Tar Heels ran the ball 41 times for just 69 yards, which includes a 15-yard loss charged in the bad snap through the end zone. The Heels also had nine carries for negative yardage and 17 that gained one yard or less. Usually, this won't be enough to beat most teams, but the defense was so dominant and Carolina connected on some huge pass plays that the line didn't hurt them.
Early Curry – Early on Curry struggled but did appear a bit more relaxed. He missed on his first five pass attempts and didn't complete one until there were less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. However, he did look much better the rest of the way and finally completed his first TD pass of the year and scored his first TD run of the season.
Third safety – The bad snap through the end zone was Carolina's third safety allowed in just four games.
Quick kick – The punt on fourth down, which was essentially a quick kick although not technically because of the down, didn't pan out and wasn't a good idea. UNC had the ball at FSU's 35 up 17-9 with 5:50 left in the third quarter and the potential for disaster was too great a risk. It nearly happened as Durant was credited with a negative three yard kick and FSU, which had been battling poor field position most of the day, had the ball at their own 38. Durant also got hurt on the play. Curry, who punted some in high school, would have been a better choice and FSU would not have expected it.
Fans, well, sort of – Shame on the 7,000 UNC fans who had tickets to this game and chose not to show up. Many of these people are the same who complain about UNC not being a football school and yet they did nothing to help improve that image. So what of UNC was 0-3. So what if they were playing a team few people (this scribe did) thought they could stay close to. And so what if some were in fear after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. two weeks ago. It was Bunting's first home game as coach at his alma mater and he and the program deserved the respect of the fans to show up. The Heels needed the fans to be there. Perhaps those who chose not to show up ought to consider giving the rest of their tickets to those who will show up, regardless. Those who showed up were terrific, although many took their sweet time getting back to their seats after halftime.
The Heels travel up the road to Raleigh for their annual clash with rival N.C. State at noon on the Raycom ACC football network. UNC must win this game if they are to re-enter the bowl picture and to regain dominance over State, which ended a seven-year losing streak to the Heels last year in Chapel Hill. This will be Carolina's first appearance at Carter-Finley since 1997 after a two-year stint in Charlotte and last year's contest at Kenan.
Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a nightly radio show on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AJWAAV@aol.com.