Buck: Between the Lines

The North Carolina Tar Heels did something Saturday that they haven't done much of the last couple of years -- win. They also came back from a ten-point halftime deficit. "There are a lot of good things we can learn from this game," head coach John Bunting said following the game, "I am really pleased, particularly after halftime -- no panic by anybody -- to go out and play our game and get things under control."

Defense

Although Heel fans were hoping for clear signs that the defense in 2003 has improved, they will be able to glean very little about defensive improvement from this game.

Allowing conversion of only 5-of-16 third-down attempts to a good offensive team, even though a Division 1-AA team, was a big improvement over last season's mark.

The bad news is that North Carolina yielded a whopping 442 yards, including 322 yards passing, and 38 points. In addition, the defense did not force a single turnover, record a single sack, and tallied only two tackles for loss.

It should be noted that the final William and Mary drive of 88 yards came against UNC's third-team players, many of whom were seeing their first collegiate action. As the lineup stabilizes and substitutions decrease, the prospects of improved defense increase.

The Inside Carolina Defensive MVP of the game was Gerald Sensabaugh. There were a lot of questions about how well the Division 1-AA transfer would perform, and he answered all the questions with authority.

The Offense

When the offense rolls up over 500 yards, has two backs that rush for over 100 yards each, and scores 49 points, it might seem trivial to point out any flaw.

However, the four offensive turnovers made by the offense have to be absolutely maddening for the UNC coaching staff, particularly the unforced variety. On the Heels' first possession, tight end Justin Phillips was making a good run after a catch and, untouched, fumbled the ball while switching hands.

The rest is nearly all-positive. The offensive line was excellent, the backs hit the holes the line created and got yards after initial contact, and the passing game was there when needed. Durant had a typical game, completing 14-of-24 for 234 yards with one touchdown and one interception. However, he contributed to the negative turnover margin with that interception and a fumble.

Meanwhile, UNC's red zone offense was perfect, scoring on all six opportunities, all six of them by a touchdown, though Jacque Lewis did fumble in front of the goal line on a breakaway run.

With two backs gaining over 100 yards, one of them should be Inside Carolina's Offensive MVP, right? Wrong. Our choice for this game is sophomore wide receiver Adarius Bowman.

As a possession receiver, Bowman is a big target and runs well after the catch. Durant completed two third-down passes to Bowman, who demonstrated he can make the clutch reception. This development makes what promised to be a prolific UNC offense even more dangerous.

Special Teams and Other Notes

The Tar Heels, as noted above, have yet to attempt a field goal. Other than that question, the kicking game was solid. Connor Barth booted at least one kick through the end zone and was perfect on extra point attempts. David Woolridge also had a respectable punting average.

In the return game, Jawarski Pollock did a decent job on punt returns, returning one punt for 21 yards. Though the Tribe did their best to limit UNC's kickoff return opportunities by utilizing the squib kick, Mike Mason finally got his hands on one and returned it for 32 yards.

There are several other positive notes for this Tar Heel team. UNC was flagged for only three infractions, unusual for an opening game. Kudos also go to UNC's offensive line and tailbacks. In 2002, Tar Heel tailbacks combined for only three rushing touchdowns during the entire season. In this 2004 opener alone, the tailbacks accounted for five rushing touchdowns, nearly doubling their 2002 total in one game.

Conclusion

Yes, Tar Heel fans, it was William and Mary. Deep insights and far-reaching conclusions are difficult to draw after an opener, and even more so when the opponent isn't comparable to the teams the Tar Heels will face the remainder of the season.

But it was a win. As scarce as wins have been the past two seasons, the best course of action is to celebrate this week.


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