Heels Must Run

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –- While statistics can only provide so much insight into a single upcoming match-up, simply put, when the Tar Heels run the ball effectively, they win. When they don't, they lose. That's been the case this year, last year, the year before and throughout most of the school's history.

In the five wins this season, Carolina has rushed for 246.8 yards per game, but just 98.2 in its losses. That breaks down to 5.9 yards per carry in the victory and 3.4 yards per carry in defeat.

"We will always attempt to run the football," UNC coach John Bunting said following Wednesday's practice. "It's important for us run the football and it's important for us to have a balanced attack. It's important to be in 3rd and 5 or less…all those things."

With Duke's secondary leading the ACC with 15 interceptions, Darian Durant will need all the help he can get from his team's rushing attack to keep the Blue Devils' defense honest.

"We want to control the clock," Chad Scott said. "We've got to stay on the field as much as possible, because they're a good running team also. Of course, we want to be able to run the ball to set up the pass."

Considering the apparent direct correlation between success on the ground and triumph on the scoreboard, perhaps no one has meant more to Carolina's late-season turnaround than Scott. With McGill just now getting back and Lewis in and out of the lineup – now perhaps out for the season – UNC may not have had this opportunity to entertain serious bowl hopes if not for Scott's timely emergence as the team's No. 1 back.

In his last three games, he has rushed for 367 yards on 41 carries and scored four times. Those touchdowns have not come on mundane plunges from the 1-yard line either. It has become evident that when Scott gets closer and closer to paydirt, he becomes an even tougher runner.

Scott said he will be at full strength in what will be his last regular season game as a college athlete. Whether he sees the field again after that may depend on him.

But what if he had not been hampered by such a profuse string of physical ailments over the years? Scott admits he does sometimes wonder what could have been.

After biding his time behind McGill and Lewis for two years – partly due to a litany of nagging injuries, Scott has proved his "coming out party" three weeks ago versus Miami was no fluke.

"Obviously, I've been picking it up during the latter half of the season," Scott said. "But, I figure if I had stayed healthy, I could have been doing this all season."

But now he's just happy to be healthy and have the opportunity for one, or maybe two more games to make up for the past.

"I'm 100 percent; I'm ready," Scott said.

Bunting said the Scott and McGill will be the top options at tailback against Duke, with the possibility of Madison Hedgecock getting some attempts as well. Lewis, who underwent surgery on Monday for a broken foot, was at practice on Wednesday.

"It was great to see Jacque out on the field today watching practice," Bunting said.

Unless Scott can gain 397 yards on Saturday (or in two games if they reach a bowl), the Tar Heels will have gone seven seasons without a 1,000-yard back. But since Jonathan Linton accomplished the feat in 1997, few could argue the Tar Heels' ground attack has been any more potent than this year.

Scott, Lewis and McGill have combined on 1,431 rushing yards at an average of 6.3 yards per carry. All three have rushed for 100 yards in a game this year as well. The last time UNC had three different backs eclipse the century mark in one season was 1991, when future NFL'ers William Henderson, Natrone Means and Randy Jordan did it.

So while it's too early to announce a return to "Tailback U," it is not too soon to proclaim the Carolina's 2004 team as the most prolific rushing the ball in the Bunting era. If the trend continues into next season and beyond, then Bunting's tenure has a much greater chance of continuing.

But is it too late for Scott or Lewis to position himself for a pro career?

"I would not say that it is too late," Bunting said. "There are opportunities that may come their way. With the World League, the Arena League, the Canadian League…you never know. A lot of guys take that route.

"One of the greatest players I've ever been around is La'Roi Glover. He was selected late by the Raiders, played in the World League. He was an undersized player at defensive tackle and became an All-Pro. There are a tremendous amount of avenues to get there, but you have to pay an enormous price. It's great to have a college background where you've started for three years – that's the easiest way, but there are other avenues."

Of course you can't applaud Carolina's successful rushing game without giving its offensive line a fair share of the credit. Center Jason Brown, a legitimate All-America candidate, has been as capable on the field as he is quotable off the field.

Brown has graded out at over 90 percent in five games this season, coming within one play versus Louisville of achieving a 100-percent grade – something offensive line coach Hal Hunter has never seen happen in his 20-year coaching career.


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