Don't Write Off Dailey

From the ashes of an emotional 45-26 loss at Notre Dame emerged rising hopes that Joe Dailey, who threw for three touchdowns without an interception, may prove to be a valuable UNC football asset after all. His performance under pressure in front of a hostile crowd and on national TV has certainly raised his stock.

"I was just able to step up and make some good throws to my receivers," Dailey said. "I knew that we had to make some big plays to keep the game close."

Before then, crucial picks and an overall inability to stretch the field with accurate downfield passing made Dailey a liability that had to be relegated to the sidelines.

No one questioned his benching after he served up four interceptions in two games to start the season. Fans cringed almost every time he cocked his arm, especially since his 19-pick total during his first college season at Nebraska was as commonly known a statistic as UNC's current NCAA ranking in turnover margin.

But prior to his inexplicable six-yard strike to Wake Forest linebacker Jon Abbate which ended a dramatic comeback attempt in the Tar Heels' 24-17 loss to nationally ranked Deacs, Dailey completed his then-longest pass of the season – a 44-yard completion - to freshman Hakeem Nicks.

He nearly doubled that mark with a 72-yarder to Nicks, in his 14-for-22, 213-yard passing performance versus the Irish.

"Joe made a lot of plays, and we had three dropped balls that would have helped us make some other plays," John Bunting said on Sunday.

And, of course, Nicks, Carolina's brightest young star, gets a portion of the credit for Dailey's stat line last week. Nicks broke a UNC freshman record in the game with 171 yards receiving in a single-game.

"I was awfully proud of the way Joe Dailey played, and Hakeem Nicks," Bunting said. "Joe kept us alive by staying on his feet and escaping some pressure situations, because we got handled up front a great deal."

Bunting first said he planned to speak with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti on Sunday to decide if Dailey had earned the right to regain his spot as UNC's exclusive quarterback against No. 20 Georgia Tech this Saturday. However, after reviewing the tape, the meeting was deemed unnecessary.

"He kept his poise, he avoided staring down the rush, and he threw the ball timely and accurately," Bunting said.

Bunting called it a "fair assessment" to expect Dailey to start and remain in the game as his play dictates versus the Yellow Jackets. Former starter Cam Sexton attempted one pass and was sacked twice in his two first half series at Notre Dame.

Bunting was asked after the game if he thought about leaving Sexton on the bench after Dailey had orchestrated an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jesse Holley which tied the score, 7-7. He said he never thought about it then, but he has now.

Of course it was just one game, but it has become apparent, at least for now, that Dailey offers Carolina the best chance of grabbing a win in one or more of Bunting's final three games as coach. If Dailey can improve on his last game and avoid key mistakes, the Tar Heels could have a chance to send Bunting off on a victorious note.

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