Countdown to Kickoff: UNC vs. UConn

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – No. 19 North Carolina opens its 2009 road slate against the Big East's Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field on Saturday (noon/ESPNU).

Randy Edsall's squad is looking for payback after the Tar Heels delivered a 38-12 blowout in Chapel Hill last October.

Bruce Carter's three blocked punts and Marvin Austin's interception return for a touchdown are likely the first things that come to a UNC fan's mind when thinking back to last season's rout of the 23rd-ranked Huskies, but those highlights overshadow the fact that UConn held a 23-to-13 advantage in first downs, soaked up nearly 13 more minutes of game clock (36:22 to 23:38) and outgained the Tar Heels by 115 yards – 378-263.

"I think the score, in some respects, can be misleading because it makes it look like we just dominated the game," UNC head coach Butch Davis said. "They dominated the statistics. They had a better performance statistically. We played well on special teams and we created some turnovers and it gave us favorable field position. Hopefully that's not lost on our team."

More statistics that the Tar Heels need to remember: North Carolina was minus-12 in turnovers in its losses in 2008 and plus-18 in its wins.

The Huskies scrapped their punt protection scheme in the offseason, thanks to Carter's superhuman efforts, and now employ "the shield" – a formation that calls for wider spreads on the line of scrimmage with three blockers serving as a second line of defense for the punter several yards back.

"We went to a different type of formation," UConn coach Randy Edsall said earlier this week. "You look at your personnel and see what might be best for you. Lyndon (Johnson, special teams coach) came to me and said this might be a better scheme for us than what we were in before. I endorsed that so that's what we're going with… Regardless of what scheme we use, we still have to go out and execute it. As long as we execute it, we'll be fine."

Execution will be critical in all phases on Saturday. Despite holding The Citadel to 30 rushing yards on 20 carries, the Huskies' tandem of Jordan Todman (157 yards, TD) and Andre Dixon (100 yards) will provide a stark contrast in talent level at running back.

"The challenge is dramatically different than a week ago," Davis said. "We've got to dramatically get better. We're going to have to get better real quick."

The Tar Heel rushing attack rolled up 261 yards in the season-opening 40-6 victory over the Bulldogs behind Shaun Draughn's 20 carries for 118 yards and Ryan Houston's 45 yards and two touchdowns.

"We're trying to establish our identity as a running team," right guard Alan Pelc said.

There was little doubt that offensive coordinator John Shoop was going to lean on the ground game this fall, at least in the early going, as former wide receivers Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster are currently listed on NFL rosters. And while Davis may have hoped for a young receiver to step up and shine in the season opener, that end result never occurred as five different players dropped passes last weekend.

However, starting quarterback T.J. Yates (9-of-20 passing, 114 yards, 2 TD) doesn't appear to be concerned with his receivers' ability over the long haul.

"It'll come with experience and stuff," Yates said earlier this week. "Some of those things you can't really work out until you get into game situations. I've got total confidence in the young guys that we're playing out there. We're just going to try this week during practice to work as hard as possible and work those things out."

In the second game of UNC's 2008 season, the Tar Heels held a coming-out party in Piscataway, N.J. by dominating Rutgers, 44-12, on national television. That win served as North Carolina's first outside the state since a wild shootout over Arizona State in 2002.

"When we go on the road, these are business trips," Davis said. "This is not a trip to Disney World. We're not going to Six Flags and we're not going to see any sights. We're going to take care of business. We're going to win the game."


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