Yates Under Pressure

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After UNC's defensive collapse against Florida State on Thursday night, T.J. Yates walked off the field to jeers from the crowd and was ultimately pelted with a small object. Despite a plethora of problems plaguing this program, the junior signal caller has become the target for the fan base's frustration.

While the cowardly act of hurling something anonymously at a 22-year-old is reprehensible, it speaks to the level of smoldering dissatisfaction that some fans have about the 4-3 (0-3 ACC) record. The Tar Heels may as well be traveling to Blacksburg, Va. on Thursday with a goose egg in the win column, considering how some supporters are lashing out.

"I really think that's uncalled for," E.J. Wilson said on Monday regarding the crowd-throwing incident. "He's a college kid. He's out here trying to do the best he can and I feel like if he went out there and he put everything into it, which I know he did, then no one should go to the extent of throwing something at him."

The red-shirt junior quarterback has completed 59 percent of his passes (108-of-183) for 1,028 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions in '09. The Marietta, Ga. native has admittedly struggled in certain games this season, but head coach Butch Davis was quick to point out during his Monday press conference that Yates was the primary reason UNC rallied to defeat Connecticut, 12-10, on Sept. 12.

"I've definitely played better in the past," Yates said. "There are some things that we've been doing differently this year than in the past. Obviously without the main receivers that we used to have, our offense has changed a little bit... I definitely believe that I can play a lot better."

Some critics place the current offensive woes at Yates' feet, but the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder is not responsible for replacing five starters from '08 that are currently on NFL rosters.

Others looking to place blame for North Carolina's 114th ranking in total offense (289.4 yards per game) have found plenty of available room on a certain mad scientist's lab bench.

Davis readily admits that quarterbacks far too often receive the brunt of a fan base's anger and resentment.

"One statement that is clearly true about all quarterbacks is [that] when you win, they probably get too much credit, and when you lose, they probably get too much blame," the third-year UNC head coach said. "I think that's every quarterback that's ever played the position.

"And you're also a victim of your supporting cast. You could take John Elway, you could take Troy Aikman or you could take any of the great collegiate quarterbacks and if you put them with four or five freshmen in the offensive line, two or three freshmen wide receivers and a bunch of guys that get hurt and you're playing musical chairs with your offensive line, they're probably going to struggle a little bit."

The other aspect that fans tend to miss in raking certain players and coaches over the coals is the replacement factor. If Yates is hypothetically benched, which backup quarterback will improve on the former's statistics?

Braden Hanson and Mike Paulus have combined to complete 32 percent (6-of-19) of their passes for 40 yards, four interceptions and zero touchdowns in six opportunities in '08 and '09. True freshman Bryn Renner has turned heads in practice, but it's worth noting that USC's Matt Barkley and Michigan's Tate Forcier are the only true freshmen at the BCS level under center, and both players won the job in the preseason.

That's not to say that any of those Tar Heels won't eventually become solid options for North Carolina, but there is no evidence to suggest that inserting one of them into the lineup next week is going to pay immediate dividends.

Wide receiver Greg Little went the politically correct route when quizzed about any potential challenger to Yates at the quarterback spot, praising everybody on the depth chart for pushing the incumbent in practice. But the junior eventually indicated that Yates was "no doubt" UNC's clear cut option at quarterback.

"He knows how to take that criticism," Little said. "He knows that there's going to be some heat with the position that he plays. I feel like he's handling it very well. I feel like it pushes him to be better."

Yates has heard and seen it all – the yells from the crowd, the discussions on sports talk radio, even the critiquing provided by his school's newspaper. But offensive coordinator John Shoop has served as an understanding ear through the tough times this season.

"He kind of keeps me positive about a lot of things, because I do get down on myself from time to time," Yates said. "It helps a lot for my teammates to give me confidence and get back on the horse and just go back at it. I do a lot of self-talk stuff, just trying to get myself going during the week. That's one thing that I've definitely got to work on is working with confidence."

The Tar Heels will walk into a hornet's nest on Thursday night in front of a national television audience, and the expectation is that they will return to Chapel Hill with another loss. And unless Yates pulls off a near miracle in Blacksburg, his teammates will be able to thank him for diverting the fans' angst off their shoulders onto his once again.

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