Preview: Rutgers-North Carolina

Rutgers is back after a season-opening loss and a week to try to get on track. Things don't get any easier for the Scarlet Knights (0-1), who host North Carolina (1-0) in a weeknight game on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Let's take a look at this contest.

This is a matchup of the teacher versus the pupil, as North Carolina head coach Butch Davis roamed the sidelines as the head man at the University of Miami when Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano was the defensive coordinator there. We'll see if Schiano can get one over on his old boss. Let's just hope a parachutist doesn't try to drop in with a game ball meant for another contest.


The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time at Rutgers Stadium on ESPN. Chris Fowler, Craig James and Jesse Palmer are slated as the broadcast team. Fans can rest assured that the gracious Erin Andrews is scheduled as the sideline reporter.


Butch Davis is in the second year of a reclamation project in Chapel Hill. We saw what he did in Miami, taking a team that was on probation and sinking and building it into a squad that won the national championship the year after he left for the National Football League. It's a work in progress, but UNC returned 18 starters this season to help.

The Tar Heels struggled against Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) opponent McNeese State in the season opener and actually trailed the Cowboys 20-14 late in the third quarter before putting them away with three straight touchdowns. UNC's Brandon Tate notched 397 all-purpose yards, including an 82-yard punt return to open the scoring, as North Carolina posted a 35-27 decision.


You're going to see this name a lot this week: Brandon Tate. He got the scoring kicked off in week 1 with that 82-yard punt return, he had 93 yards receiving and a 57-yard TD reception where he completely burned the safety, and he managed 106 yards on three carries - including a 54-yard gain that set up UNC's second score. North Carolina usually lines up in a traditional pro set, I-formation, but the Tar Heels throw in some different looks - like lining up Tate as a wingback or giving the ball to him on an end around.

UNC was rolling 14-0 early in the second quarter when the game was suspended due to lightning. The Tar Heels cooled off after the break and never really got back on track until the fourth quarter. Turnovers allowed McNeese State to get back into the game, as UNC coughed up the ball twice. Quarterback T.J. Yates threw an interception that led to a McNeese State score, and running back Greg Little lost a fumble.

The Tar Heels had trouble running the ball against McNeese State (67 net yards from their top two running backs), but they were able to stretch the field with relative ease in the passing game (quarterback T.J. Yates was 15-for-26 with 221 yards passing, two TDs and one interception). Hakeem Nicks had 110 yards receiving, and more than half of UNC's 221 passing yards came on two plays. Last season North Carolina ranked 107th out of 119 Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) schools in rushing offense.


North Carolina was unimpressive in the season debut, allowing McNeese State to roll up 391 yards of total offense, which outgained the UNC offense by 7 yards. The Cowboys reached North Carolina territory in half of their drives and were able to control the clock with several long drives.

The Tar Heels returned nine starters on the defensive side of the ball this season, including all four starters in a secondary that ranked 27th nationally in 2007.


Did mention Brandon Tate yet? He nearly took the opening kickoff to the house before McNeese State tripped him up, and his TD return showed incredible athletic ability. It didn't take a rocket scientist to name him ACC special teams player of the week.

However, the Tar Heels gave back a TD punt return to McNeese State in the second quarter as their pursuit lanes broke down. Placekicker Casey Barth missed his only field goal attempt, a 37-yarder in the fourth quarter.


Rutgers is 3-0 against North Carolina in a series that dates back to 1894 (a 5-0 Rutgers win). These teams last met at North Carolina in the opener of the 2006 season. Rutgers escaped with a 21-16 victory after a late goal line stand.


RU is 6-9 coming off bye weeks under Greg Schiano, 5-2 since 2005. The Scarlet Knights were 1-2 off bye weeks in 2007. . . . Rutgers is 4-1 on Thursday since 2005, with the loan loss coming 41-38 at Louisville in the regular season finale last year. . . . The Scarlet Knights have dropped back-to-back games twice since the start of the 2005 season, including home losses to Maryland and Cincinnati last season. . . . The opening game against Fresno State was the first time Rutgers failed to have a 100-yard rusher since the Norfolk State game on Sept. 15, 2007. That statistic is a bit deceiving, as Rutgers managed 240 yards rushing in a 59-0 decision.

North Carolina has lost six straight games against Big East opponents. The Tar Heels' last victory against the conference came in a 30-22 win against Syracuse in 2002. . . . This is UNC's only road non-conference game. The Tar Heels host Connecticut on Oct. 4 and Notre Dame Oct. 11. . . . North Carolina owns a weight advantage on each side of the ball against RU. The Tar Heels average 304 pounds on the offensive line to RU's 260 pounds on the defensive side and 302 pounds on the D line versus 298 for Rutgers on the O line.


Neither team is reporting significant injuries.


It should be a good night for football, according to the National Weather Service, with a low around 58 degrees and party cloudy conditions.

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