At Long Last, the Heels Get Their Shot at Texas

It&#146;s finally here. Texas against North Carolina. The Horns versus the Heels. Lotsa folks in powder blue with tar on their feet have been itching for this one, itching to get a shot at the coach who left them high and dry after taking them to the brink of glory. <B>Mack</B> left them chapped in Chapel Hill, and now we know why.

If you need any further proof of Mack Brown’s credentials as an elite college football coach, take a look at the current situation at North Carolina. Brown left UNC after the ‘97 season in which he led the Heels to an 11-1 record and a final ranking of No. 6 in the AP and No. 4 in the coaches’ poll. The year before that, Brown’s Heels went 10-2, capped off by a win in the Gator Bowl, propelling them to a No. 10 finish in both polls. Brown took over a doormat of a program -- and we’re talkin’ doormat in the basketball-crazed ACC mind you -- and posted eight consecutive winning seasons by the time he took off for Texas. Brown went 55-18 over his last six seasons at UNC with six consecutive bowl appearances.

Enter his former defensive coordinator-turned head coach, Carl Torbush. After losing their first three games of the ‘98 season, the Heels managed to win six of their final eight to go 6-5 during the regular season, and earn a trip to the Carquest Bowl where they knocked off San Diego State. In ‘99, the Heels record plunged to an ugly 3-8, followed in ‘00 by a mediocre 6-5. Out went Torbush, in came former Heel player John Bunting. Torbush went 16-18 during his three-year tenure, and was shut out of the bowl picture his last two.

As we say in the legal biz, res ipsa loquitor -- the thing speaks for itself.

Many, including me, have believed since we saw this game on the schedule that the Texas-UNC tilt would be a struggle to the end, pitting the Horns against an angry, focused Heel squad bent on revenge. It may indeed turn out that way, but based on the Tarheels’ performance so far this season, losses to OU 41-27 and Maryland 23-7, I'm not too sure they can hang with the Horns.

Personnel-wise, UNC will field some great athletes, in fact, in DE Julius Peppers, the Heels can boast possibly the nation’s finest defensive lineman. Peppers led the nation in sacks in ‘00 with 15, a performance that earned him first-team All-America honors in only his sophomore season. At 6-6, 285, the guy is a monster and will pose a tremendous challenge for first-year starter Robbie Doane who will man the Texas LT position opposite Peppers. Nothing against Doane, but I have to believe that this is one game where being a lefty will play to Chris Simms’ advantage -- if Peppers breaks lose on the edge, or I should say when he breaks loose, Simms will be able to see that freight train coming. Peppers will have help from a few guys who are holdovers from the Mack Brown era, fifth year seniors Joey Evans, a 6-5, 256 DL, and LB Quincy Monk, 6-3, 242.

On offense, UNC has started former all-planet recruit Ronald Curry at QB in both of the first two games, losses to OU and Maryland, but Curry has been ineffective, giving way to freshman Darien Durant. Curry set a single-season school record for total offense in ‘00 with 2,676, so he is a major threat both passing and running, but his inability to move the Heel offense so far this season has folks wondering if Durant might get the nod against Texas. Curry managed to hit only six of 12 passes for 61 yards against the Terrapins last Saturday, with one INT, while Durant went 10 of 14 for 97 yards in a little over a quarter and a half. Against OU, Curry went a woeful five of 14 for 74 yards and a pick, while Durant hit 12 of 26 for 152 yards, including two TD strikes that brought the Heels back in the fourth quarter. "I’ll think about it," said head coach Bunting after the Maryland loss when asked if he would switch QBs for Texas. "I would be inclined to stay with what I have been doing."

Either way, the Horns will face a dangerous athlete at QB. That QB will be handing off primarily to RB Willie Parker, whose 77-yard scamper on the first play against Maryland gave the Heels a short-lived 7-0 lead. Senior Kory Bailey, 6-1, 192 and junior Bosley Allen, 6-3, 190, are the leading targets at receiver. A pair of juniors, Chesley Borders, 6-0, 186 and Sam Aiken, 6-2, 196, should also get into the pass-catching act.

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