1. BC and UNC faced off 10 months ago. What is the biggest difference between that Heels team and this one?
The current Heels are really not too different from the 2004 Tire Bowl team. The most obvious change is at quarterback. Fifth-year senior Matt Baker finally has the reins after years of being Darian Durant's understudy. Matt doesn't have Darian's quickness or ability to scramble, but he is a more accurate passer. The only problem with that is the wide receivers are dropping passes. I'm not ready to chalk that up to the loss of WR coach Gunter Brewer, but this is the same receiving corps. In the backfield, LSU transfer Barrington Edwards is now eligible, and is part of a nice one-two punch with Ronnie McGill, now healthy after missing four games with a torn pectoral muscle.
The biggest difference would have to be the fact that the offense and defense have reversed roles. Whereas the defense has been a weakness in recent years, they are now keeping the Heels in games. In some games, that has been enough. The offense has been inept at times and brilliant at others. But Baker and his offensive line are just too inconsistent. What was a strength last year (the quarterback's rapport with his offense), is now a question mark. If Tar Heel opponents can contain the run, forcing Baker to pass, they can stop the Heels' attack with little problem.
2. The UNC defense has been wildly inconsistent. Why have they been effective in containing some quality teams, yet get run over (Miami) or bombed (Louisville) against other teams?
Sure, they're inconsistent. But they're better this year than they've been since Bunting's first season. In my opinion, the Tar Heel defense has been most effective when the offense has been able to control the ball. The defense simply cannot carry the Heels all game long. The offense must move the ball to allow the defense some rest. In the games you cited, the offense's inability to move the ball and the clock contributed to fatigue on the other side of the ball. At some point, the defense is going to break. In just about every other game, the defense has been the strength. Holding Wisconsin, a very powerful offense, to 14 points should be enough, if you've got any kind of offensive attack. The Heels lost that game 14-5. The defense kept the Heels in the Georgia Tech game. If RB Ronnie McGill were available for that game, Carolina might have won. One thing the Heels need to work on is not letting one play change the game, breaking their will. That happened against Miami last weekend with a blocked punt, and BC fans will remember the infamous (to us) fake field goal that scored a touchdown in the Continental Tire Bowl. Those plays took the wind out of the Heels' sails. Carolina cannot be so emotionally fragile as to let one freak play turn the momentum of the game.
3. John Bunting…is he ever going to turn the corner? It seems like it is constantly two steps forward, two steps back with his teams.
There are two camps in Tar Heel nation concerning John Bunting. Simply put, some think he's the guy, some think he's anything but. I happen to think he's the guy. The main reason for this is that John Bunting is a Carolina guy. He loves the university, and is interested in making Tar Heel football a premiere program. He's not nearly as interested in making his name in the football business. He has his dream job right now. Coach Bunting has been learning how to be a Divison 1-A head coach on the job. He made some hiring mistakes with his staff early in his tenure, but he is putting the pieces in place. It will be interesting to see whom he hires to be his offensive coordinator, with current OC Gary Tranquill planning on retirement after this season. The smart money is on OL coach Hal Hunter. But I digress. John Bunting is finally getting his recruits high on the depth chart. They are juniors and seniors, and they are buying into his system. The players appear to love Bunting, seeing the passion that he has for the school.
As far as turning the corner, the time is now. Miami probably saved Bunting's job last year. Six wins and a bowl appearance were a miracle with last year's team and schedule. The same could be said this season. Next year's out-of-conference schedule becomes much more manageable, with Rutgers, USF, Furman and Notre Dame. If Bunting doesn't get 7-8 wins next year, it's never going to happen.
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