In the past we had Turner from Heelsblog guest blog here. Turner is now with Tarheel Monthly but still has the scoop on one of the hotter teams in the conference. Last year UNC smashed us in Chapel Hill. Will we get the same sort of team this weekend? To find out, I asked him some questions below.
1. The Virginia loss and some of the early offensive struggles, led to many writing off the Tar Heels and their season. What happened then and how are things different now?
THM: I have no idea what happened against Virginia. It was one of the most inept displays of offense I have ever seen. Carolina rushed for a grand total of 39 yards. As someone who enjoys watching football (even if I removed myself from pulling for one team or the other), I hated that game. There wasn't a touchdown scored until there were less than six minutes left.
What happened after that was the Georgia Southern game, which you can't really take anything from, and the Florida State game. The defense believed going into that game, 'If the offense just scores xx points, we'll be fine." Well, the offense did its job, putting the team up 17-6 going into halftime, but the defense simply collapsed. After that game, the defense realized it had to make plays and not just rest on 'We're pretty good.' Since then, they've really taken charge and asserted themselves (seven INTs in the past three games).
On offense (somewhat because of Shaun Draughn's injury, but even before that), Butch Davis has started to rely on Ryan Houston as more of an every-down weapon rather than simply as a short-yardage back. He's done a good job of moving the ball and moving the block. The return of Zack Pianalto has been huge in boosting T.J. Yates confidence. He knows he has a check-down with sure hands.
2. The defense has been dominant. They shut down the run and pick off a lot of passes. Is there an area where they are vulnerable?
THM: The defense is ranked No. 8 in the country, and they're on a hot streak as of late. The run defense has been remarkable the past three weeks. I'm sure some of that is due to silly play-calling by other teams, but VT's Ryan Williams is legit. Not sure Miami used Graig Cooper like they should have, but that's not Butch Davis' fault. Two suggestions to opposing offenses: 1) Double-team Robert Quinn. Otherwise, he's going to blow up your left tackle. He's one of those players who's just fun to watch. 2) Throw away from Kendric Burney (three picks last week). Strong safety Da'Norris Searcy got hurt last week and I'm not sure of his status, so Melvin Williams may start.
3. You are in Year 3 of the Butch Davis era. How would you assess his performance so far? This is probably the best collection of coaches the state of North Carolina has had in place at one time in decades. Do you think the other programs will limit the upside of what Davis can do in Chapel Hill?
THM: I think Butch Davis has done a terrific job of managing expectations and building the program. He's taken a patchwork roster, found the right spots for guys and really built a cohesive team. Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant were high school quarterbacks, and Deunta Williams came in as a wide receiver. Now they are part of one of the nation's best defenses. Davis' tenure has really followed the old Bobby Bowden, 'lose big, lose small, win small, win big' formula. He went 4-8 in 2007, but six of those losses were by a touchdown or less. I think an 8-4 regular season with a one-point bowl loss in 2008 might have exceeded expectations. Because of that, an 0-3 ACC start this season was certainly a disappointment, but I think this team is learning how to win. Losing is no longer contagious, and it really can be if a coach is in over his head. I thought this team could be better but have a worse record in 2009 because of it schedule, but they've surprised me. They've definitely lost at least one they shouldn't have, but you could make an argument that they've won one or two they weren't supposed to.
As for your second question, at first I thought you were talking about the programs at UNC (basketball, baseball and football), and I was all set to talk about the recruiting advantages those teams give each other. Oh well. I guess you're asking about Tom O'Brien, David Cutcliffe, Davis, Jim Grobe at Wake and Skip Holtz at ECU. I think whatever it takes to establish the legitimacy of college football in the state of North Carolina, it's a good thing. These programs have always recruited against each other, and they'll continue to do so even as the caliber of player increases. I think Davis has established pipelines in Florida and through his NFL connections, so I don't worry too much about another program limiting UNC's upside. I really, really like David Cutcliffe (probably because he hasn't beaten UNC), and I honestly believe that a good Duke program is good for North Carolina. That rivalry means very little if the teams aren't decent. Tom O'Brien can continue to shoot himself in the foot with his "best in the state" lines, but he's 2-0 at State against UNC, so I can't talk too much. But really I believe that increasing the quality of play around the state can only help each school. If one program gets left in the dust, it's their own fault.
4. What is your prediction for Saturday?
THM: No idea. I'm sorry, but I really haven't seen much of BC this season, mostly because y'all (there's that word) are in the other division and aren't a traditional rival. I do know that the Eagles have surprised this season. (How are you liking Gary Tranquill?) Montel Harris will be huge in this game, either stopping him for the Heels or getting him going for BC.
It would be really easy for me to say I think Carolina's on a roll (I do) and they should win, but I would think that against just about any opponent they could face this weekend. But there is another team across the field; it's not as simple as just completing a task. So just based on the last three weeks, I'll say North Carolina 24, BC 20. But really I have no idea.