Sunday, August 23, 2009

season preview: North Carolina


9/5: The Citadel
9/12: @ Connecticut
9/19: East Carolina
9/26: @ Georgia Tech
10/3: Virginia
10/10: Georgia Southern
10/17: BYE
10/22: Florida State (Thu.)
10/29: @ Virginia Tech
11/7: Duke
11/14: Miami
11/21: @ Boston College
11/28: @ NC State

Skip: Maryland, Clemson, Wake Forest

Projected starters:

QB: T.J. Yates (Jr.)
RB: Shaun Draughn (Jr.)
FB: Anthony Elzy (Jr.)
WR: Greg Little (Jr.)
WR: Dwight Jones (So.)
TE: Zack Pianalto (Jr.)
LT: Kyle Jolly (5Sr.)
LG: Jonathan Cooper (rFr.)
C: Lowell Dyer (Sr.)
RG: Alan Pelc (Jr.)
RT: Mike Ingersoll (Jr.)

DE: E.J. Wilson (Sr.)
DT: Marvin Austin (Jr.)
DT: Cam Thomas (Sr.)
DE: Robert Quinn (So.)
SLB: Bruce Carter (Jr.)
MLB: Quan Sturdivant (Jr.)
WLB: Zach Brown (So.)
CB: Kendric Burney (Jr.)
CB: Jordan Hemby (Sr.)
FS: Deunta Williams (Jr.)
SS: Da’Norris Searcy (Jr.)

K: Casey Barth (So.)
P: Grant Schallock (Jr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Butch Davis (3rd season)


2008 1st team: WR Hakeem Nicks, S Trimane Goddard
2008 2nd team: OT Garrett Reynolds, LB Mark Paschal, CB Kendric Burney
2008 HM: OG Calvin Darity, KR Brandon Tate
2009 preseason: LB Quan Sturdivant, DT Marvin Austin, CB Kendric Burney

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Media prediction: 3rd, Coastal Division

UNC announced its return to the ranks of the relevant last year after a fairly long and miserable decade. They won eight games in the regular season and might have had more had they not been hit with injuries to key players on the offense. They finally have talent and a coach who knows how to use it, but for the first time in a while this year, they also have something they haven’t had to deal with for many years: expectations.


There’s no getting around it: T.J. Yates is going to have to perform in order for UNC to maximize their potential. Cameron Sexton isn’t around any more to save the Heels if Yates gets hurt or plays inconsistently. Yates has shown flashes of excellence over the past two seasons, but a sprained ankle last year sapped his consistency and stunted his development. Yates can and should play well, but if he gets hurt again, the Heels will have to turn to Mike Paulus, who played horribly in his short time on the field in 2008. Another Yates injury, in fact, could cause a quarterback controversy between Paulus and true freshman Bryn Renner, likely a nightmare scenario despite Renner’s many-starred ratings as an ’09 recruit.

The other reason the offense hinges on Yates is because all the playmaking wide receivers that made UNC’s offense so dangerous last year are gone. Dwight Jones has some big-play potential, but his production isn’t going to match Hakeem Nicks, and starting opposite him is converted tailback Greg Little. Senior tight end Zack Pianalto will also need to be a steadying force and ramp up his production in order to help Yates out.

The reason UNC has the luxury of moving Little to receiver is Shaun Draughn. Draughn is a classic Big Ten back: his bullrushing style and the ability to put the running game on his shoulders and grind out the yards will be a huge asset to UNC as they try and protect their quarterback. Likewise, Draughn can be protected in short-yardage situations when the Heels hand the ball to big, 240-pound Ryan Houston for three yards whenever they need two. The only dimension the rushing attack lacks is a quicker, more athletic back, and for that reason, don’t be surprised if not all of Little’s snaps come at receiver.

The offensive line should be solid if it’s healthy. There isn’t much depth, but the line is at its best at the two most important positions. Veteran starter Kyle Jolly locks down the left tackle position, and center Lowell Dyer has worked his way from walk-on to Rimington Trophy watch-list. The line has a few question marks, but overall it should be good enough to keep the offense moving.


The offense may need to exceed expectations for UNC to be a top-ranked ACC contender, but they’re a guaranteed bowl team on the strength of their defense alone. Though two of their best players graduated, the team returns nine starters, including leading tackler Quan Sturdivant (122 tackles) and leading pass rusher Bruce Carter (5 sacks), both linebackers. The entire defensive line returns intact as well. The media is looking for a breakout year from Marvin Austin, naming him to the preseason all-ACC squad, and teams might consider double-teaming him except that would leave his 330-pound linemate Cam Thomas one-on-one. It’s a dilemma and it’s going to result in a lot of mismatches for this defensive line.

The secondary will miss Trimane Goddard and his seven picks, but fellow safety Deunta Williams added three of his own, and the Heels have excellent depth at corner. Kendric Burney is the best of the three that UNC has and the Tar Heels’ only returning member of the all-ACC teams from last year. Jordan Hemby will be pressed for playing on the other side by last year’s nickel back, Charles Brown, and the trio will be among the ACC’s best at cornerback.


Sophomore Casey Barth is the kicker, and while he was perfect on PAT’s last year, UNC will be looking for a little more consistency on field goals as he hit on just 10 of 15. Walk-on Grant Schallock was the punter by default in the spring, but true freshman C.J. Feagles has the scholarship and the bloodline (pretty sure his dad Jeff is one of only two players in Tecmo Super Bowl and still playing in the NFL) and could take the job.


UNC is a near-lock for a bowl game – the defense will see to that. (The really lame scheduling will also help – two I-AA teams show up on the docket and they’re both kinda crappy even in their own division.) The defensive line in particular will give offensive coordinators nightmares. But North Carolina hasn’t left the state for a bowl game since 2001 when they went to the Peach Bowl, and another bowl game in Charlotte would likely be a major disappointment. Unfortunately for them they’re in the wrong division and have to deal with the ACC’s top two teams in front of them. Defense is a great equalizer, though, and UNC has it in spades. If Yates finds some consistency and stays healthy, UNC has at least an outside shot at the ACCCG.

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