How does the saying go? What a difference a year makes.
First of all, stipulations. Yes, JMU is a I-AA team. They also happened to be the#7 team in I-AA. The #1 team in I-AA beat Michigan on the road today. On one hand, App State might be in it’s own class as far as I-AA schools go but on the other hand I-AA teams should not be taken lightly especially since UNC almost lost to Furman team last season who was about the same caliber as this JMU team. The difference this season from last is stark. In watching this game I saw a Tar Heel team that came out to take care of business from the start by executing on both sides of the ball in an efficient manner.
T.J. Yates came right out of the gate hitting Brooks Foster and Brandon Tate for a pair of touchdowns and showing he is capable of running the offense. In fact the UNC offense scored on four of the first six possessions to stake a 30-7 halftime lead. Yates was steady in his first game going 13-18 with 3 TDs and 1 INT. I was impressed with Yates. He was composed in the pocket, showed great mobility when needed and even connected on a pass with two defenders pulling him down. He did force the ball a few times, one of which almost led to an INT but by and large he did the job. The running game was not as productive as one would hope and no one really emerged as the clear favorite to be the top back. Johnny White had the most yards but Anthony Elzy ran for the two rushing TDs. The offensive line seemed to perform well, Yates was not sacked and appeared to have plenty of time to throw.
The defense forced three turnovers including two INTs. They did a great job of slowing down JMU for most of the first half. The Dukes got it going late in the second quarter and UNC had trouble containing the tailback and QB on several plays. The JMU QB, Rodney Landers, was exceptionally mobile which probably explains the lack of sacks from the UNC defense. In the second half the Heel defense really put the clamps down allowing only two first downs in first four plays, Registered an INT from Trimane Goddard on the fifth possession and then forced a turnover on downs after four plays on the sixth possession. The second string defense gave up a touchdown drive late but prior to that the defense gave up only 171 yards of total offense.
This was a great start and in my mind if was the best of scenarios. When you consider how much UNC struggled versus Furman( and most everyone else) last season it was incredibly exciting to see the Heels come out and deliver decisive blows early on. I also noted that Kenan really looked to be rocking and the atmosphere was great. Granted winning does that and scoring on two big plays early in the 1st quarter hypes the crowd up but isn’t that what it is all about? I am a realist and I know as much as anyone that there will be some struggles ahead but there is a definite change in attitude and execution for UNC.
For as much anticipation and expectation there was for the program with Butch Davis at the helm, it was nice to already see some measure of return on the investment.