Yates is always quick to credit his teammates when the Tar Heels win. Tonight, a 44-10 streak-breaking rout of Virginia, was no exception.
First, Yates credited Dwight Jones, who had seven receptions for 198 yards and two touchdowns, including an 81-yarder on the first play from scrimmage.
“How about starting off the game, a simple five-yard under route, and he takes it 80 yards? He did an amazing job, just breaking tackles, being physical … Everybody knew he had that kind of talent, and we’ve just been waiting on him to have that breakout game, and he’s definitely had it, and now we’ve got multiple receivers on this team that can put up those 200-yard games, and that’s just going to help us later on down the road.”
Next, Yates credited the Tar Heel defense, which had five interceptions against three different quarterbacks, and came up with one drive-killing play after another.
“Every time we came off the field, the next thing you know, we got the ball back again. Kevin (Reddick) took one back to the house, so you don’t even notice what’s going on and they’ve already got another interception. Just them getting those turnovers, stopping their drives, giving us good field position, really helped us put some points on the board.”
After struggling to find consistent success in the passing game the last few weeks, it certainly clicked on Saturday in Charlottesville. Yates pointed to the playcallers.
“We did a good job scheming, there were a lot of guys running wide open down the field. We did a good job coming off on the sideline, talking and working stuff out, and coming up with plays that might not have even been in the game plan. We did a good job of making in-game adjustments, and it worked out well for us.”
You wouldn’t know it from talking to him, but Yates put on an All-ACC performance on Saturday night. In the first half alone, the Marietta, Ga. native completed 12 of his 16 attempts for 249 yards and three touchdowns. How’s this for a stat – Yates had more yards in the first half against Virginia than he had in 12 of the 13 games last season.
For the day, Yates completed 17 of his 22 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, marking his second 300-plus game of the season. A young man that has been plagued by costly turnovers throughout his career has thrown just one interception against 11 touchdowns in his senior season.
Head coach Butch Davis was quick to recognize Yates’s role: “Clearly, this might be one of the biggest and most explosive offensive performances we've had. T.J.’s poise and his confidence with the football, and generating big, explosive plays, I thought that was extraordinarily critical.”
The 2010 Tar Heels finally slayed that Charlottesville dragon on Saturday night and though he did his best to shift the credit elsewhere, Yates’s fingerprints were all over the victory.
Where does he go from here?
“I am going to try my best to keep my head out of the papers, tell my parents to keep their heads out of the papers, just keep grinding, keep working hard in practice, and try to get better every week.”
A humble approach – in other words, more of the same.