Regardless, interim head coach Everett Withers will take the 24-22 win.
“Obviously it’s good any time you can win games and don’t play as well are you are capable,” Withers said. “Then you have the opportunity to go back and work on things. I would rather win this way than blow somebody out and not know what our problems are.”
Quarterback Bryn Renner was nearly flawless last week, but this week he added three interceptions to his otherwise impressive stat sheet (20-26, 273 yards, 1 TD).
On his first interception, Renner simply didn’t read the safety help, although he also indicated that there was some miscommunication between himself and Jhay Boyd. His second pick was a throw forced into traffic that rattled off a couple of players’ hands before being gathered in by Rutgers defender. On his final miscue, Renner skillfully avoided the Rutgers blitz, rolled to his left where he had room, but then overthrew the receiver.
“I need to play better,” Renner said. “Me turning the ball over is unacceptable. Turning the ball over starts with me, and we just can’t let that happen.”
Interceptions were only part of the equation. North Carolina fumbled the ball five times, two of them were lost. Dwight Jones, though he had another outstanding game, (6 catches, 135 yards, 1 TD) was one of the players who lost a fumble after a completion of 28 yards.
Erik Highsmith accounted for the other lost fumble, like Jones, after a long catch (21 yards). Despite the avalanche of miscues offensively, the Tar Heels still rolled up 405 yards. Without the turnovers, this narrow victory would have been a blowout.
The Tar Heels tacked on 94 penalty yards, aiding and abetting a Rutgers foe that was otherwise held in check by a terrific effort on defense (244 total yards).
This game looked as if it were following a blueprint for a last-second loss. In addition to the interceptions and fumbles, North Carolina had two near-interceptions bounce out of the hands of Mart Merletti and Tommy Heffernan. Did the Tar Heels get nervous as the miscues helped take the game down to the wire?
“A little bit, yeah,” running back Gio Bernard said. “But you can’t really think about that too much in the game, you just have to go out and just take control of what you can, continue to play the game and not worry about the score and just produce. If you produce, then I think we’ll be fine on the field and the score will take care of itself.”
Many of the players attributed the penalties and turnovers to a lack of focus.
“It was just a lack of focus today," Bernard said, "the dropped balls that we had, the fumbles and the turnovers, but I think if we can continue to work on it, really focus on holding the ball right - I know we’re going to do that this week – we’ll be fine."
What do the players take away from being able to win, despite all those penalties and turnovers?
“I think it just shows our poise and resiliency,” offensive lineman Jon Cooper said. “You hate to turn it over, and that’s an ugly way to win, but you’re just happy with the win in the end.”
Added Renner: “Luckily we got a win, and it’s better to improve off a win than lose.”
The Tar Heels are now 2-0, and are lucky to be so.
“Any time you can win a ballgame and have five turnovers, probably five personal foul penalties, and at least three opportunities where we had a chance to make big plays on interceptions, and you can win, it’s a good day to be a Tar Heel,” Withers said.