One unit of the North Carolina team has shown up in each of the Tar Heel's first three contests. This week, it was the offense's turn. The major topic of conversation on offense this season has been about its most important position – quarterback. Cam Sexton quarterbacked the Heels from start to finish, managed the game well, and is now 1-0 as a starting college quarterback.
Sexton complete 14-of-20 passes for a 70 percent completion percentage, threw for 265 yards and two touchdowns, the lone blemish in his stat line being an interception. One touchdown came on a screen pass which exploded into a 58-yard scamper by tailback Ronnie McGill.
Most important was Sexton's game management, his poise, and his ability to lead the Tar Heels back from a deficit. North Carolina needed a shot in the arm in terms of confidence in their offensive leader, and Sexton provided that Saturday night.
While the above may prove to be the most important development for the Tar Heels long term on offense, in many ways this night belonged to McGill. The fourth quarter drive that put the Tar Heels up for good was a testament to McGill's grit and determination. The senior also did something that the Tar Heels were unable to do in their first two games; he converted a fourth-and-one in that final drive.
The Tar Heel receivers caught what was thrown to them -- not always a given, particularly in 2005. Receivers improvised when they needed to improvise, adjusted their routes to get to the ball, and in general demonstrated their big-play capability. The second development was a tactical one: Cignetti's use of the screen pass to burn aggressive pass-rushers; a tactic which was well-executed by the offense.
It is past time to mention in this space that kicking specialist Connor Barth's woes of last season appear to be well behind him. Barth is perfect so far this year, three-for-three in field goals and eight-for-eight in extra point attempts.
What Went Wrong
Defense, or the lack thereof, pretty much sums up the negative side of the ledger this week. The "Dow Jones" defense of the Tar Heels followed up a "Bull" market showing against Virginia Tech last week with a "Bear" market performance. The Paladins, though featuring an unusual offense not likely to be seen again by the Tar Heels this season, ripped the UNC defense for 521 yards and 42 points.
The second sore spot, and perhaps the most difficult to grasp, was that the previously run-oriented Furman offense, and one having great success on the ground, was able to torch UNC's pass defense, with Furman quarterback Reynaldo Gray completing 20-of-26 passes for 310 yards.
This performance – both from Furman offensively and UNC defensively – defies explanation or analysis, but head coach John Bunting tried. "This team we played against did some things that we could not practice against, the flex bone look, the double wing look," Bunting said. "They kept us off balance with that, they did a terrific job with the option game."
While the unique nature of the Furman offense clearly plays into any attempt to decode what happened Saturday night, their ability to successfully attack the Tar Heels on the ground and in the air was an unexpected and troubling development.
Bunting said that the job of getting the defense "reorganized" would begin immediately the morning after. That effort certainly couldn't begin too soon or be too focused, because next week the Tar Heels travel to Death Valley and face what is proving to be one of the most potent offenses in the ACC this season.
The Tigers scored 27 points and put up 345 yards, including 151 yards rushing, against one of the stoutest and most talented defenses in the league on Saturday, beating Florida State, 27-20. With a division title still possible for Clemson, the Tigers are unlikely to lose their focus next Saturday.
To defy expectations, every unit of the Tar Heel team will have to show up next Saturday in Death Valley – not just one.