In the ‘must win' game, John Bunting's charges were ready and overcame first half jitters to take it to the host Orangemen.
While I picked the Heels in my weekly pigskin contest in the local paper, I feared Syracuse would run at will against the Carolina defense while the UNC offense would stumble just enough to allow ‘Cuse to pull the game out.
Boy was I wrong.
Syracuse did run the ball well against the Carolina defense (183 yards) but failed when it mattered most. The defensive stand after the Heels took the lead 23-22 may well signify the turning point of the very young season. Drastically different from the Miami (OH) game in which Carolina couldn't stop the RedHawks on third down, the defense stepped up in a huge way at the exact moment they were needed most.
Darian Durant proved phenomenal again, regaining his 2001 form that endeared him to many a Tar Heel fan. While the bobbled snaps and fumbled exchanges early caused vivid flashbacks and more than one shout of anger, he calmly took over the game and left Syracuse vexed at trying to stop the potent Tar Heel offense.
Durant's favorite target thus far, Sam Aiken, is simply one of the best wideouts to don a Carolina uniform. The best of an elite group that in the preseason, I called one of the best seven corps in the nation, Aiken's stretch beginning with the FSU game last year has been virtually unmatched by a Tar Heel in my memory.
While the Heels picked up the much-needed win, Saturday night's game against Texas brings an entire different level to the table. Texas is scary. Say what you will about coach Mack Brown, there comes a time when talent can exceed whatever actual or perceived shortcomings there are on the sidelines and this maybe that time for Texas.
Last season, Mack let up on the Tar Heels in Austin satisfied with a 44-14 rout. Knowing the effects of a blowout on a team's psyche, Brown allowed the Heels to remain mentally intact following the trip to Texas and that, accompanied with Bunting's famed "riot act" speech in the aftermath, helped the Heels to vault from 0-3 to 8-5 in the biggest turnaround these parts have seen.
Texas will provide the Heels with a true measuring stick in the quest to become a big time college football program. The Heels will face a team with more top to bottom talent than anyone remaining on the schedule, FSU included. The young Carolina defense, while still growing, will see what it takes against an offense several experts say can "score at will on anyone." The outcome of the game will hinge on the ability to get pressure on ‘Horn QB Chris Simms and force him out of his rhythm. Simms has seen his share of criticism but when he has time to throw, he's tough to stop. I expect the Heels to blitz unmercifully, though doing so will subject them to the potential for numerous big plays from the ‘Horn wideouts. Even so, the Heels cannot afford to stay back and must take their chances with the talented secondary led by Michael Waddell and Dexter Reid.
If Carolina's offense proves able to move the ball and score on Texas, the rest of the teams on the schedule better take notice. Should the Heels rack up big numbers versus the likes of Cory Redding, Derrick Johnson and Nathan Vasher, no other ACC team stands a chance to stop the Carolina "O" while it's rolling.
Whatever happens, Saturday night in Kenan should be a night to remember.
I'd be remiss if I didn't comment on the events of one year ago today. It's hard to believe that it has already been a year since the unspeakable happened in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania. The images are still very clear in our minds and today's news coverage will no doubt put us all back in the moment of 9/11/01.
If you haven't already done so, take a moment to reflect on the events of last September 11th. If your community is having a service, take it in. We oftentimes take for granted what we have here in this country. We often overlook the struggle that many of our peers and those that came before us suffered through so that we can walk freely and speak freely. While it's fun to pull for our teams and chide the opponents' fans, we must not forget how blessed we are to have the freedoms we so often view as our birthright. Many folks around the world can only imagine what reality we live in every day.
Last year was a wake up call for us to realize that anything can happen at anytime to take our freedom and livelihood away and though we must move forward, we must never forget.
Have a comment? You can contact Tommy Ashley at email@example.com.