The Tar Heels opened up a big lead on James Madison early and cruised to a 37-14 win.
“I give our players a lot of credit,” Davis said. “I don’t think that there was ever any doubt that we weren’t going to overlook any opponent. We wanted to play well this first game… And to be honest with you, I think they took it also with the crowd – they didn’t want to send those people home disappointed. They wanted to put on a little bit of a show, in appreciation for the way that the crowd and everybody was into the game tonight.”
Yates completed 13-of-18 passes for 218 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception.
It only took the red-shirt freshman 1:23 to make a statement to the announced crowd of 58,500 at Kenan, connecting with Brooks Foster on his first career pass for a 65-yard touchdown reception that started the rout for the Tar Heels.
“We’ve been practicing [that play] all week,” Yates said. “We knew there was a good chance they were going to give us that coverage in that situation, so we just exploited their defense and Brooks came up with a nice catch. He ran a great route, the offensive line protected perfectly and it was just a perfectly executed play.”
Yates managed the game well, taking shots down the field only when the opportunity presented itself. The Marietta, Ga. native also performed well under the Dukes’ relentless pressure, stepping up into the pocket on a third down and goal just before halftime, calmly hitting Foster for an eight-yard touchdown in the right corner of the east end zone with 0:20 left to put UNC up 30-7.
The offense finished with 327 total yards of offense, although the Tar Heels’ ground game struggled against a James Madison rushing defense that allowed only 84.8 yards per game in 2006, gaining only 100 yards. Red-shirt freshman Johnny White rushed 12 times for 50 yards, while fellow classmate Anthony Elzy posted 11 carries for 28 yards and two touchdowns.
Davis has talked about this team’s youth and inexperience since the spring, and the first-year head coach was pleased with the 26 players that participated in their first live action Saturday night.
“They were hungry to play,” Davis said. “We’re going to make mistakes. You’re never as good as you think you are, and you’re never as bad as you think you are, but this will be a great opportunity for us to grow and learn and to watch some of this film and fix those mistakes. We can’t be satisfied with the way we played, and we’ve got to get better every single week.”
The Tar Heels defense displayed speed and intensity all night long, holding the Dukes to 250 total yards without giving up any big plays. Senior linebacker Durell Mapp and freshman nickel back Charles Brown led the squad with nine tackles each, and junior Trimane Goddard and red-shirt freshman Deunta Williams both added an interception.
James Madison was determined to keep the ball on the ground with fleet-footed quarterback Rodney Landers, but the Tar Heels' defense held the Dukes to 150 yards on 44 carries, good for only a 3.4 yards per rush average.
Landers’ arm provided minimal relief for head coach Mickey Matthews’ offense, as the junior completed 14-of-22 passes for 100 yards, to go along with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Davis’ emphasis on special teams was apparent on this cool September night, with Foster and true freshman Bruce Carter both blocking punts that led to 14 points. Junior college transfer Terrence Brown shined in his first Division I appearance, including two punts of 58 and 64 yards – both which were downed inside the 5-yard line - and senior place kicker Connor Barth connected on a 27-yard field goal in the second quarter, although he missed wide right on his fourth point-after touchdown conversion.
And despite James Madison’s attempt to keep the ball out of Brandon Tate’s hands on special teams with several pooch kicks, the junior blistered the Dukes’ defense with a variety of rushes and receptions, totaling 108 yards and a touchdown.
The Burlington, N.C. native took over the Heels’ third offensive drive of the game, rushing for 15 yards before hauling in a 28-yard touchdown pass that put the Heels up 14-0.
While Hakeem Nicks was held to two receptions for 21 yards, Foster took advantage of single coverage with four catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
This was only the Tar Heels' third season opener victory in the last decade, and the players were excited to get this game under their belt.
“I’m proud for myself, I’m proud for my teammates [and] the rest of my seniors, because they deserve [it],” senior defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer said. “We had a real tough training camp, a tough week of preparation and I think we deserved this win.”
The Tar Heels travel to Greenville, N.C. next Saturday to face East Carolina. The Pirates lost their opener at Virginia Tech, 17-7.