* Outside of an early interception on a pass that just got away from him, red-shirt freshman T.J. Yates enjoyed the best performance from a UNC quarterback since Matt Baker was under center.
“I don’t know what more you can say about T.J. Yates’ first start,” said Butch Davis. “He just really, truly played well. He managed the game well [and] got us in and out of some plays.”
Yates set-up UNC’s first touchdown of the night when he executed a perfect pump fake, which froze the defender and left Brooks Foster wide open for a 65-yard TD on the first possession. A play-action fake late in the first half created room for Brandon Tate to catch a 46-yard pass, which later led to another Tar Heel score.
Facing a blitz-happy JMU defense, Yates displayed great pocket presence and didn’t take a sack all night. He was hit on numerous occasions, but didn’t show signs of being rattled. Although Yates threw a few passes into traffic, it appeared he did so due to over confidence in his accuracy – not because of the pressure.
On the night, Yates completed 72-percent of his passes for 218 yards and three scores.
* An aggressive UNC defense limited big plays from JMU’s complicated zone option offense, created three turnovers and collected six tackles for a loss. The entire unit seemed to be oozing with speed and constantly swarmed to the ball.
“All of our defensive coaches preach aggressiveness,” said Durell Mapp, who started at weak-side linebacker. “They preach getting down hill, hard hits and stuff like that. They preach that all through spring, all through training camp. And they say that’s what they want, that’s what they’ve got to have.”
To better match-up with JMU’s spread attack, UNC employed a heavy dose of nickel packages.
“We tried to play speed-on-speed – especially since they spread us out,” said free safety Deunta Williams, who recorded an interception. “So we wouldn’t be in base [defense] if they had four [wide receivers] out there.”
Freshman Charles Brown saw extensive time on the field, serving as the nickel back. Brown’s combination of speed and strength gave UNC’s defense a weapon to combat JMU’s objective of spreading the defense vertically and running at them.
Further increasing the speed of UNC’s nickel defense, slimmed-down junior Mark Paschal joined Mapp in the linebacker corps.
While the back seven was very package specific, the defensive line rotated players in an out. On many obvious passing downs, Marvin Austin was subbed in to help with the pass rush up the middle.
* Considering JMU’s defensive strength was its run defense, this game was expected to be a challenge for UNC’s very green group of tailbacks. And it was. The Tar Heels regularly alternated between red-shirt freshmen Johnny White and Anthony Elzy, and red-shirt sophomore Richie Rich.
White, who started the game, saw the most playing time and his 12 carries and 49 yards were a team high. His 21-yard run (which is one of only two non-QB double-digit rushes) helped score him the highest rushing average among the tailbacks – 4.1 yards.
The majority of Rich’s reps came on pass plays, as his rushing attempts were ineffective (five carries for 2 total yards). He was the only tailback to catch a pass (caught two for 17 yards) and to be split out at receiver, though he did commit a fumble.
Elzy, on the other hand, was utilized more during short yardage situations. He only netted 28 yards on 11 attempts (2.5-yard average), but scored both of UNC’s rushing touchdowns – both on goal line sets.
Outside of goal line situations, the H-back and fullback were never on the field at the same time. Often starting fullback Bobby Rome and starting H-back Zack Pianalto would replace one another.
* On special teams, UNC appears to have a true weapon in newcomer Terrence Brown. Brown averaged 50.2 yards on four punts, with a long of 64 yards.
“Terrence Brown got off to a great start,” said Davis. “He really delivered. He kicked the ball well. He took some of the return game away from them by being able to directional kick the ball.”
UNC fans discovered how the new kickoff rule will affect star returner Brandon Tate. With no real shot of sending the ball into the end zone for a touchback since kickoffs are now executed from the 30-yard line, JMU decided to pooch the ball to other members of UNC’s kick return team.
“I thought they were going to try to kick it to me at first,” said Tate. “But when I saw what they were doing, I knew I wasn’t going to get the ball on kick return [at all] tonight. I wanted to get the ball somehow, but it seemed like they weren’t going to kick it to me.”