While it may not be fair to draw quarterback comparisons based on the spring game, back-up quarterback Bryn Renner had the better day – a better day moving the ball, a better day moving the chains, and a better day scoring points. Renner’s “White” team defeated the “Blue” team, quarterbacked by T.J. Yates, 17-0.
Everyone seemed a little in awe of the day Renner had, though it was far from perfect. Renner was picked twice, and was sacked three times. Still, his teammates were impressed with his play.
“Most definitely, he came to play today,” wide receiver Greg Little said. “He stepped up and made some plays. It really shocked me. I mean it is one thing to do it practice, because it is scripted, but to actually come out here when the pressure’s on, the light’s are on, people are watching, and to make plays like that, I mean it is really something tremendous to see him to progress into a playmaker.”
Head coach Butch Davis, though maintaining that the job is still Yates’s to win or lose, was candid about the performances of his two quarterbacks.
“I think that clearly Bryn Renner had an outstanding day today,” Davis said. “He made some plays, he made some plays in the pocket, he made some plays moving outside the pocket. Guys made some good catches for him. I thought his effectiveness was really good. His huddle presence was good.
“By the same token, I did not think T.J. Yates had one of his better days. I thought he got off to a slow start, but I thought he caught some composure in the middle of the scrimmage and he started to move the football team.”
The stat lines tell part of the tale. Renner was 15 of 21 for 184 yards and a touchdown, throwing two interceptions. Yates was 15 of 26 for 122 yards and one interception. On paper, perhaps not a dramatic difference, but for those who watched the display, Renner had by far the better day. The interceptions -- for all of UNC’s quarterbacks -- was a problem, a problem that continues to concern Davis.
“We had an awful lot of dropped passes that were very frustrating, those are things that we can’t drop,” Davis said. “I mean when that ball hits your hands and hits your shoulder pads, those kids have to make those plays. It’s the difference from being 5 for 13 and maybe being 9 or 10 out of 13, is all those completions that you don’t get just simply because of the interceptions, that was another thing that I was very disappointed in today was the number of turnovers that we had because of balls bouncing off guy’s hands and somebody behind them making an interceptions.”
Though they are clearly competitors, both Yates and Renner said they thought of each other as brothers, and there is a clear mentoring role for Yates in his relationship with the younger quarterback.
“He’s learning fast, he’s learning quick, and he did a great job today and we have a really good relationship on and off the field,” Yates said.
For his part, Renner tried to downplay his performance, even though he was obviously pleased with the way the day went.
“I think the first drive went pretty well, better than I expected, but once again they weren’t blitzing or anything like that, so it was kind of generic stuff, so really it was just regular practice,” Renner said.
Renner, interviewed by ESPN following the game and mobbed by the beat reporters in the press room, tried to deflect the attention.
“It was a little overwhelming, but once again this is just a spring game we’re going against each other, we’ve got a long offseason, so I am looking forward to that and I've got to get a lot better, and this was a stepping stone,” Renner said.
What is it that gives Renner an edge, that has allowed him to progress so quickly in offensive coordinator John Shoop’s offense? Davis talked about how Renner’s dad is a former NFL player (he played for the Green Bay Packers), and that through his father’s guidance came to UNC a bit ahead of the game.
“(Renner) kind of came into the program with the ability to throw the ball from unusual positions,” Davis said. “If we’re going to throw the ball 35-40 times during a ball game, there might be five times you hit your fifth step and you step in the pocket and you actually just throw the ball on rhythm. Most of the time you’re going to be sliding in the pocket, guys are reaching for you, you have to duck under a rush and you’re going to have to deliver the ball shoulders open, shoulders in different directions, across your body, and because of his arm strength that really gives him a good advantage in his ability to throw the football from bizarre and unusual positions.”
That may not describe all of Renner’s skils at quarterback, but one thing is clear - the performance of the two quarterbacks during the spring game will definitely fuel discussions among UNC fans around the water cooler this summer.