2010 Football Season Preview: North Carolina


by - Senior Writer -
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T.J. Yates finished ninth in the ACC among QBs with 14 TDs/15 INTs and 2,136 passing yards, but he was pushed in the spring by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner. (Photos: Icon/SMI)

By the time the Clemson Tigers board the buses to leave Kenan Stadium following their Oct. 9th meeting with North Carolina in Chapel Hill, we should know whether this team has the mettle to be a contender for the ACC crown.

This game concludes a three-game stretch of Auburn, Miami and the Heels for the Tigers, and while this stretch certainly won’t make or break the Tigers’ season – still too many games left to be played – it should give an indication of exactly what kind of team Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has in his second full season.

The Tar Heels are one of three or four teams in the ACC’s Coastal Division that legitimately have a shot at winning the division – along with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Miami – and if the Heels reach the promised land of the ACC Championship Game it will be because they finally found enough offense to support their outstanding defense.

The 2009 season was a study in contrast for Butch Davis’ team – they started out with three out-of-conference wins, but the offense hit the skids with just 10 points combined in losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia – and then the Heels snapped off five of their next six with wins over ranked Virginia Tech on the road and Miami at home included.

The season then ended with a loud crash, the Heels suffering a one point home loss to rival N.C. State and then lost by two points to Pitt in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The final “total” rankings say it all – the Heels finished sixth in the nation in total defense and 108th in total offense.

In 2010, the Tar Heels return 21 starters, including all of their defensive stars. Here is a look at how each of their units shape up.

OFFENSE

The Heels were 11th in passing offense and 7th in rushing in the ACC last season. Senior quarterback T.J. Yates finished ninth in the ACC among QBs with 14 TDs/15 INTs and 2,136 passing yards, but he was pushed in the spring by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner, and early indications are that Renner might indeed be the starter when the season begins. Renner is an exciting young player with a big arm, and the UNC coaches might decide that the future for the young QB is now.

UNC has what they term as a ‘thunder and lightning” backfield of Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn, but 2009 was more like pop and fizzle as Houston averaged under four yards per rush, while Draughn averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

NORTH CAROLINA

LOCATION: Chapel Hill, NC FOUNDED: 1789 ENROLLMENT: 28,916 CONFERENCE: ACC NICKNAME: Tar Heels STADIUM: Kenan Memorial Stadium CAPACITY: 60,000 HEAD COACH: Butch Davis RECORD: 20-18 in three seasons w/ Tar Heels (11-13 ACC) OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: John Shoop DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Everett Withers


Greg Little returns to lead the wide receiver corps, and he comes off a season in which he caught 62 passes for 724 yards and six touchdowns. Erik Highsmith, Jheranie Boyd and Dwight Jones all return to provide depth at the position, with Boyd being the real deep threat in the group. Tight end Zack Pianalto was third on the team with 33 receptions last season.

The offensive line was patchwork and struggled with injuries last season, but the unit returns three starters in left guard Alan Pelc, center Jonathan Cooper and right tackle Mike Ingersoll.

DEFENSE

The North Carolina defense was the only defense in the nation in 2009 that ranked among the top 15 in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense, passing defense and tackles for loss, and it returns nine starters from last year.

Defensive end Robert Quinn leads the defensive line after finishing second in the ACC in sacks with 11. . Quinn also led the ACC in tackles for loss with 19, and he leads a defensive line that also includes future NFL players Marvin Austin and Tydreke Powell.

Linebacker Quan Sturdivant was also in the top ten in tackles for loss with 12, and he leads a talented group that also includes Bruce Carter and Kevin Reddick. Sturdivant had 79 tackles last season, while Carter chipped in 66.

The secondary features four senior starters and picked off 19 passes last season, led by corerback Deunta Williams’ 6 INTs and FS Kendric Burney’s 5. Burney and Williams were All-ACC picks a season ago, and have started all 38 games in their college careers.

SPECIAL TEAMS


Kicker Casey Barth had a solid 2009, hitting 21-of-25 field goals and 34-of-35 extra point attempts. His career-long field goal is just 42 yards, but he’s deadly inside of that range. Punter Grant Shallock also returns after averaging 40.3 yards per punt a season ago. Da’Norris Searcy averaged 14.9 yards per punt return in 2009, and took one punt 77 yards for a touchdown, giving the Heels a dangerous option in punt returns. However, UNC ranked 11th in kickoff returns last season.


SCHEDULE

Sept. 4 -- LSU* (in Atlanta)

Sept. 18 -- Georgia Tech

Sept. 25 -- @Rutgers

Oct. 2 -- East Carolina

Oct. 9 -- Clemson

Oct. 16 -- @Virginia

Oct. 23 -- @Miami

Oct. 30 -- William & Mary

Nov. 6 -- @Florida State

Nov. 13 -- Virginia Tech

Nov. 20 -- N.C. State




Other 2010 Season Previews (Click logo to view)





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