09/06/04 — Which half showed the true Tar Heels?

View Archive

Which half showed the true Tar Heels?

By David Williams
Published in Sports on September 6, 2004 1:55 PM

CHAPEL HILL -- Kenan Stadium revealed a case of two teams Saturday as North Carolina opened the football season with 1-AA foe William and Mary.

The thought most Tar Heel fans had after Carolina's 49-38 win over the Tribe was simple -- which half reflected the true team this season?

Was it the first half, when Carolina turned the ball over four times -- three times under relatively strange circumstances -- and allowed the lightly-regarded Tribe to pass and run past the defense?

Or was it the second half, when the Heels relied on Ronnie McGill's 100-yard production in the fourth quarter -- despite a painful hip injury -- and the flair of Jacque Lewis and Darian Durant, while the defense stiffened and allowed just two scores?

Carolina's defense was last in the nation last season, giving up over 500 yards a game. On Saturday, the Heels surrendered 392 yards, most in the first half after the offense's turnovers put the defense in several jams.

William and Mary did not have a single rusher eclipse 50 yards on the day, but the Tribe picked up 322 yards through the air on 23-of-40 passing. Coach John Bunting will be looking at the secondary hard before the Heels take on the high-scoring Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville on Saturday.

By the way -- Carolina has not won in Charlottesville since 1981.

Offensively, Carolina looked much steadier after the first half, in which Durant said the Heels were rushing things a bit. Carolina's 575 yards was the best offensive output since the 2003 N.C. State game, which topped out at 550. It was the first time a pair of Carolina backs ran for 100 yards in the same game since Curtis Johnson and Leon Johnson did it against Georgia Tech in 1994.

So Carolina proved to anyone who watched that it has the ability to be much better than last season's two-win campaign.

But the Jekyll-and-Hyde act has got to go.

Bunting, whose job security has been a subject of speculation since last season, said his team needs cut out the turnovers -- he actually said that "guys who touch the football have got to give the football more respect."

There was enough speculation in the press box at halftime Saturday that Bunting would not have been surprised to have moving companies calling him in the locker room to offer estimates. Of course, that all subsided as the team righted its ship and looked good in doing so.

But while feisty William and Mary was a .500 team last year, the Tribe would get regularly scalped by the teams still on the Carolina schedule -- Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, N.C. State. Even Wake Forest or Louisville could have breezed by the 1-AA foe.

If the Heels play all season -- the schizophrenic, on-again, off-again performance that reared it's head too many times last year -- Bunting's tenuous tenure will all come up and repeat itself over and over as the losses mount.

Carolina certainly proved it is capable of moving out of the ACC's basement. The players are talented enough and the coaches are smart enough to keep the Heels moving in the right direction.

Now the team just has to go out and do what they all expect they can do -- not so much win them all, but win the ones they should and fight hard in the ones they shouldn't. That should put Bunting's status to rest for awhile.

But the plank Bunting is walking will grow ever shorter with each miscue.