Lucas: Rapid Reactions
1. Carolina's young talent is starting to emerge. During one key fourth quarter stretch, the Tar Heels got a 25-yard grab from freshman Bug Howard on a pass from sophomore Marquise Williams, a 14-yard touchdown dash by freshman T.J. Logan for the first score of his career, and an interception for freshman defensive back Brian Walker.
For the game, the Tar Heels' top three leading rushers and two of the top three leading receivers were freshmen or sophomores, plus the team's top punt returner and two kickoff returners.
"We keep saying that every rep these young kids get is experience for them, and they will get better and better," Larry Fedora told Jones Angell after the game on the Tar Heel Sports Network. "They'll keep playing and they'll keep making plays for us."
A look at the Howard catch and Logan run:
2. Marquise Williams is going to get most of the attention for making Carolina's two-quarterback system work, because his physical rushing presence (and the occasional deftly thrown pass) give the Tar Heel offense an additional dimension. But you simply can't make a situation like this work without complete buy-in from the veteran half of the duo, and that's what Bryn Renner has done.
Remember, he came into this season as one of the most highly touted quarterbacks in the conference. He has a professional future to think about. But instead of showing any bitterness about losing snaps to a sophomore, he's been the consummate teammate, saying and doing all the right things and avoiding any hint of controversy. He also came back from what could have been a disastrous start to Saturday's game--an interception, mishandled exchange that led to a big loss and a sack in the opening minutes--to help steady the Tar Heel comeback.
Also give credit to the Tar Heel coaches for the way they're juggling their quarterbacks. In most situations, the dual-QB system is varied by drive. But the Carolina coaches are treating their quarterbacks much like any other position, and simply inserting the player who makes the most sense for that particular down and distance.
Oh, and Williams helps, too. He was Carolina's leading rusher and was just accurate enough through the air to keep the State defense honest.
"You never know what we're going to do," Williams told Jones Angell after the game. "Bryn is coaching me, and I look up to him."
3. The late drama could have been lessened if Carolina hadn't missed a major opportunity in the second quarter by failing to capitalize on terrific field position. Thanks to precise punts by Tommy Hibbard (who downed four inside the State 20 for the game) and good coverage by Jabari Price and Tre Boston, NC State started drives on its own two-yard-line, its own 20, and its own five late in that period. That translated into the Tar Heels starting drives on its own 37, its own 41 and the NC State 40.
"Our punt team did a great job in coverage," Fedora said.
But Carolina got zero points out of those drives. Penalty issues were again partially to blame. With 4:56 left in the first half, Carolina faced a fourth and short and was lined up to go for it, but Jon Heck was flagged for a false start. Following the penalty, the Tar Heels seemed indecisive about what to do from the State 36, eventually had to burn two timeouts, and finally punted-which turned into a net of 16 yards after a touchback.
4. Don't try to out-gadget Larry Fedora. In what ended up being a one-score game, the stark difference between two attempted trick plays was a key. Up 10-7 in the first quarter and riding a raucous Carter-Finley Stadium crowd, Dave Doeren chose to run a fake punt on his own 30-yard-line with the Tar Heels in a punt return set rather than punt block. The play blew up, and Carolina took over on the State 30. Four plays later, the visitors were in the end zone and had stolen the lead.
Fedora, who has a reputation for gadget plays, has used them sparingly--but effectively--this season. The only one he employed Saturday was a winner, as the Tar Heels used a double pass on the way to a 59-yard Ryan Switzer to Quinshad Davis touchdown pass that provided a 21-16 lead. Carolina would not relinquish the lead the rest of the afternoon.