College Football Preview: UNC vs. Rutgers
Published 12:00 am Friday, September 9, 2011
CHAPEL HILLó North Carolina and Rutgers made things look easy in their opening wins against overmatched opponents. The Tar Heels and Scarlet Knights will find out more about where they stand early this season when they meet here Saturday.
“We are taking a huge step up in competition this week,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
The Tar Heels rolled past Championship Subdivision opponent James Madison 42-10, with quarterback Bryn Renner looking sharp in his first career start and a defense featuring several NFL prospects that limited the Dukes to 211 total yards. Yet the Scarlet Knights had an easier time, holding North Carolina Central to a 120 total yards in a 48-0 win.
The teams met last season, with the Tar Heels rallying from a 10-0 deficit and getting two late defensive stands for a 17-13 road win.
Renner, a sophomore, made his first career start against the Dukes and threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns. More impressively, Renner completed 22 of 23 passes ó his only mistake was an interception on a deep ball ó to set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7).
“We definitely have to get after him because he’s a guy that if he sits back there, he’s going to pick you apart,” Rutgers defensive tackle Justin Francis said. “Us playing aggressively and just staying on top of our jobs, getting his feet moving a lot more and getting him thinking out there is just going to be our main focal point.”
Renner will have a tougher time against an aggressive Rutgers defense that racked up nine sacks last week. The Scarlet Knights also scored a pair of defensive touchdowns in the third quarter.
“I think they do a really good job of everybody covering up for everybody when they do blitz,” North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers said. “We’ve got to be very, very good up front this week in terms of protecting the quarterback and giving ourselves some run lanes.”
Renner should get help from big-play receiver Dwight Jones (two TD catches against JMU) and the tandem of fifth-year senior Ryan Houston and redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard at tailback. Houston and Bernard combined to run for three scores.
Rutgers didn’t need big numbers on offense against the Eagles, with Savon Huggins rushing for two touchdowns and the Scarlet Knights finishing with 347 yards.
The Tar Heels will get a boost defensively with the return of senior cornerback Charles Brown, who missed all of last year amid the NCAA investigation into the football program. He also had to sit out the opener after receiving $86.94 in improper benefits from a prospective agent.
He hasn’t played a game since the end of the 2009 season, when he started all 13 games. He is the last player linked to the NCAA probe to return to the lineup for the Tar Heels.
“I’m happy for him because I think he’s been through a lot as a young man and he’s done everything up until now that we’ve wanted him to do to get ready to play,” Withers said. “So I’m excited to see him play.”