Saturday, August 30, 2008

LIVE blog of UNC football game

It's a hot, overcast day in Chapel Hill today as Butch Davis gets ready to enter his second season as the UNC football coach. The stands seemed almost completely barren just a few minutes ago, but now that the national anthem has been performed, everyone is settling in.

Stay tuned as I blog from Chapel Hill in our game of the week.

Opening thoughts - Well in the initial 6 minutes of play, the only thing impressive about this Tar Heel team is special teams return man Brandon Tate. The offense failed to get much going on its first two possessions, the second of which ended with a Greg Little fumble. Little then exchanged some words with a McNeese State player and had to be held back by teammates. As for the defense, it has looked decent in bursts. The front four aren't getting as much pressure as you might expect but the secondary is playing pretty well. Trimane Goddard got his first pick of the year and sixth of his career. As I mentioned, the fans didn't show up until right before kickoff, but the place is packed now and the fans are really into it. The Turn it Blue campaign seems to have finally played off as the stands are almost completely Carolina blue.

Brandon Tate - Man alive, can this kid run. On his third great return of the day, Tate finally broke free. McNeese State punter Blake Bercegeay absolutely murdered the football, kicking it 55 yards, but that only gave Tate more room to run. He ran it back 82 yards, the ninth longest punt return in school history and Tate's personal best. It was his sixth TD return and third via a punt return. Later, in the second quarter, Tate broke free on a handoff and ran it 58 yards down to the 3-yard line. He is such a playmaker, UNC will have to continue to get him the ball anyway it can.

UNC kicking game - This appears to have worked itself out. So far, Casey Barth has handled the extra points while Wooten has kicked the ball off for the Tar Heels. It's my best guess that Wooten will kick really long field goals, but that's just a guess.

UNC defensive line - This unit, heralded as one of the best in the ACC, has not lived up to its billing so far. They are getting pushed around up front by a very big McNeese State O-line. The holes that the Cowboys are opening up are huge, and if their backs were as fast as other running backs UNC will see in the future, the Tar Heels would have paid the price much more than they have so far.

Rain in the forecast? The officials have been warned of bad weather in the area. I'll keep you updated.

Greg Little - The Tar Heel running back has not gotten much traction in the contest. He's had a couple of decent runs of 8 to 10 yards, but more times than not, he has been hit around the line of scrimmage, dropped for a short gain if that. It's not entirely his fault as the holes don't appear to be there, but this is not what North Carolina wanted to see after searching all last season for a running game.

Brooks Foster sighting - The Tar Heel senior was the recipient of a TJ Yates touchdown pass early in the second quarter. It was the fifth touchdown catch of Foster's career and his first since the 2007 opener when he had two touchdowns. UNC would love to get him more involved this year. His measurables are off the chart, and despite not starting at Carolina, he is already drawing the eye of NFL scouts.

UNC players of note - With the delay, let's take this time to note the Tar Heels who have played the best so far. That obviously includes Brandon Tate, who scored UNC's first touchdown on an 82-yard return and then set up the second Tar Heel score with a 54-yard gain. Despite six fewer carries, Tate has gained 32 more yards than starting running back Greg Little (22 yards on seven carries). On the defensive side of the ball, Quan Sturdivant has really stood out at weakside linebacker. He has been flying around all over the place, leads the team at the 12:03 mark with 5 tackles, all unassisted, and has been great in pursuit all game. It should also be noted that punter Terrence Brown has done a great job. The Tar Heels have probably punted more than they would have liked, but Brown has put both of his punts inside the 20 so far, getting enough hang time on them to let the Heels get down the field to defend the return.

DELAY - Lightning strike - 30-minute delay due to a lightning strike within 5 miles of the stadium. The delay started at 6:52 p.m. with 12:03 to go in the second quarter. Tar Heel Sports Network's Jones Angell said the earliest the game would start back is unofficially 8:30 p.m. The lightning and rain are both really bad at Kenan Stadium right now with each big bolt of lightning drawing yells from the crowd camped out on the concourse.

Maybe I should stay in the booth - I went down to field level for the rest of the second quarter and for the first 10 minutes of the third quarter. During that time, McNeese State scored 20 unanswered points. The first play I saw back up in the press box, North Carolina's Brandon Tate hauled in a 58-yard bomb, giving him 300 all-purpose yards with 4:30 left in the third quarter. The UNC single-game all-purpose yard record is 339 yards and was set in the 1980s. Score - UNC 21, McNeese State 20. The Cowboys missed extra point looms large at this point.

No more Little? - Running back Shawn Draughn started the Tar Heels next offensive series, gaining three yards on his first collegiate carry. Greg Little has been ineffective so far in the backfield. It will be curious to see whether Draughn was just giving him a breather or if Little has been replaced in the second half.

Tar Heels waking up - As the third quarter comes to a close, it's safe to say that the Tar Heels are finally waking up after a lull that saw them lose the lead 20-14 midway through the third quarter. And Brandon Tate's most recent punt return now has him within 17 all-purpose yards of the single game record at North Carolina. His current total of 322 is the fifth most in ACC history.

Tate closing in on ACC record - If you aren't able to watch the Carolina game, you are missing the Brandon Tate show. Tate just hauled in a jumping highlight reel catch for 23 yards. It's scary to think where the Heels might be without Tate in this one. He now has 365 all-purpose yards, sailing past the UNC record and closing in on the ACC record of 411 yards.

Draughn emerging at tailback - North Carolina tailback Shawn Draughn is picking up those hard yards that Little could not get and in this reporter's opinion could be the starter for the Tar Heels next week. He just scored an impressive touchdown to give UNC a 28-20 lead with 9 minutes to go in the game.

Wes Wilson