2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 1 - James Madison at UNC
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Sept. 3 at North Carolina 42 … James Madison 10
CFN Analysis: If it's possible to pitch a perfect game, Bryn Renner almost did it completing 22-of-23 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns with the lone misfire a pick. The ground games rolled on a decent JMU front wall, but Ryan Houston didn't tear off any big runs. The defense was tremendous against the run, and even though it allowed a slew of short passes, there were only two big plays with 88 of the 152 passing yards coming on two pass plays. After all the turmoil and all the craziness, this was exactly what the Tar Heels wanted to kick off the season. If Renner can play like this again, and with home games against Rutgers and Virginia to follow, there's a great chance to go on a nice run before the road trip to Georgia Tech.
(AP) CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Bryn Renner threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns in his first start Saturday, helping North Carolina beat James Madison 42-10 to give Everett Withers a successful debut as interim coach.
Renner completed 22 of 23 passes, with his only mistake being an interception on a deep ball in the second quarter. The sophomore completed his first eight passes -- including a 34-yard scoring strike to Dwight Jones to cap the game's opening drive -- and hit on his last 14 to tie a school record for most consecutive completions in a game and ending his day with a 21-yard TD toss to Jones midway through the fourth.
Renner also set an Atlantic Coast Conference record for highest single-game completion percentage (95.7) and finished just shy of the NCAA mark (95.8 percent) set by Tennessee's Tee Martin against South Carolina in 1998. He also had a touchdown on a sneak early in the fourth, a successful start as he replaces graduated four-year starter T.J. Yates.
Withers had spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator before taking over when the school unexpectedly fired Butch Davis a week before training camp. Chancellor Holden Thorp said there had been too much cumulative damage to the university's reputation amid the NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program, a decision that handed Withers his first head-coaching position in 24 seasons in college and the NFL.
In fact, Withers' debut was eerily similar to Davis' debut four years earlier. That also came against James Madison, with the Tar Heels breaking in a first-time starter in Yates and scoring the first 24 points en route to a 30-7 halftime lead and a 37-14 victory.
This time, the Tar Heels scored the first 21 points and led 28-7 at half when James Madison kicker Cameron Starke plunked the right upright on a 20-yard field goal just before the break.
Afterward, Withers said the team would send a game ball to Davis.
A pair of running backs who missed all last season certainly made things easier on Renner and Withers.
Redshirt freshman Giovani Bernard suffered a knee injury in his third day of practice, while Ryan Houston opted to redshirt after being cleared to return at midseason amid the NCAA probe. While Houston ran for 59 yards and a TD on 16 carries, Bernard's performance was probably more impressive. He showed impressive burst and the patience to let his blocks develop, reaching the end zone on a 12-yard run on his second carry before finishing with 64 yards and two scores on just nine carries.
Justin Thorpe threw for 152 yards and a touchdown for the Dukes in his return from a knee injury in last year's opener that sidelined him the rest of the year. But the Dukes managed just 211 total yards and never came close to repeating last season's road upset of Virginia Tech.
James Madison (0-0) at North
Carolina (0-0) Sept. 3, 83:30
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Here's The Deal … After an interesting 2010 season off the field for North Carolina, it looked as if it had moved past the John Blake scandal and was ready to rebuild. That was the case only up until something happened between January and July that made Butch Davis no longer worthy of coaching in Chapel Hill. There is never a good time to fire a head coach, but six weeks before the season starts is as far away from ideal as possible. The opener represents interim coach Everett Withers' attempt to permanently become the Tar Heels head man with a home game against James Madison. The Dukes come from the Colonial Athletic Association, and have caused nothing but trouble for the last two ACC opponents they faced. In 2009, they pushed Maryland to the brink in College Park, coming within a last-minute Terp field goal from the upset. Virginia Tech fans remember the Boise State hangover last year that lasted for 60 additional minutes after its loss to the Broncos. JMU stunned the Hokies at home in one of the most shocking upsets of last season. JMU and UNC are coming off seasons that were disappointing and are looking to get back on track. The Dukes know they're capable of beating teams like the Heels and Carolina knows better than to overlook the Dukes' success against the ACC.
Why James Madison Might Win: Three carries are all that JMU QB Justin Thorpe got last year before an injury ended his season. Thorpe, now a redshirt junior, started eight games in 2009 to earn the Rookie of the Year award in the Colonial Athletic Association. He's a true dual-threat QB who can cause headaches for every defense. The Tar Heel D struggled mightily last year against dual-threat quarterbacks, such as Josh Nesbitt, Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson. While JMU does not have the skill players around Thorpe the way Nesbitt, Taylor and Wilson did, it's hard to overlook Thorpe's success in his first season of college football.
Why North Carolina Might Win: Davis' teams always were very deep at wide receiver, and even with the coach gone, the personnel is still his. Guys, like Greg Little and Hakeem Nicks, were highly sought after by NFL scouts and both players were picked early in the draft. This year, Jheranie Boyd, Erik Highsmith and Dwight Jones will be the next great group of Tar Heel receivers to impress pro scouts. QB Bryn Renner threw a total of two passes last year, but he should have no problem finding this deep group of receivers often against JMU. The Dukes starting corners have good height, but the Carolina receivers are more physically imposing than the JMU cornerbacks. Boyd and Highsmith are 6-2 and 195 pounds, while Jones is a physical freak at 6-6 and 225 pounds. There is not a player on JMU's team that will be able to cover Jones, enticing Carolina to take multiple shots downfield to let Jones go up and get the ball.
What To Watch Out For: Interim coaches trying to earn a job are always dangerous for weaker opponents. Withers won't mess around with this one or let it stay close for very long. North Carolina will put pressure on the JMU secondary from the first drive and won't let up until the game is in hand. The knockout punch has to be thrown early or a team like JMU can build confidence and start to believe it's capable of winning the game. The Dukes did it last year to Virginia Tech, Jacksonville State upset Ole Miss in Oxford and everyone remembers Appalachian State's miracle in Ann Arbor. Allowing FCS programs to build confidence is the worst thing North Carolina can do, so getting up early with aggressive play calling is the best strategy. The Heels need to use the talent advantage they have at wide receiver and challenge the JMU corners.
What Will Happen: Renner, a highly recruited quarterback coming out of high school, is going to come out firing now that he's in his third season in Chapel Hill. The offense will be the same since this is not a new staff, and those Tar Heel receivers are too good for James Madison to match up against. The Dukes took advantage of a Virginia Tech team that was distracted, embarrassed and tired…North Carolina is looking to make a Week One statement.
CFN Prediction: North Carolina 49 … James Madison 17
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