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Instant Analysis: Connecticut-North Carolina

Staff Columnist
Posted Oct 4, 2008

The Butch Davis renewal project in North Carolina received a big boost Saturday night when the Tar Heel coach was aided and informed by other members of his staff.

The play that turned momentum squarely in UNC’s favor, on a night when the shorthanded Huskies felt the loss of starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen, came not from any Tar Heel player, but from the North Carolina braintrust. Connecticut, bearing an unblemished record and a top-25 national ranking, was trying to climb back into contention down 10-3 midway through the second quarter in Kenan Stadium. On a 3rd and 19 from their own 5, the Huskies gained 18 yards, but a procedure penalty gave Carolina the option of forcing UConn into a 3rd and 22 from the 2. While Davis did have his opponent in a 4th and 1 situation—which, given the field position, would have likely caused a punt—the smart play would have been to force the 3rd and 22, because it offered his defense an opportunity to pin the Huskies deep.

Davis initially accepted the result of the play, but after a few moments of confusion, someone on the UNC staff evidently intervened. Just before UConn’s 4th and 1 play (from its own 23) was set to commence, North Carolina called timeout to rethink its decision. Davis’s actions on the sideline suggested that a miscommunication might have occurred between game officials and the captains on the Tar Heels’ defensive unit. At any rate, however, the break in play enabled everyone in Carolina blue to get their heads straight and accept the penalty. After UConn gained a modest four yards, the Tar Heels were able to force a punt from the Husky 6, which represented a 17-yard gain in field position compared to the spot of the 4th and 1 play that almost came to be.

Sure enough, UConn’s subsequent punt was blocked by Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter, and in an instant, what had been a tight game became a 17-3 affair. Given UConn’s lack of a potent passing game in the absence of Lorenzen, Randy Edsall’s team lost its last best chance for a comeback right then and there. When the Huskies could only manage a disappointing field goal on a red-zone trip early in the third quarter, the Tar Heels—still in command with a 17-6 advantage—sensed a dip in energy from their Big East adversary, and proceeded to pounce with a pair of touchdowns that occurred less than two minutes apart.

Yes, a final and forceful flurry floored Connecticut in the midway stages of the third stanza, but the key sequence for Carolina came on a telltale timeout from an alert coaching staff one quarter earlier. Without vigilance from the press box and the sideline, this blowout win could have been competitive until the final stages of the fourth quarter. As it is, though, a good year of football in Chapel Hill just got a whole lot better. Butch Davis has done some fine work on his own in 2008; Saturday evening, his assistants had his back, and it made life that much easier for one of college football’s difference-making coaches.

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