The guys at Tar Heel Fan are here to answer a few questions about North Carolina going into this week's game. Among the topics: The NCAA investigation, T.J. Yates' resurgence, the Heels' run game and Butch's future. Thanks to THF for taking the time to give us some answers. Here are my answers to their questions.
GC: Which of the suspensions or injuries has hurt UNC the most this year?
THF: Robert Quinn and Marvin Austin, mainly because UNC does not appear to have a functioning pass rush now. Dwight Jones has made us all forget Greg Little existed. Michael McAdoo would help on the defensive line in terms of depth, as would Charles Brown in the secondary. Quinn and Austin combined for 15 sacks last season with Quinn recording eleven. UNC averaged 2.46 sacks per game in 2009 or 32 over 13 games. This season through nine games, UNC is averaging 1.67 sacks per game or 15 total. There is an ongoing debate among THF readers concerning DC Everett Withers and his apparent unwillingness to blitz more often. Either Withers does not want to or is not confident the players he has can do it effectively enough. I imagine the seven game absence of All-ACC CB Kendric Burney, the loss of Brown and the resulting youth/lack of depth in the secondary may play a role in that too.
Yes and no. Yates' journey to this point has been interesting to say the least. People forget that Yates set a UNC single season record for passing yards during his RS freshman season. He missed several games in 2008 with a broken foot at the hands of a Virginia Tech defender. Last season the wheels seemingly came off. Yates threw for 15 INTs and there was this notion that Yates' success in previous season were because he had Brandon Tate and Hakeem Nicks who are both playing in the NFL now. The flip side of that argument is Yates is good but there is only so much he can do with Greg Little and a crop of young receivers. Also, the biggest knock on Yates was accuracy and poor decisions. He did force the ball at times. His accuracy was so bad we would make jokes about it on a routine basis.
So what changed? Well, the receivers got better, notable Dwight Jones. Yates' showed some better accuracy, especially on downfield throws which has allowed UNC to nail multiple homerun TD throws this season. Most importantly, Yates refuses to make a bad pass. He clearly understands, if there are no open receivers then throw it out of bounds. The decision making has been the biggest bonus since UNC is not been hurt with back breaking INTs. Yates has thrown four this season and logged multiple games of zero INTs including vs LSU and FSU.
On defense, how does the secondary look now that it's close to full-strength. Has there been any issues since Kendric Burney's return?
Burney looks rusty and the secondary still looks a little iffy. There was at least one pass play in the FSU game where Burney was in the area of the receiver and did not break in time to snag the interception. A year ago that would have been a pick six. I think it is a simple matter of getting everyone playing together for a few games to gel. The lack of depth in the secondary is not helping either but overall I am hoping Burney and Deunta Williams start to click. They are due.
How much does Johnny White's injury hurt the offense and how do you think it will respond this weekend? Will Ryan Houston play?
The question of Ryan Houston is interesting. Readers at THF raised an excellent point. Houston missed spring football while he worked on his academics and then missed five games while his role in an academic scandal was sorted out, go figure. Anyway, that means the last time Houston saw live action on the football field was December 26th, 2009 vs Pitt in the Car Care Bowl. That is almost 11 months of layoff so the more pertinent question where Houston is concerned is whether he can even be effective give the long layoff. By all accounts, it takes a game or two to adjust yourself to the speed of live action. Is burning his redshirt for three regular season games and what could be the Music City Bowl really worth it? If Shaun Draughn is unavailable that leaves UNC with Hunter Furr at tailback or Anthony Elzy. Curtis Byrd is the starting FB but really does not do much but block. Obviously if Davis feels he needs Houston in the game to win, that is what is going to happen. As for Draughn, he was the starter a year ago and managed 77 yards on 12 carries vs the Hokies. Forty-four of those yards came on one play mind you. However he has shown himself to be a very good RB and Elzy is always a threat to catch passes out of the backfield. Still, UNC will likely pass more often than not given how effective the Yates to Jones connection has been over the past few games.
What are the odds Butch Davis is still UNC's head coach next season?
I think we at THF put this a little worse than 50/50. The issue with Davis and whether UNC wants to do anything about him is (1) there is no evidence at present he was directly responsible for any violations and (2) the NCAA may be well into next summer before rendering a final verdict. Heck, right now UNC has not even received a letter of inquiry which lists the major violations found. Once that happens, it is my understand a whole other really tedious process must be initiated. Without Davis being directly on the hook for violations, firing him is a tough sell because of the buyout. If UNC waits for the NCAA then they could find themselves at a point on the calendar where letting Davis go would be difficult since hiring a replacement would be next to impossible. Is it possible Davis leaves on his own? Yes and if I had to lay bets on a scenario that has Davis leaving after this season, that would be the one. Outside of that, I don't see UNC making a move now or even at the end of the season. They have long maintained the position of waiting for all the facts to come out and the NCAA do whatever it is they are going to do.