Following the last play of Saturday night's heartbreaking defeat to LSU, North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates emphatically showed his frustration with the referees not calling a pass interference on LSU.
Perhaps he didn't realize it at the moment, but Yates was doing something Tarheel fans have been waiting on for four years now.
He matured into a true, reliable quarterback.
Over the past few seasons, the Heels have been recognized more as a defensive team. They've allowed more than 24 points just four times the past two seasons. Some of that has to do with great talent on the defensive line. A lot of it also has to do with mediocre quarterback play.
Yates has basically been asked just to be efficient with the offense in past seasons, not really expected to be a big playmaker. He's struggled to even do that. Two of his three years as a starter he's thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.
Last year he managed only six yards per attempt. Not impressive to say the least, even by mid-level ACC range expectations.
So it was safe to say that prior to Saturday's big game with LSU, not many experts were giving the Tarheels a chance to win. Sure they had 13 players suspended including many defensive starters and a starting running back and wide receiver. But they also had a quarterback who, despite all his experience and seniority, was not held in great confidence.
In fact, going into summer practice, there was still debate as to whether or not Yates would still be the starter.
Maybe it was the pressure of playing on national T.V. Maybe it was the discomforting reality of leading a team half-staffed onto the field against a tough SEC opponent.
Whatever the case, Yates grew up before our eyes Saturday night.
Yates went 28-for-46 against a quality LSU secondary, completing nearly 61 percent of his passes (a mark better than any of his previous three season totals). He threw for 412 yards, which was the first time he had even thrown for more than 300 since 2007.
He was smart with his passes too, making crisp passes and only a few overthrows to deep receivers. Accounting for three touchdowns, he didn't throw a pick and came out from the game with a 157.63 rating. Were it not for some easily catch-able balls that were dropped in the closing seconds, Yates would have been a hero for the Heels instead of just a good player in a disappointing loss.
In a season already marred with embarrassment off the field, a rising QB like Yates is being completely overlooked.
Regardless of whether or not the suspended players get reinstated to play, it's obvious now who the true leader of this Tarheel team is. You may only hear about Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn the rest of the season, but look behind the center. That guy managing the offense is Yates, and he hasn't been suspended.
Instead, he's showing the world he's ready to shine no matter how many dark clouds his team exists under.
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