The Tar Heels started fast, a Bryn Renner 66-yard touchdown to Dwight Jones, and never relinquished the lead in a 24-22 home win over Rutgers on Saturday afternoon.
The Tar Heels seemed poised to take over the game and blow out the Scarlet Knights, but turned the ball over when Renner did not see RU safety Duron Harmon on an attempted deep post pass. Harmon intercepted the ball and returned it 45 yards inside the Tar Heels' 5-yard line.
The Knights, however, were turned away on four downs, stoned at the one when D'antwaan Williams tried to go through the middle of the Tar Heel defense. The stoned runs was a theme of the day as Rutgers struggled to rush the ball all day.
The four-down stop was not without controversy. On second down, Williams clearly crossed the plane of the goal line with the ball, and inexplicably, the play was not reviewed.
On third down, Rutgers' quarterback Chas Dodd rolled out and was unable to find anyone open. He appeared to score, but was ruled down at the one. This play was also not reviewed.
Dodd was hammered all day long by the Tar Heel defense who teed off on the passing game of Rutgers as RU was unable to establish the run.
On the positive side, Rutgers did not use its wild knight offense all day long, instead focusing on trying to establish a running game and the passing attack.
Dodd showed a lot of poise in the pocket dealing with men in his face all day long. He converted on a number of tough third downs and on a key 4th and 12 late in the game. The completion led to a a Rutgers' touchdown that brought the Knights within two points of the home-standing Tar Heels.
Dodd was able to find Mohamed Sanu often in key situations as the Knights staged their comeback attempt. Sanu finished the day with a career high 13 receptions and gained 119 yards.
The young signal-caller threw for 243 yards and two touchdowns and did not throw an interception. He did, however, throw two passes that would have been interceptions that were dropped by Tar Heels' defenders.
Drops were also a key problem for Rutgers. Before Sanu got himself righted late in the first, he dropped a would-be touchdown pass when he seemed to lose a wide-open fade pattern pass in the sun, twisting and turning en-route to a drop.
Mark Harrison, who established a great rapport with Dodd last season, dropped two long passes, one of which was a sure touchdown for Rutgers.
Late in the first half, Rutgers was able to score on a sensational touchdown reception by Mohamed Sanu, a one-handed grab off a quick slant thrown slightly behind him by Dodd.
On that touchdown, Greg Schiano decided to chase points—going for an ill-advised two-point conversion attempt. The conversion was stopped and it seemed to energize the Tar Heels.
The game turned when T.J. Thorpe returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards to set North Carolina up in RU territory at the 35.
Casey Barth connected on a 46-yard field goal and UNC led 17-12 at the half.
The game featured a combined 17 penalties, including nine by UNC that resulted in a loss of 94 yards.
The Knights also were able to force five turnovers, making the loss all the more frustrating for Schiano and company.
Rutgers supporters can take solace in the fact that RU played a tough ACC opponent tough on the road and did not cower in the face of pressure and competed right down to the end.
The loss was RU's seventh straight against FBS opponents, but a far cry from the manner in which RU lost its last three in the Big East last season.
They were blown out in three straight games by Cincy, Louisville and WVU to close the season.
Rutgers fans had to be wondering if Rutgers would be blown out again today.
Although it was a loss for Rutgers, and there are no moral victories, it gives RU supporters hope that the Knights will be competitive in the Big East this season.