by Lee Pace
Once every decade or so there comes a game day in Chapel Hill when the clouds open up and the rain falls in sheets, leaving the cleats and towels and plastic all but impotent against the elements and setting up in its wake a "best of" appendage to the history book.
Seventh-ranked Florida fumbled eight times in 1968 amid the backwash of Hurricane Gladys to lose to Carolina by 15 points, still one of the biggest upsets in Tar Heel history. Derrick Fenner sloshed for 328 yards in 1986 as the Tar Heels cruised by 20 points past Virginia, still the top single-game rushing performance ever for a Tar Heel. And Carolina lost nine turnovers to drop its 2002 season opener by six points to Miami (Ohio), still the quirkiest introduction to a future professional star as a 6-foot-5 Redhawk quarterback named Roethlisberger threw for 204 yards and one touchdown.
But as Longfellow once mused, "The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain," the Tar Heels on Saturday kept their footing and grip taut enough to rampage the Vandals of Idaho and set some records of their own. By notching a 66-0 victory, Carolina set a school record for most points scored and biggest margin of victory, eclipsing the standard of a 65-0 win in 1914.
As Jones Angell said on the Tar Heel Sports Network, "Somewhere tonight, Virginia Medical is breathing a sigh of relief."
And as the gregarious defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
added after warming up and drying off: "It was fun. And when you're having fun, you want to keep having fun. It's just like partying--a lot of people party because it's fun."
Carolina was productive on offense, with Giovani Bernard
regaining his old form and jetting to a 68-yard score, Bryn Renner
hitting 75 percent of his passes, six players scoring touchdowns and an offensive line that included redshirt freshman Kiaro Holts
starting at left tackle not allowing a sack.
They were salty on defense, intercepting four passes and allowing only four Vandal first downs in the first half.
And they blocked two punts and could have thumped a couple more if coach Larry Fedora
hadn't turned off the heat once the rout was on. The Vandals became so itchy trying to punt-protect after the second block they were jumping, flinching and grabbing the Tar Heels to a profusion of penalty flags.
The result was exactly what Fedora and his staff wanted against an 0-4 team that could have been easily overlooked--despite the fact the Vandals were within a touchdown of LSU late in the first half two weeks ago in Baton Rouge.
"This team is very capable of doing some special things if we keep preparing the way we are preparing the last couple of weeks and we keep playing with a lot of energy," Fedora said.
That the Tar Heels would be playing a team from a town called Moscow some 2,500 miles away and named a century ago because its basketball team "vandalized" opponents with frisky defense is at the nexus of the wild and wooly world of modern scheduling. When Tennessee opted out its home-and-home deal with the Tar Heels two years ago, Carolina scrambled to add Louisville and a home date with Idaho, a school with a proclivity to schedule road games to earn a nice pay check and see the sights of big-time football. Virginia, Texas A&M, Nebraska, USC, Arizona, Michigan State, Washington and Oregon State have all graced the Vandals' schedule the last decade.
Carolina's non-ACC schedule in the near future is in a state of flux. On-going conversations among ACC members over whether to play eight or nine conference games a year and the impending addition of Notre Dame as an ACC opponent for five games a year make scheduling a moving target.
"We're positioned very, very well," says Larry Gallo, the Carolina associate athletic director who takes the vision and base philosophy of the athletic director and head coach and works out the details. "We are not committed very far out. Some schools might be in the position of having to drop games, depending on what happens with the ACC and Notre Dame."
This is an important week for future scheduling for Carolina and other ACC teams. The league has proposed going to a nine-game conference schedule beginning in 2013. In odd number years, Coastal Division teams would play four home games and five away games; in even years, they would play five home and four away. If the concept is approved, Carolina in 2013 would play four ACC home games and five ACC road games. The proposal is certain to be a major agenda item this week at the ACC fall meetings at Boston College.
"Everything's in a state of limbo until the conference decides on the eight- or nine-game issue," Gallo says. "And where does Notre Dame fit into that question? Some might argue that with Notre Dame playing five league games a year, eight is enough."
No matter the future, the Tar Heels' ACC here-and-now begins in full throttle this week when Virginia Tech comes to Chapel Hill for a 12:30 kick-off--with the Tar Heels adorned in all-white uniforms (the helmets being throw-backs to the 1960s model headgear) and hopefully most of the 60,000 fans in Kenan Stadium outfitted in white.
"We know Virginia Tech is going to be a really good football team and we're going to have to play a complete game that's error free," Fedora said. "We had errors out there tonight that we've got to get corrected, and we will."
Early Saturday evening, the televisions mounted in the reception area and individual offices on the fourth floor of Kenan Football Center displayed ESPN's college football coverage and the ticker display of scores from the ACC and the nation. The shocking numbers from around the Coastal Division of the ACC slid across the screen:
Middle Tennessee 49, Georgia Tech 28.
Cincinnati 27, Virginia Tech 24.
Louisiana Tech 44, Virginia 38.
"Our game could have been any one of those," offensive coordinator Blake Anderson
said. "That's college football today. That's why we were so worried last week. You don't want to be the team when Idaho gets over the hump. Fortunately, we played the entire game in all three phases."
The obvious question now, of course, is just where does a 3-2 Carolina team fit with Virginia Tech and road trips to Miami and much-improved Duke on the horizon? The offense certainly has some weapons, despite all the injuries that have sidelined Bernard, Jheranie Boyd
, T.J. Thorpe
, Reggie Wilkins
, Jack Tabb
and, most recently, James Hurst
. The defense lacks a headline quarterback hawk on the edge but is improved at the back end. And the kicking game is evolving into a constant threat with Romar Morris
rushing punts, Bernard returning them, Casey Barth
further etching his name in the record books and Tommy Hibbard
striking punts for a 42-yard average with good direction and hang time and the Tar Heels ranking No. 22 nationally in net punting.
"It's fixing to become a challenge, I know that," Anderson said. "I don't think we're going to score 66 points against teams that are really good. Touchdowns are going to be a lot harder. I really don't know how we're going to match up with these guys we're going to see starting next Saturday. I assume we're going to be seeing a lot better level of players.
"But I'll tell you this: If we can eliminate turnovers--and we had two unforced errors today--if we can eliminate those, I think we're getting ourselves in position where we can compete. I'm pleased that we have progressed and we're getting better. Our tempo is better, we're playing faster. And positive plays breed good tempo. If you have a positive play, it's easier to move to the next one. It's hard to play as fast on second-and-10."
The Tar Heels' evolution on defense is perhaps best embodied by junior safety Tre Boston
, who's not made as many highlight interceptions and break-ups this year as, say, cornerback Jabari Price
, though Boston did have one pick on Saturday. Boston's been noticeable by his lack
of notice--he's not given up the big play like he did a year ago.
"In past years, the secondary's been the question mark," Boston said. "But now we're not. We have confidence that we didn't have before. We're not going to be the weakest link on this team."
"The message to Tre from last spring was this: 'Do your job, you'll make plays when they come to you,'" secondary coach Dan Disch
said. "He doesn't have to make
plays. That will happen. I think he's done a good job learning our defense and learning his role."
Of course, defending Logan Thomas of Virginia Tech and rushing the Hokies' offensive line will a hair more intense than the challenge mounted by ECU and Idaho in recent weeks. Still, the Tar Heels are 3-0 at home and no one's scored a touchdown.
"Our goal has been to defend the Tar Pit, to be unbeaten at home," Disch said. "Our kids like playing at home. The good thing is, we're making people have to fight to score."
The fight moves on to the heavyweight level come Saturday.
Lee Pace (email@example.com) has written "Extra Points" since 1990 and has reported from the sidelines for the Tar Heel Sports Network since 2004.