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September 3, 2011Butch Davis may no longer be the coach at Carolina, but he left the school with a football team whose potential is outstanding.
The Tar Heels, behind a memorable debut for quarterback Bryn Renner, shredded a James Madison defense that led the Dukes to a victory at Virginia Tech a year ago.
But the returning 10 defensive starters were no match for Renner and the Tar Heels' offense, which led UNC to a season-opening 42-10 victory at Kenan Stadium.
"It's a good win for the program," interim coach Everett Withers said. "We had some things were really positive. The kids were focused from the time we got to the hotel [Friday night] until the time we got here for pregame warm-up.
"We played 21 freshmen today and 10 true freshmen. We're trying to build this program, and we felt like we needed to get those guys on the field and playing."
Neither Withers nor the players forgot Davis and what he did for UNC prior to Chancellor Holden Thorp firing him just days before summer camp opened.
"The whole week we preached we wanted to give this [game] ball to Coach Davis," Renner said.
So as the game neared the final seconds, Renner ran to Withers and they shared a special moment.
"We had Coach Davis in our mind and in our hearts," Renner said. "We said all week that Coach Davis built this team. It was his team. So it was just a moment where I wanted to give Coach Withers a little hug after my first start and his first experience out there, too."
Renner completed 22 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns. Not one of his passes hit the ground. The only incompletion was an interception on a deep throw into double coverage.
"I think it was decent [debut]," Renner said. "I threw an interception. I'm still not happy about that. I made a bad read on that one."
This was by no means a one-man show, however. The offensive line kept the JMU defenders off Renner and opened hole after hole after hole for Ryan Houston, Gio Benard and A.J. Blue.
The Tar Heels combined to rush for 184 yards. The balance between run and pass clearly helped Renner be effective and made life difficult for James Madison.
Renner's completion percentage is the highest in ACC history for a quarterback with at least 20 attempts. His completion percentage of .957 is the second-best in NCAA history behind Tennessee's Tee Martin, who completed 23 of 24 against South Carolina in 1998.
"He had a command about him today, that for a first start was pretty impressive," Withers said.
Houston ran for 59 yards on 16 carries, while scoring a touchdown. He knew Renner had played well; he just didn't know how well.
"I didn't know he went 22-of-23," Houston said. "That is unbelievable. I feel Bryn is only going to get better. He is getting good at checking it down and throwing it to open receivers."
The real difference in the game came along the line of scrimmage. The Carolina offensive and defensive lines were touted as the strength of this team and there is no reason to doubt that after one game.
"The overwhelming thing about the game was how they manhandled us," JMU coach Mickey Matthews said. "They just gashed us. I don't know if someone's gashed us that bad in 10 years. It's been a long time."
Bernard led the Tar Heels with 64 yards on just nine carries. He displayed the excellent feet and explosive nature advertised before the game.
"Yesterday, I didn't want to gas up me and Gio because we didn't know what we were going to get into," Houston said. "But now after seeing how we are going to be together and complement each other, I feel like we are going to be one of the best running back sets in the ACC.
"I feel like I'm going to ground them and pound them, and Gio is going to disappear on them. We have a great tandem."
Senior wide receiver Dwight Jones looked better than ever one day after having a baby boy born back in Burlington.
Jones caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. On the 34-yard TD reception, he dragged defenders into the end zone, absolutely refusing to be tackled.
"Dwight was late to the team motel because he had a son last night," Withers said. "Dwight was trying to have a big day today."
Jones and all his teammates had a big day, particularly the new Tar Heel quarterback.
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