The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday September 18th

Tar Heels Ready to Play at Home

UNC coach John Bunting said he expects a good reception at home Saturday despite going 0-3 so far.

After a Texas twister took the Tar Heels for a spin in the second half against the Longhorns, Bunting clicked his heels together three times.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home.

That's how it must feel for UNC

(0-3), heading back to Chapel Hill for its first home game and looking for its first win of the 2001 season and of Bunting's tenure.

"It's going to happen next week," Bunting said. "That's the way I always think. I don't dwell on the past. I'm ready to go on right now. I'd like to go home and play."

At the end of Saturday's road game; at the end of tough losses at Oklahoma (41-27), at Maryland (23-7) and now Texas (44-14); UNC's players walked off Jamail Field at Texas Memorial Stadium with looks of defeat on their faces.

Their chins down and faces long, the Tar Heels marched away from the last three weeks hoping to pick up the pieces, learn from their travels and move on.

"We have nine games left," defensive tackle Ryan Sims said. "We've got a lot of football left. We just played two of the top five teams in the country. Hopefully, we can move on from this and become a better football team.

"It's always great to come back home and play. We haven't played there this year. Hopefully, we'll get a crowd there to get behind us so we can get this first win."

To get that win, UNC will have to get something better going offensively than it's shown thus far. Opponents have outscored the Tar Heels 36-16.

They're struggling to run the ball still, getting 95 yards against the Longhorns and 92.3 per game on the season. But that's nothing new.

What has been somewhat surprising is the lack of fluency in the passing game.

Quarterback Ronald Curry has completed 16 of 46 passes (34.8 percent) for 204 yards, zero touchdowns and with four interceptions.

Last year, Bosley Allen, Kory Bailey and Sam Aiken caught deep balls from Curry like it was their job. UNC had 14 passes for more than 40 yards in 2000, 13 thrown by Curry.

His longest completion this season: 27 yards.

Bunting seemed frustrated with his receivers for not doing more to help Curry.

"There's no question we need to get open," Bunting said. "Now, Texas has some fine speed out there. They're matching our speed with their speed. There's no doubt they can match up. But we've got to find a way. When we have opportunities to catch balls, we have to make plays."

There is good news.

The defense is holding opponents to 286.3 yards despite the scores inflated by good field position from turnovers and special teams play.

"I think we showed we're good enough to stop them," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "I think when they get the ball deep in our territory, we go out and put the fire out most of the time."

Still, the last three weeks could be a lot to bounce back from, especially considering the road ahead.

The Tar Heels host Southern Methodist on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. But after that come Florida State, at N.C. State and East Carolina at home.

"We're struggling right now as everybody can see," Peppers said. "We're struggling. We're going to get it together. We're in the (Texas) game 14-14 in the second quarter. We're down only six at halftime to the whatever number team in the nation. We almost did it. We just have to get over that hump."

Bunting thinks his team can and will get over it.

But his heart and his optimism seemed to skip a small beat at the notion that fan support might not be at its highest for his first home game as coach.

"I'm expecting a great reception," Bunting said. "I'm expecting people to care about these kids. These young kids are out there playing hard trying to get it done.

"Has it been fun? No. Did they have fun on a couple occasions in these losses? Yes, they did because they played hard and played against some of the best football in the country, and they've got to feel good about that. I do. I think a lot of people will, too."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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