A play after absorbing an 18-yard sack North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates hobbled to the sideline favoring his left leg.
For the next UNC drive Mike Paulus trotted into the huddle while Yates was diagnosed with a left ankle sprain on the sideline. It would be up to a redshirt freshman quarterback to maintain a seven-point lead against a blitzing Virginia Tech defense.
Paulus handed off his first snap to Greg Little who scampered 50 yards for a score putting the Tar Heels on top 17-3. But it was all downhill from there.
Paulus completed three passes to their intended receivers but he threw another two into the hands of defenders" and the Tar Heels gained just 37 yards — plus Little's touchdown run — with Paulus at the helm.
""I tell myself every day at practice" you know there's so many quarterbacks going down NFL college whatever it is that No. 2 has to be ready no matter what your position is Paulus said after the game before a swarm of reporters.
Whether it's coming through on a follow-through and jamming your thumb or spraining an ankle" or hurting your knee slamming your car door — something was going to happen where I was going to get in this year.""
Even with that mental preparation" Paulus' inexperience was exposed once he found himself thrown into the fire.
Trailing by three Paulus had the Tar Heels driving at Va. Tech's 24-yard line. He rolled right on a second down and scanned the field.
Rather than checking down to an open Anthony Elzy Paulus attempted to hit Hakeem Nicks near the end zone. But Nicks was surrounded by three white shirts" and the Hokies' Victor Harris came down with the football.
""I'd say I forced it" Paulus said. We had a little bit of a drive going there completed a few passes had a couple nice runs" got in the 20 or 30 yard line. You've got to protect the ball. There's no excuses for it.""
The redshirt freshman finished 3-for-8 for 23 yards and two interceptions.
Still" his teammates maintain that if Yates misses time" they have confidence in the new signal-caller.
""I never doubted him" Nicks said. He gets snaps with the (first team) in practice so I feel like he came in and did pretty good for his first game. I know he was kind of nervous a little bit" so we just had to get him comfortable.""
Defensive tackle Marvin Austin said UNC didn't miss a beat when the Tar Heels saw Yates in obvious pain.
""When he went down" I just felt like now it's time for somebody else to step up because that's just how you've got to think he said. Anyone can go down so when your number is called" you've got to be ready.""
X-rays on Yates' ankle came back negative" but Saturday the Tar Heels still were unsure of his status for their next game at Miami.
But whether it is Yates or Paulus under center next weekend" UNC coach Butch Davis said the basic strategy will not change.
""We're going to do what the quarterback can do" he said. If (Paulus) is the guy next week" we'll evaluate what he can do effectively and still take advantage of the players that we've got.""
""Mike's been here now for a year. He has" obviously no real game experience to speak of" but he understands the offense. I would think we wouldn't have to shorten it very much at all.""
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