PISCATAWAY N.J. — It's amazing what a difference turnovers make in a game.
Against McNeese State" North Carolina lost the turnover battle and struggled to put away the Cowboys.
Thursday night the Tar Heels forced Rutgers into four gaffes and romped to a 32-point victory.
""The biggest one single statistical that probably determines the outcome of most games is turnovers" and we won the turnover war" coach Butch Davis said after the game.
The four interceptions logged by the UNC secondary were, as Davis put it, timely"" and helped swing momentum toward the Tar Heel sideline.
Specifically" Kendric Burney picked off a Mike Teel pass in the end zone during the second quarter" with Rutgers about to chip into UNC's 11-point advantage.
""I really don't remember the interception" Burney said. That no-huddle offense they were moving it on us pretty well. … So when I returned it I was tired" so I ran out of bounds.""
Secondary proves itself
In the days leading to North Carolina's convincing 44-12 win" the Tar Heel secondary emphasized the need to eliminate the big play.
With receivers Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt the Scarlet Knights boasted an aerial unit capable of going the distance at any moment. Both Underwood and Britt finished 2007 with more than 1000 receiving yards and are the focal point of a Rutgers' offense adapting to life without star running back Ray Rice.
Thursday night the UNC secondary proved good on its vow to not be burned through the air" limiting the Scarlet Knights to one completion of more than 20 yards and keeping Teel to a paltry 6.1 yards per attempt.
""I just wanted to make sure their deep threats were taken care of" safety Deunta Williams said Thursday night. Any deep ball that they were throwing" I wanted to be behind it so I can make the tackle on it.""
That strategy was on display as UNC defensive backs routinely gave Rutgers receivers a seven-to-ten yard cushion at the beginnings of plays.
That prevented the speedy Britt and Underwood from slipping by corners"" forcing the safeties to come over and leaving the middle of the field wide open — a risk associated with bump-and-run coverage.
""A big play" no matter who you are that gets to you Burney said. We kept them from doing that a little bit" and that just helped us out mentally.""
Rutgers beat UNC in total yardage 383-378. But a 16-yard advantage in average starting field position — in addition to the turnover margin — sparked North Carolina's offense.
""I couldn't believe it was KB — he ain't but so big. But when he did that" I was like ‘OK" it's time to play now.'""
— Brandon Tate on Burney's hit on Underwood.
Contact the Sports Editor at email@example.com.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.