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The Daily Tar Heel

Football: Yates and UNC offense click on all cylinders

Pirates sunk DTH/Jessey Dearing
Pirates sunk DTH/Jessey Dearing

Quarterback T.J. Yates had heard all the criticisms of No. 24 North Carolina’s offense.

His receivers couldn’t catch. His rushers couldn’t find the creases. His offensive line couldn’t keep him upright.

On Saturday, he finally got his rebuttal.

“It was big for us. Kind of all week we’d been hearing some rumors of them saying some stuff in the media about this and that,” Yates said, referring to comments from East Carolina defenders.

“We kind of took that to heart and proved the point that we can run the ball, we can pass the ball, we can protect, we can catch.”

Yates and the rest of the Tar Heels’ offense took out their frustrations against an overmatched Pirate defense, exploding for 433 yards of total offense to lead UNC (3-0) to a 31-17 victory against ECU (1-2).

UNC’s junior signal caller was a model of efficiency all game, completing 19 of 24 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Yates spread it to seven different receivers, picking apart East Carolina’s secondary with short completions interspersed with a few deep attempts.

Freshman Erik Highsmith was Yates’ main target, reeling in six catches for 113 yards and a touchdown.

“I thought T.J. Yates was outstanding today — his composure, his poise, his percentage of completions,” coach Butch Davis said. “He’s keeping guys alive. He’s keeping everybody in the routes.”

Shaun Draughn and the UNC ground game also responded to questions of its effectiveness, as the unit combined for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Draughn led the way with 84 yards, while Ryan Houston netted both scores.

Davis said the experience gained in last week’s fourth quarter against Connecticut helped the Tar Heels figure out how to consistently move the ball and turn the page on the era of wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Brandon Tate.

“I think we kind of carried a little bit of that confidence and a little bit of that mind-set in how we would like to how to play into this ball game,” Davis said.

UNC’s scoring spree began when Yates found Highsmith for a 16-yard pass to knot the game at 7-7 in the first quarter, but it was just an appetizer for what was to come from the passing game.

Midway through the second quarter, Yates slung a high, looping spiral 50 yards down the middle of the field to freshman Jheranie Boyd, where it bounced off the receiver’s hands and chest before Boyd finally gained control of it for a 59-yard touchdown.

“I threw the ball — and he’s so fast I knew he was going to run under it — and all I saw was he tipped the ball and then my heart dropped,” Yates said. “I couldn’t see him, but then everyone went crazy.”

Lost in the flurry of offense was another stingy performance from North Carolina’s defense. The Tar Heels’ front seven limited East Carolina to 55 yards rushing, and the Pirates could only muster three points in the second half.

But when the game tightened after an ECU field goal brought the score to 24-17, it was UNC’s offense rather than the defense that sealed the win. On the first play of the resulting drive, Yates found Highsmith for a 43-yard gain to set up the final touchdown that put the game out of reach.

“I always thought our offense could do it, and we did do it in the fourth quarter of that game last week,” safety Deunta Williams said. “This week they just put it all together — the beginning, middle and the end.”

Watch the highlights of Saturday's game.

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