The Sports Network
By Pat Taggart, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The 24th-ranked Florida State Seminoles welcome the North Carolina Tar Heels to Tallahassee for an ACC clash on Saturday afternoon.
This season has certainly been difficult to endure for North Carolina, which entered with lofty expectations. Unfortunately, many key players were ruled ineligible because of contact with agents, and head coach Butch Davis has been forced to shuffle the deck amidst harsh criticism. Still, the Tar Heels are 5-3 overall, including 2-2 in ACC play, and have won five of their last six games. Last weekend, they took a break from conference action and barely got past William & Mary, an FCS foe, by a 21-17 final.
As for Florida State, it carried a five-game win streak into last week's clash with NC State, and that contest resulted in a 28-24 defeat. Because that tilt took place on a Thursday, FSU has had a couple more days than North Carolina to prepare for this weekend's affair. The Seminoles are 6-2 overall, including 4-0 at home, and they have won four of their five ACC bouts.
Florida State owns a dominant 15-1-1 series advantage over North Carolina, which includes a 30-27 victory over the Heels last season.
North Carolina is generating 25.4 ppg and 371.4 total ypg, solid numbers for an offense that is more methodical than explosive. Johnny White has provided the club with a go-to tailback, as he has rushed for 713 yards and six touchdowns to date. As for the team's quarterback, T.J. Yates has taken almost every snap and has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 1,873 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions. The top wideout for the Heels is Dwight Jones with 32 catches for 483 yards and three scores.
Jones made nine catches for 107 yards versus William & Mary last weekend, and Yates completed 23-of-33 passes for 238 yards and one touchdown with one interceptions. White was the best player for the offense, as he gained 164 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
"I think our offensive line showed up tonight and Johnny White ran the ball really well and gave us the play that we needed to flip not only the emotions but also the score," said North Carolina head coach Butch Davis.
Opponents are scoring 20.8 ppg against North Carolina, which is permitting 340.0 total ypg. Many of the players ruled ineligible for the Heels were defensive standouts, so it is somewhat surprising that the unit has played as well as it has despite the unanticipated absences. The play against the pass has been particularly solid, as UNC is giving up just 9.8 yards per completion and has come up with 13 interceptions. A total of 18 takeaways have been registered, but the team's sack total of 12 could stand some improvement.
UNC yielded only 51 rushing yards on William & Mary on 26 attempts, an average of slightly less than two yards per carry. Overall, the Heels yielded 286 total yards, and while they were undoubtedly disappointed that two passing scores were permitted, the effort of the defense was strong, especially considering that zero points were allowed after halftime.
"We tightened up, we manned up, we woke up and we started playing," said UNC defender Deunta Williams of the defense's effort in the second half.
FSU figures to challenge the UNC defense, as the Seminoles are posting 33.5 ppg and 415.1 total ypg. Christian Ponder is the quarterback, and he has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 1,383 yards and 13 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Ponder has also run for four scores, as he is a big quarterback who can power the ball into the end zone. Bert Reed paces the FSU receivers with 40 catches, and Chris Thompson lead a balanced ground attack with 484 yards. Jermaine Thomas has six rushing touchdowns for the Seminoles.
Ponder ran for a couple of touchdowns last week and threw a scoring pass to Willie Haulsted, but the overall offensive performance against NC State was rather mediocre. The 'Noles posted 15 first downs en route to 373 yards, and they failed to come away with points on one of their trips to the red zone.
"Hopefully we have six games left, I know we have at least five," said Ponder. "I want to end on the right note, but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We got North Carolina this week."
Opponents are posting 17.6 ppg and 315.5 total ypg against FSU, which has been solid against both the run and the pass. The Seminoles are yielding an even three yards per rushing attempt, and they are permitting just over 10 yards per pass completion. They have done a good job of limiting big plays, a major factor in the 6-2 start.
The Seminoles surrendered three rushing touchdowns to NC State's quarterback last weekend, as well as a late touchdown pass that proved to be the difference in the game. Perhaps the most troubling stat of all is that FSU allowed NC State to make good on 12-of-18 third down conversion attempts.