The post Butch Davis era will begin for North Carolina on Saturday as Everett Withers and his Tar Heels face James Madison at Kenan Stadium. With all of the controversy surrounding the program and the eventual firing of Davis, one thing seems to get lost. To a person, there are nothing but good sentiments surrounding Coach Withers. While many were upset with the decision in regards to Davis, Withers seems to be well liked and may have a chance to become more than interim head coach.
On Saturday, North Carolina will face James Madison. The two teams have only faced each other once in history with the Tar Heels winning in 2007. The Dukes, from the CAA, went 6-5 in 2010 but return 38 lettermen including 7 offensive starters and 10 defensive starters. They bring an experienced defense who only gave up 14.73 points per game and 286.91 yards per game last season. They come into the 2011 campaign ranked 16th in the FCS Coaches Poll. Coached by Mickey Matthews, the schools all time winning coach at 88-56, the Dukes are always well prepared.
Justin Thorpe takes over the quarterback spot this season and look for him to hand the ball off to Dae'Quan Scott frequently. Senior Kirby Long returns at one of the Wide Receiver spots along with sophomore Arlandis Harvey. With the Dukes running style offense, Long only caught 16 balls but averaged 25.7 yards per catch in 2010. Last season Scott snagged 16 balls while rushing for 257 yards and is capable of being used a number of different ways.
On the defensive side of the ball, James Madison has quality experience with safety Vidal Nelson and linebacker Stephon Robertson making preseason All-CAA teams. Robertson was CAA defensive rookie of the year in 2010.
Butch Davis had stocked the Tar Heels with plenty of talent coming into the 2011 season. Four year starter T.J. Yates graduated and highly touted Bryn Renner takes over at quarterback as a sophomore. Renner has very limited playing time in his young career at Carolina but was impressive in the Spring game.
Others to watch on the offensive side are Center, Cam Holland and Wide Receiver, Dwight Jones who were both placed on preseason watch lists.
There are questions at the running back position as Johnny White, Shaun Draughn and Anthony Elzy all graduated but an experienced Ryan Houston returns from a redshirted season after being the teams leading rusher in 2009. Look for redshirt Giovani Bernard to handle his share of carries as well. The offensive line is well stocked and could be the strongest side with three returning starters.
On the defense, Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell are both on the preseason all-ACC team. Coples was a first team all-ACC member last season with 10 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. The defense will start 4 seniors and 3 juniors.
Casey Barth has continued to be one of the most consistent kickers in the Country and will likely play on Sundays in the future. He is 50 of 62 kicking field goals and has a streak of 71 straigh extra points made.
Game Time: 3:30pm
Location: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.
TV: Regional Sports Network