Las Vegas set the line at ten to eleven points in favor of UNC. This blog predicted four. (ESPN's Heather Dinich predicted a 28-3 loss, and made similarly ill-informed comments after the game.) The final margin of victory was two points, meaning that the Tar Heels probably don't win this one if not for home-field advantage. In the scorching North Carolina heat, Rutgers hung tough with the Tar Heels for four quarters. Every time they took a punch, they gave it right back just as good. North Carolina was the better team , but they are also one of the tougher teams on RU's schedule this season. Nobody else left on the slate is going to be as good in the trenches. Rutgers ultimately lost on the day, but are still poised for a successful season.
The story of the game on the Rutgers end was an inability to open up rushing lanes against North Carolina's bruising defensive line. There was no running room this time, with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti not abandoning the run entirely if only to keep the defense honest. The offensive line is mediocre, but clearly, the early results from changing coordinators is overwhelmingly positive. Rutgers surrendered four sacks, but Chas Dodd largely stayed upright and had plenty of time to throw. Imagine what he could have done if play action had been viable. UNC didn't exactly see a ton of success offensively, but the main difference was that they connected on their handful of big plays, and RU did not.
Dodd turned in a mixed performance, about what you would expect from a true sophomore playing a loaded defense on the road. He was fortunate to avoid two interceptions on bad throws, and Mohamed Sanu bailed Dodd out on several overthrows. Most concerning for Dodd is his continued tendency to have multiple balls batted down at the line of scrimmage owing to his limited stature. While Sanu overall had a terrific game, he dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone. Worse was that Mark Harrison dropped two bombs that could have blown the game wide open for Rutgers.
The defensive performance was...exactly like early in 2010. While Rutgers didn't close the deal on any sacks, they brought heavy pressure on Bryn Renner throughout the day, which was evident in his turnover figures. Rutgers made a calculated risk in blitzing. It generated big plays, but also left Dwight Jones alone on an island against Logan Ryan in single coverage, and guessed wrong on Giovanni Bernard's long sidelines touchdown run. Outside of those two plays, everything was solid. Ryan was beaten on coverage a few times, but made up for it with a few big plays. The defensive line played well, with linebacker Khaseem Greene and safeties Duron Harmon and David Rowe generating a plethora of big plays.
It's no fun looking back at how many chances RU had to win this game - between the dropped passes, an inexplicable non-review after De'Antwan Williams seemed to break the plane on a TD run, and surrendering the margin of victory with seconds left in the first half on a big kickoff return. There were positives abound though. The offense is starting to get the Ciarrocca rot out of their system. The defense, absent Ciarrocca as a drive-killing albatross forcing them to play 40 min a game, is back to what you would typically expect from a Greg Schiano team. San San Te...may actually have put everything together? It would have been nice to win, but Rutgers showed enough yesterday to prove that they belong in the top half of a decimated Big East.