Saturday, September 11, 2010

Running early, defense throughout saves NC State and some ACC pride

On a day that saw Virginia Tech being upset by James Madison, Georgia Tech losing to unheralded Kansas, Florida State being humiliated by Oklahoma and Miami falling to Ohio State, the Wolfpack of N.C. State held some honor for the ACC with a 28-21 victory at the University of Central Florida.

A surprisingly effective running game early and a big-play defense that came up with five turnovers throughout led to State's victory in a game that wasn't really close or in doubt until the last five minutes of the game.

The Wolfpack ran out to a 21-0 lead and still led 28-7 going into the fourth quarter.

The defense set up the first touchdown when sophomore safety Earl Wolff intercepted a Rob Calabrese pass and ran it back 31 yards into UCF territory. Eight plays later, Dean Haynes, a redshirt freshman converted to tailback, got a good block from guard Andrew Wallace - a 6-foot-4, 304-pound redshirt sophmore - and busted in untouched from four yards out.

State QB Russell Wilson, who didn't have the big numbers we've seen so often, did thrown four straight completions on the next drive, including a 26-yard TD lob to a wide open Darrell Davis.

A muffed punt gave the Wolfpack the ball deep in UCF territory and runningback Mustafa Greene sliced up the middle on a draw play on third and long and went 21 yards for the score to make it 21-0.

UCF's Quincy McDuffie took the ensuring kickoff back 93 yards to give the home team some life as the teams went into the halftime lockerroom at 21-7.

In the third quarter, State seemingly wrapped it up when cornerback C.J. Wilson picked off an overthrown Calabrese pass and ran it in from 43 yards out to make it 28-7.

Midway through the third quarter, short and speedy backup quarterback Jeff Godfrey came in with fresh legs and gave the tiring Wolfpack defense a fit. He passed for 107 yards and ran for 52, including two touchdowns to make the game close.

The second score came with 4:29 left and the fired-up defense held the Pack on four downs and UCF got the ball back with less than three minutes to go.

Godfrey moved UCF into Wolfpack territory and completed a 21-yard pass to Quincy McDuffie at the State 10 yard line, but the defense came through once again for the final time of the night. Safety Brandan Bishop popped the ball loose with a jarring tackle and linebacker Terrell Manning fell on it to wrap up the victory.

Random Thoughts: At least twice, State linebacker Audie Cole changed momentum. Once he made a nice diving catch to intercept on a halfback pass to stop a drive. Earlier he ended another drive with a big sack. He also had double-digit tackles.

Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, serving as the color commentator on TV, made the "duh" observation of the game when, with less than five minutes to play and UCF down by 14 points, he said, "UCF needs a score on this drive."

A horrible shanked punt by State's Jeff Ruiz with less than three minutes to play gave the Knights the ball at the Wolfpack 49 on that last drive that made the game more exciting than it needed to be.

Wilson completed only 10 of 30 passes for 105 yards. State rushed for 134 rushing yards, led by Greene's 55 yards. UCF, with the late rush under Godfrey, actually outgained the Pack.

N.C. State, which was 114th last year in turnover margin, did not turn the ball over once while UCF turned it over five times. The State defense hit hard and really controlled the game except during two fourth-quarter drives.

Click here to view a Game Photo Gallery.

Loss at Wake shows Duke still struggling to produce in the clutch

Duke lost its last four games of 2009, and at the time, coach David Cutcliffe thought the biggest hurdle his program had to make was learning how to win games. There’s plenty that goes into  winning – talent, of course, but a key ingredient is the ability to perform when games were on the line.

Saturday’s 54-48 Blue Devil loss at Wake Forest was a blistering offensive performance, but the engaging show and gaudy numbers don’t mask the fact that this was devastating loss for Duke. Even athletics director Kevin White told the Duke radio network before the game how important this game was, and that the entire Duke sports administrative staff was “in the foxhole” with the team on this one. Duke had lost 10 straight to Wake Forest, a pretty dismal effort against a school with a similar size and academic standard.

Jim Grobe remains one of the ACC’s most remarkable coaches, but this is a Wake team Duke could have beaten. When you watch Duke, the Blue Devils have more athletes than in recent seasons – corners like Chris Rwabukamba who can turn upfield for picks and just more speed across the field. Quarterback Sean Renfree is an All-ACC caliber player and could wind up in the NFL. He has strong receivers and a head coach who knows how to punish a defense.

For example, Renfree’s 6-yard strike to Cooper Helfet in the first quarter was a beautifully designed play in which the Devils got a tight end isolated on a linebacker over the middle and scored easily.

But all Duke’s progress can’t mask some lingering problems. Just when you think Duke is looking like a smart team that doesn’t kill itself, its punter drops a snap and Wake scores an easy touchdown. Just when you think Duke is improving on defense, the Devils can’t stop Wake to save their lives and give up 54 points and 500 yards of total offense. The Deacons pounded Duke for 229 yards rushing – you just can’t win when you give up rushing yards like that.

“Defensively we simply need to tackle better to begin with,” Cutcliffe said. “Just look at the numbers, guys are throwing at us, but most of those run yards, a lot of it wasn't tackling very well. And, when we tackled when, we shut them down. So, it goes back to correctable things.

“Will it define us? No. We have to play good, clean football. Kicking game goes from phenomenal to giving up the punt return; we're a pretty good return team. There are a lot of things to build on. And, I always choose to be more encouraged than discouraged, and I will always be that way.”

The encouraging side starts with Renfree.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Baddour: Davis is 'the fit' for North Carolina


North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour offered a strong endorsement of coach Butch Davis Friday afternoon, telling the Capital Sports Report, “He’s the fit for the University of North Carolina.”

Baddour, calling from his cell phone, said he was just leaving the Kenan Football Center after a long meeting with Davis.“I had a good meeting with Butch,” he said. “We had a number of things we wanted to discuss.”

Baddour said there “is progress” on the Carolina players whose status is uncertain, but said, “We’re not at a point where we have resolution, either good or bad.”

The scandal has cost UNC associate coach John Blake his job. Blake resigned Sunday, saying it was best of the program. Baddour refused to say if Davis had ever offered to resign as well.

“If he had or hadn’t, I wouldn’t say that,” Baddour said. “I appreciate the question, but I wouldn’t answer that.”
Instead, Baddour insisted Davis is the right coach for UNC.

“I believe in what he stands for. I believe he knows how to build a program,” Baddour said. He praised Davis for knowing how to develop and motivate his staff. He also praised Davis for understanding the role of the football program in a university setting.

“I believe he’s committed to the academic values of the institution,” Baddour said.

Baddour added, “I believe the things that have gone on are as bothersome to him as the rest of us. He has the commitment and skills to get this ship right.”

Zero tackles for Irving proves frustrating for Pack LB

The most surprising statistic from N.C. State’s game with Western Carolina Saturday was the zero posted in the tackles column by Pack linebacker Nate Irving.

Irving, of course, missed all of last season because of a car accident and has been shifted to middle linebacker by new position coach Jon Tenuta. It’s easy to see why Irving may not be where he was in 2008, but to see zero tackles against Western was a surprise.

“Nate didn’t have many opportunities,” Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said this week. “I think he got a little frustrated out there. Everything got funneled to Terrell [Manning]. He was the linebacker they attacked. … I don’t know if that was by design or not but that’s the way things worked out.”

Manning led State with 10 tackles (two unassisted and eight assists).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ten area high school football games to consider attending, with predictions

Here are 10 football games that are within driving distance in the Triangle area Friday night. In bold is the predicted winner. Most games are at 7:30 p.m. Check with local officials as some games start at 7.
My record last week, again, was 7-3 for a season total of 21-9.

Athens Drive at Green Hope

Cardinal Gibbons at Ravenscroft

Carrboro at East Chapel Hill

Cary at Fuquay-Varina

Durham Riverside at Garner

Lee County at Apex

Leesville Road at East Wake

Middle Creek at Holly Springs

New Hanover at SE Raleigh

Northern Durham at Millbrook, 7 p.m.

Check the scores in our Sports Roundup on the left navigation bar.

Quarterbacks the big story for Duke-Wake game

Yes, Wake Forest has beaten Duke 10 straight times and are at home but in order to beat the Devils again, they'll have to get good production out of the quarterback position.

With four-year starter Riley Skinner gone, Ted Stachitas, a sophomore, is expected to get most of the snaps this year but he has had two surgeries on his right shoulder. Therefore, freshman lefty Tanner Price, who had been a redshirt candidate, saw action last week against Presbyterian.

"We feel like Ted Stachitas can win a bunch of football games for us," Wake coach Jim Grobe said this week. "I think as he plays more, he's going to be better. But his injuries have been an issue for us. You just have to have Plan B ready, basically because of his history injury wise."

Grobe seems a little ambivalent about Stachitas. "I like a lot of the things that Ted did (in the opener). He misfired on a couple of pretty easy open throws which was disappointing. And he fumbled the football at one time, and that's something we can't do."

Grobe went on to decisively say, "I think he was somewhat indecisive at times, but at times he was very decisive."

Unless he's playing possum, you'd have to give the quarterback matchup edge in Saturday's game to Duke's Sean Renfree.

"A couple of people that are from Arizona that knew about the kid when he was in high school told me when Duke first signed him that they had signed a great quarterback," Grobe said of Renfree. "Of course he got some snaps early last year. And with Thad Lewis being as good as he is, I knew that Coach Cutcliffe wasn't going to put that kid on the field and take reps away from Thad Lewis unless he thought he could help them win. So I knew with him being on the field last year he had to be pretty special."

Renfree completed 80 percent of his passes against Elon last week. "It's hard for a kid to hit 80 percent if there's no defense on the other side if you're just out there throwing on air. On one hand I was probably a little surprised and disappointed that he played so well last week. Watching the video was pretty special."

While Wake Forest is favored to continue its streak against Duke, Renfree could be the difference maker.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

UNC's Davis: No progress yet on unavailable players

North Carolina is no closer to resolving its roster when it comes to the NCAA and school investigations into the football program, coach Butch Davis said Wednesday.

“There’s no movement today on any of the players we were not in position to play last weekend,” he said on the ACC teleconference.

Carolina held out 13 players in Saturday's loss to LSU, with an obvious impact on the defense. Those losses rippled across the UNC lineup in other ways as well.

The Tar Heels started Johnny White at tailback and he promptly fumbled the ball away. UNC turned to Anthony Elzy, a converted fullback, after that and even sophomore Hunter Furr. Asked about his running back situation for the Sept. 18 Georgia Tech game, Davis said both White and Elzy had ankle injuries and he was uncertain what would happen.

Carolina also had to use inexperienced players on special teams, which led to some disastrous coverage issues in the first half against LSU.

O'Brien likes what he sees so far in young Pack running backs

Quarterback Russell Wilson was the headline in N.C. State’s victory over Western Carolina Saturday, but Wilson will need more help as State’s schedule toughens up with Saturday’s game at Central Florida.

Two issues for State are whether it can run the ball, and how its inexperienced offensive line performs. The Wolfpack rushed for 129 yards against Western, a decent number considering the fact that redshirt freshman Dean Haynes and true freshman Mustafa Greene had never carried the ball in a college game. Haynes carried 13 times for 69 yards and Greene 10 times for 35 yards.

“Our thought process was keep it simple, hold onto the football, run to the goal line,” O’Brien said. He said he wasn’t looking for his backs to do anything fancy, but to turn upfield and not make a mistake.

A major issue with young backs is pass protection. While fans often evaluate runners by how they perform with the ball, coaches are watching closely to see if they protect the quarterback. In that aspect, O’Brien said he was pleased with what he saw.

“They were perfect in where they were going and what they were doing,” O’Brien said. The technique could use some work but at least they grasped the game plan.

“They could be a little better fundamentally but as far as assignment-wise they were going the right direction the entire night,” O’Brien said.

UCF, with George O’Leary as coach, is expected to field a defense that will be much tougher than Western Carolina. The Knights beat South Dakota 38-7 and allowed only 220 yards of total offense.

State’s offensive line is inexperienced, but has talent. O’Brien raved after massive left tackle Rob Crisp, a true freshman who started because Jake Vermiglio did not dress.

“With Rob Crisp it was an exceptional performance from a freshman,” O’Brien said. “What you see is really good athletic ability. You saw great tenaciousness. He’s got a certain confident about himself.”

O’Brien said Vermiglio is practicing this week but refused to say if he will play Saturday against Central Florida. Vermiglio faced drug charges in the offseason, but they were dropped.

O’Brien said Crisp and Vermiglio will both remain at left tackle to give the Wolfpack depth at that position this season.

Fan reaction misses key point on Blake, Wichard

Some of the fan reaction to The News & Observer’s Wednesday story linking associate coach John Blake to agent Gary Wichard misses a key point. Many fans, in response, have pointed out that Wichard represents only one UNC player, Kentwan Balmer, who came up in the Butch Davis regime.

That criticism overlooks the fact that Davis came into a program bereft of talent. Balmer was San Francisco’s first-round pick in 2008 – UNC’s first first-rounder since Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims in 2002. Hakeem Nicks was a first-round pick in 2009 and Richard Quinn went in the second round. In 2010, Carolina didn’t have a player select in the top three rounds.

The 2011 NFL Draft will be different, with multiple UNC players considered first-round picks. It makes sense that agent would want to position himself to represent those Carolina players - and the NFL prospects to follow. The N&O’s story showed a pattern of communication between Blake and Wichard that follows their professional association, and the trip Marvin Austin took last summer to work out with Balmer, a trip that is likely an NCAA violation.

N&O story on Blake raises more questions at UNC

UNC associate coach John Blake announced his resignation abruptly Sunday night, and there were two points to that story that made you realize there was much more than what you saw in the official release.

The first was that he would be paid $74,500 out of his base salary of $240,000. So Blake walked away from a $169,500? That's hard to fathom.

The second point - in The News & Observer's story on Monday morning, it reported Raleigh attorney Wade Smith "has been working with Blake." Smith is one of the city's top attorneys, and someone you turn to in real trouble. But why would Blake need Smith?

On Wednesday, we found out. The N&O's front-page splash detailed extensive communications between Blake and agent Gary Wichard. Remember, a newspaper can request such documents under the Freedom of Information act, and I'm sure what happened was the paper asked for them, Carolina realized how much Blake had been in contact with Wichard, and Blake was promptly encouraged to resign.

So to connect the dots - the newspapers seeks the documents, the school sees what they reveal, and the assistant coach gets a lawyer and resigns before the story hits.

First of all, kudos to the paper for pushing hard on the story. While The N&O, like all papers, has suffered cuts, it has rallied the resources to dominate this story.

Second, this raises real questions about how much UNC's own investigations will reveal.

And third, Davis' comments to the paper that he had "no idea" Blake was so connected to Wichard just ring hollow. On Tuesday in Chapel Hill, I listened as UNC tight end Zack Pianalto - once again - said he dropped the ball in the endzone Saturday, and Pianalto refused to say there was pass interference on the play. Pianalto took responsibility for what happened, an example his coach could learn from.

Finally, here's one point to keep in mind. All this eventually rests with Chancellor Holden Thorp, who has been engaged in this process and who ultimately would have to act if he believes the actions of the football program are hurting the school. While UNC's comeback against LSU was exhilirating, I've heard from many Carolina fans who say this whole affair isn't worth the damage to the school's image.

At a news conference when the academic issues broke, Thorp was asked directly if school lacked institutional control of the football team.

"Right now, I think that what we need to do is determine the facts," Thorp said. "We are still in the middle of that, so it's a little early for me to say what it is that would make me feel one way or another about that question."

Some people read that comment as Thorp dodging the issue. I didn't. I read it as Thorp declining to defend the school - he did not say the school had institutional control - and Thorp wisely reserving judgment to see where this process led. Now, Blake is gone, and Davis, if he is to retain the confidence of his chancellor, will have to show he is on top of the issues that have challenged the institution's confidence in his program.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Raycom Sports will feature ACC Network brand

ACC NEWS RELEASE - Raycom Sports and the Atlantic Coast Conference today announced that beginning this season, the Raycom Sports Regional Syndicated package of Atlantic Coast Conference football and basketball telecasts will be branded as the ACC Network.

The new marketing initiative will feature ACC Network graphics and designations beginning with the first game this year, the Duke at Wake Forest telecast on Saturday, Sept. 11.

The ACC Network branding was part of the new television rights agreements between the ACC, Raycom Sports and ESPN that begins with the 2011 Football season. Raycom Sports and the Conference moved to begin the branding during the final year of the existing contract.

"Beginning to brand the ACC Network with the start of the first conference football game made great sense for our league, member schools, fans and partners," said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. "It's a great tribute to Raycom that we're able to roll out this initiative a year before the new contract begins."

"The establishment of the ACC Network brand was a natural step, given our longstanding syndication exclusivity with the Atlantic Coast Conference," said Jimmy Rayburn, vice-president of operations for Raycom Sports. "Moving forward with our new rights agreement, we were already preparing the transition. But with the volume of media coverage already surrounding the conference's new television rights agreement, it made perfect sense to capitalize on the public's attention now with the ACC Network designation."

UNC’s Yates, Maryland’s Tate headline eight ACC weekly honorees

ACC NEWS RELEASE – North Carolina senior quarterback T.J. Yates and Maryland junior free safety Kenny Tate headline a list of eight players honored as the Atlantic Coast Conference football players of the week, announced Tuesday by the ACC.

Yates threw for a career-high 412 yards against LSU, setting a league record for most yards thrown by a quarterback in a season opener. Tate helped the Terrapins secure a 17-14 win against Navy as he stopped quarterback Ricky Dobbs on a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 34 seconds remaining, maintaining the lead for Maryland.

Tate is joined by Terrapin teammate Joe Vellano, the defensive lineman selection. Five more schools had players earn recognition, including Florida State’s Zebrie Sanders, Georgia Tech’s Sean Bedford, and Virginia’s Oday Aboushi as co-offensive linemen. Miami’s Lamar Miller earned rookie of the week honors, and Clemson’s Dawson Zimmerman was named the specialist of the week.

Sweet move by Boyd gets Carolina moving

Jheranie Boyd
Jheranie Boyd made sure to keep a straight face when the play call came in Saturday night. North Carolina was at its own 3-yard line, down by 20 to LSU, and Tar Heel fans were clicking off and going to bed across the state.

Coach Butch Davis had urged the team on at halftime. “Coach Davis gave us a speech - he said we wore Carolina blue for a reason,” Boyd recalled. And offensive tackle Mike Ingersoll told Boyd to be ready to be a leader among the receivers.

Boyd had been running 18-yard cuts all game – that is, bolting 18 yards downfield and turning back to face the quarterback. He relayed to his receivers coach that he was confident he could get open if given a chance to hurtle downfield. That message went up to offensive coordinator John Shoop, and when Carolina had the ball at its own 3, Boyd got his chance.

He went to the line concealing the excitement over the call. “I try to keep the same attitude about me,” he said.

At the snap, he shot upfield like he was doing his usual route, faked outside and then zoomed deep as the ball from T.J. Yates floated into his hands. “I felt I could get them on a double move – and it worked,” Boyd said Tuesday in Chapel Hill.

All that was left was the dash to the endzone and the sweet feeling of looking at the massive video board and seeing no LSU players nearby.

That play sparked a comeback that nearly won the game for UNC, and it also underscored how much better Carolina’s passing game might be this season. The Tar Heel receivers were infants a year ago, a group of freshmen thrust into key roles with Hakeem Nicks gone.

Now, Boyd and Erik Highsmith and Josh Adams feel much more confident that they are on the same page with Yates.

“I feel we are way closer than we were last year.”

That confidence is part of a trend likely to continue throughout the season. Last year, Carolina won with defense. This year, the defense remains a question mark given school and NCAA investigations – and the more seasoned offense is determined to play a larger role.

“We said it has to be even this year, offense and defense,” Boyd said. ...
Bruce Carter

North Carolina linebacker Bruce Carter was with his family Friday night when the call came that he was eligible for Saturday’s game with LSU in Atlanta.

Carter hustled to the Kenan Stadium football center, and he and Quan Sturdivant took a private plan at 8:45 p.m. to whoosh down to Atlanta.

But Carter and Sturdivant and the two pilots, by the way.

“Pretty sweet,” he said with a smile Tuesday. ...

You have to love the attitude of UNC tight end Zack Pianalto. Pianalto is refusing to say the last play against LSU should have been pass interference, even though the ESPN video appeared to show it was. A Tigers linebacker was draped around him at the end, but Pianalto isn’t calling foul.

“Not at all. It was a great defensive play by him,” Pianalto said Tuesday. “He did exactly what he needed to do.”

Classy comments, again, by the UNC senior.

Road games huge this Saturday for ACC

The ACC lost both of its headline games in the opening weekend of the season, with North Carolina falling to LSU Saturday and Virginia Tech losing to Boise State Monday night.

Maryland held on for a nice win against Navy, but let’s face it – ACC teams should beat Navy. Otherwise, the opening weekend was cupcake fodder to get the season underway.

This week could be a rough one for the league, with four important road games for league teams. Florida State is at Oklahoma, Miami is at Ohio State, Virginia is at Southern Cal and N.C. State is at Central Florida.

Georgia Tech is also on the road, at Kansas, but the Jayhawks are coming off a 5-7 season and just lost to North Dakota State, 6-3.

Duke is at Wake Forest in ACC play at noon. This is a winnable game for the Blue Devils, of course. Their schedule ahead is Alabama Sept. 18, Army Sept. 25 and at Maryland Oct. 2. Duke has a bye Oct. 9, and it’s easy to see them 4-1 going into the Oct. 16 home game with Miami.

But the Blue Devils have lost six straight to Wake Forest, including that brutal 14-13 defeat in 2006 when Duke botched a field goal and the Deacons went on to the ACC title.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday morning QB: Assessing the weekend's games

Other than John Blake, did anyone have a worse weekend than Johnny White?

The UNC senior worked ferociously in the offseason to prove himself at tailback, where he had played before seeing action at a variety of different spots.

The Tar Heel coaches raved about what they saw, and you knew White would get his chance when Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston didn’t make the trip to Atlanta.

Then – yikes – he fumbled his first run. White didn’t figure into the game plan much after that, as Carolina shifted to powerful, but non-explosive, Anthony Elzy. White finished with eight carries for 29 yards and Elzy 14 for 46.

ALONG THOSE LINES … can anyone in the Triangle run the football? It’s hard to say after Saturday’s games. N.C. State’s Dean Hayden had 13 carries for 69 yards against Western Carolina, but it’s hard to say how that computes against better competition.

Duke is making noise about having to run the ball this year, and local product Desmond Scott turned in 77 yards rushing on 15 tries, with a score. But again, that’s against Elon.

Both State and Duke face watershed games this weekend, with the Pack at Central Florida and Duke at Wake Forest. Both teams got spectacular quarterbacking in their opening wins, but the run game is going to have to be there to support that.

N.C. STATE CONTINUED to be sneaky about its personnel. Last Monday, the Wolfpack announced a depth chart that surprised everyone with Dean Haynes at tailback – turns out, he’d been moved from offense to defense two weeks before that.

That depth chart also included Jake Vermiglio as the starting left tackle and J.R. Sweezy and Markus Kuhn as backups on the defensive line. But all three did not suit up against Western Carolina – remember, the three had faced drug charges before the season. The charges eventually were dropped. ...

SATURDAY'S GAMES MARKED the debut of two players we may be talking about for a while, N.C. State’s Crisp and North Carolina’s James Hurst. Crisp started at left tackle with Vermiglio out, and at 6 feet 7 and 300 pounds, it’s hard to imagine Crisp standing on the sidelines much.

Hurst backed up Carl Gaskins at left tackle against LSU and played often. If you watched him closely, you notice he didn’t seem intimidated at all by the magnitude and speed of the game.

Left tackle is a tough position to play, as the movie “The Blind Side” pointed out. To see two players contributing there as true freshmen is nothing short of remarkable.


Carolina’s T.J. Yates. The Tar Heel quarterback has his detractors, but he turned in a terrific game in difficult circumstances Saturday night.

Carolina’s Zack Pianalto: He didn’t make excuses for not catching that final ball – even though it looked like pass interference.

State’s Russell Wilson: The kid skips football for six months and then plays like that? Wow.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Blake steps down as North Carolina's associate head coach

UNC NEWS RELEASE - John Blake, North Carolina’s associate head football coach, has resigned effective today. Blake was in his fourth season as a member of the Tar Heel coaching staff.

John Blake statement:
“While I have enjoyed my tenure at the University of North Carolina, it has become apparent to me over the course of the past few weeks that my presence has become a distraction to my family and to this great University, too. Consequently, I have determined that it is in the best interests of my family, the University community at large, and the Football Program for me to step down from my position as associate head football coach effective today, September 5, 2010.

“I thank the Lord for the opportunity I have had to work with Butch Davis while at the University of North Carolina. I have grown to love and respect the school, my fellow coaches, and the young men who have worked so diligently to improve both as students and as football players. That love and respect has led me to the conclusion that the best decision for all involved is for me to step aside at this time. I wish the players, the coaches, and the University all the best.

“I thank the Tar Heel Nation for the overwhelming support I have received. The memories I have made here will last a lifetime. May God bless you all.”

UNC Head Coach Butch Davis statement:
“Knowing John as I have over the years, it is clear that this was a difficult decision for him to make. I know how much John loves the players, coaching and the game of football. I am grateful for all of his hard work and effort in helping build this program. As difficult as this situation is, I have accepted his resignation. Throughout his career, I know he has worked hard to help young men become better people and football players. He and his family have made positive contributions to our football program.

“The Tar Heel family has tremendous passion for the University and everything it represents. It’s one of the things that made me want to be a Tar Heel four years ago. All of us who are part of the football program have been both disappointed and embarrassed by recent events. Our student-athletes, coaches and I are committed to working every day, both on and off the field, to build a better football program, one that everyone associated with the University of North Carolina can and will be proud of.”

UNC Director of Athletics Dick Baddour statement:
“Coach Blake had indicated to me in previous conversations that he would step down if he felt his presence with the football program would become a distraction. I appreciate and respect his decision to do what is best for the University and our football program. I know the young men he coached are tremendously disappointed, but Coach Davis and his staff will help and support them as the season moves forward.”

Blake’s employment agreement with the University provided him an annual base salary of $240,000 and would have expired June 30, 2011. He will receive $74,500, which approximates the salary he would have received had he completed the football season. This will be entirely paid using football revenues.

Take in a Mudcats or Bulls game on Labor Day

Time is running out to see a minor league baseball game. The Carolina Mudcats play their final game of the season Labor Day, tomorrow, at 2 p.m. while the Durham Bulls play their final regular season game of the season on Labor Day at 1:05 p.m.

We're blessed to have two terrific minor league ball parks and two great minor league organizations within driving distance in the Triangle.

On Saturday, all the Durham Bulls coaches and players (except the four called up to the majors) and Wool E. Bull made appearances at a Kia car dealership next to the ball park. The food was good, the coaches were hospitable and the players were personable (except maybe the ones who have a limited grasp of the English language). It was a great event for children and autograph seekers.

On Sunday, Mudcats' coach David Bell was on hand at a festival in Rolesville. Bell, the son of former major leaguer Buddy Bell and a 12-year veteran himself, spoke with folks as a regular person - no prima donna here. A native of Cincinnati, Bell and his lovely wife and daughter looked right at home in the Triangle area. It's his second season at the helm. The Mudcats have a losing record this year but have had a number of players on the roster that are expected to do well at the major league level.

Consider taking the drive to Zebulon to see the Mudcats Monday, especially if you haven't been to a game out there this year. You'll still have a chance to see the Bulls in the post season but the 1:05 p.m. game wouldn't be a bad choice either.

Former Garner player makes Redskins' roster; others not so lucky

Undrafted free agent Brandon Banks, who played at Garner, showed enough explosiveness on special teams to make the Washington Redskins' final 53-man roster.

As we told you in an article on Aug. 14 (click here to view), Banks ran back a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in the Skins' first preseason game. In the last preseason game, he ripped off a 40-yard kickoff return.

Only two drafted players made the Redskins' roster so this is quite an achievement for the 5-foot-7, 150-pound receiver who will most likely only see action on special teams unless there is an injury.

Duke's Thaddeus Lewis made the St. Louis Rams as the third quarterback behind Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley.

Other guys, including former Tar Heel Willie Parker, weren't as fortunate on the last day of NFL cuts. Parker, who made a name for himself as a Steeler, was trying to hook on to the Redskins as well but he didn't make the final cut. The team kept Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson as the main runningbacks.

Also, Scott Kooistra, an eight-year guard out of N.C. State, failed to make the Browns final roster.

Jesse Holley, former UNC wide receiver, was cut by the Cowboys.

Dre Bly, the veteran defensive back from Carolina, was cut by the Lions.

Steven Hauschka, the former kicker from N.C. State, was also cut by the Lions.

DaJuan Morgan, a third-year pro free safety from N.C. State, was cut by the Chiefs, who also cut rookie linebacker John Russell from Wake Forest.

The Patriots cut eight-year veteran wide receiver Sam Aiken from UNC. The Pats also cut a Wolfpacker as rookie center Ted Larsen was let go.

Jay Ross, a rookie defensive tackle out of ECU, was cut by Saints, who also cut third-year defensive tackle DeMario Pressley, who played for N.C. State. The Saints also cut ties with Chip Vaughn, a second-year player from Wake Forest.

Former East Carolina tackle Guy Whimper, who was in his fifth season in the NFL, was released by the Giants.

Rookie tackle Jeraill McCuller from N.C. State was cut by Eagles, who also got rid of rookie receiver Dobson Collins of Gardner-Webb and rookie defensive tackle Boo Robinson of Wake Forest.

Second-year receiver from Carolina Brooks Foster was cut by the Jets

The Steelers cut Kyle Jolly, the former Carolina offensive tackle, and Patrick Bailey, a three-year linebacker from Duke.

Vincent Rey, a rookie linebacker from Duke, was let go by the Bengals, who also cut Gabriel Manns, a rookie tackle from North Carolina Central.

The 49ers parted ways with rookie defensive tackle Kahalif Mitchell from ECU while fellow ECU rookie Sean Allen, a Wilson native, was released by the Bills.

Finally, first-year guy Eron Riley from Duke was cut by the Ravens.

Some careers may be over but other players might make teams' practice squads or possibly be picked up by other teams when injuries hit.

ESPN video shows interference on Pianalto

Not to harp on this, because a team can't expect to always get this call at the end of a game, but it's clear from the ESPN video that Zack Pianalto was interfered with on the final play of North Carolina's loss to LSU.

The camera in the endzone clearly shows what happened. Pianalto cuts in front of the goal and is open, but LSU lineback Stefoin Francois reaches out with his left arm and has it on Pianalto. You can see Francois reaching across Pianalto as the ball approaches, although the ball is blurry in the video as it leaves Yates. This clearly could have been called pass interference. Even so, it's a ball Pianalto had a shot at, and could have caught.

Carolina's players on the field deserved better

The North Carolina players who were suited up last night deserved better.

I hope the Carolina football players who are ultimately determined to have done wrong in the NCAA and UNC investigations are ashamed at not being able to help the Carolina football players who were on the field fighting against powerful LSU.

Ultimately falling 30-24, the Tar Heels also fought inexperience and the corresponding errors that come with that. Two plays - a dropped sure touchdown by one inexperienced back and a booted kickoff return in the end zone that another inexperienced player chose to run out of the end zone (ultimately getting to the three-yard line) – really were the difference between victory and defeat.

Carolina got a field goal instead of a touchdown on the dropped pass play and then a center snap when the QB wasn’t ready (after the ill-advised runback) led to a safety. That’s six points right there. A chip-shot field goal in the fourth quarter would have won it.

Still, the Tar Heels were inches away at the end from beating LSU, which was a two-touchdown favorite. And, make no mistake, the Heels should have won. Sure-handed tight end Zack Pianalto failed to haul in a catchable pass in the end zone with six seconds left and then, with time expiring, he dropped a perfect pass from T.J. Yates.

“It was pretty simple - I just dropped both of 'em,” Pianalto said after the game. To be fair, the first pass was a bit behind him and banged off his shoulder pad and the second pass was dropped while a defender grabbed a shoulder pad, prompting Yates to ask officials for a penalty.

Yates answered critics by going 28 of 45 with three touchdowns and 412 yards, the third most passing yards in a game in Carolina history. He also hooked up with Jheranie Boyd on a 97-yard touchdown pass, the longest in Carolina history, in the second half to get the Heels back in it at 30-17 after the Heels trailed 30-10 at the half.

Boyd, taking on the role of suspended Greg Little, had six receptions for 221 yards – that’s the second highest single-game receiving yards in Carolina history.

Carolina had more total yardage than LSU – 436 to 313 – and the defense shutout LSU in the second half.

But an explosive five minutes in the second quarter by LSU doomed the Heels – a 50-yard TD run on a reverse play, an 80+ yard punt return for a TD and 51-yard TD pass.

UNC had a lot of miscommunication, especially early, and some muffed snaps and fumbles but make no mistake about it, the Heels could have, and probably should have, won that game – even without the shamed players left home.

Random Thoughts: Coach Butch Davis said the Heels burned eight redshirt players – in other words eight guys who would have sat out the season and had four more years of eligibility had to play.

All of the seven defensive starters who sat out the game would have been on special teams, which was the area that ended up being the difference. LSU had 244 return yards in the first half alone as the Tigers ran out to the 30-10 lead.

Carolina might have gotten one more play at the end but it appears the Heels didn't realize the clock was going to start after the ball was set following a stoppage of the clock for an injury with 19 seconds to go. The clock ran from 19 to 15 before the ball was snapped.

Everybody was talking about the losses on defense but the loss of runningbacks Ryan Houston and Shaun Draughn, at least for this game, turned out to be a big impact as well as the Heels managed only 24 yards on the ground.

If some of the players not allowed to play are able to come back, this game could be a plus as key depth was born in the form of many Carolina players, including walk-ons, who got significant time and gained experience and confidence in a big game.