Saturday, September 18, 2010

A season of what ifs becomes a game of what ifs for UNC

Fans will wonder for a long time what would have happened if the UNC football team were at full strength.

The what ifs extended into the loss at home to Georgia Tech.

For instance:

What if Carolina had beaten LSU, would they have come into the game with a different attitude?

What if Georgia Tech had won last week instead of being upset by an inferior Kansas team, would the Jackets have come into the game with a different attitude?

What if Carolina had thrown the ball on third and three from the four at the beginning of the game?

What if Carolina had gone for it on fourth and less than two at the end of the same drive instead of settling for a field goal after such a long drive?

With Georgia Tech going for it on fourth and inches trailing 17-14 in the second quarter, what if the officials had flagged GT guard Omoregie Uzzi for moving prior to the snap (as he did)?

For that matter, what if the officials had flagged Uzzi, who moved on almost every down, even one time for motion?

What if Carolina had stuck more to the ground game to continue to control the clock (instead of eventually losing the time of possession category)?

What if, on third and four and leading 24-17 in the third quarter, a rushed UNC quarterback T.J. Yates had committed to running earlier rather than scrambling behind the line? (Video shows that once the initial rush came, he had room to possibly get the first down but instead kept rolling out until pursuit came and got it as he finally tried to run for the first down.)

What if Quan Sturdivant had not been called for roughing the passer on the ensuring GT drive? Replays indicate that while Nesbitt was running out of bounds, he was still partly in bounds when Sturdivant made contact.

What if Georgia Tech had punted from the UNC 46 instead of going for it on fourth and two? Even though the Jackets failed to get the first down, Carolina came out and promptly botched a handoff.

For that matter, on that next play, what if Yates and fullback (and converted linebacker) Josh Bridges hadn't collided in the backfield as Yates was trying to hand off to the tailback? There are actually a lot of what ifs there but certainly there wouldn't have been a fumble that was recovered by Georgia Tech. The Jackets went in to score the tying points at 24-17 shortly thereafter.

What if any one of Tar Heels could have gotten to Nesbitt before he dumped a pass off to Ronnie Jones for a first down on third and 11 that kept the game-tying drive alive?

On Georgia Tech scoring play, what if Uzzi had been called for starting early (which he did)? That would have negated the touchdown and the Jackets would have been backed up to almost the seven yard line. Perhaps the Jackets would have gotten a field goal instead of a touchdown and Carolina would have been calling plays to get into field goal position on its last drive rather than having to get a touchdown to win.

What if Pianalto had been able to hang onto the ball on a pass play that would have gone for a first down in the fourth quarter with the Heels trailing 27-24? For that matter, what if offials had ruled that the ball was incomplete instead of fumbled because he hadn't tucked the ball in yet?

What if Carolina didn't have to begin their final drive inside its own 10 yard line because of a late block by special teams player Steven Hatley?

What if Yates had seen the GT defensive end's big paw before attempting the short pass on third down that was batted at the line of scrimmage?

What if Yates could have escaped the shoestring trip up for an eight-yard loss on the final drive? Replays show that he had a wide open receiver right in line of sight had he not fallen.

What if the Heels had struck to passing in the last two minutes instead of trying a time-consuming and ineffective end around?

What if Yates had not been injured on a second and long scramble run and the never-used back up quarterback Bryn Renner had to come in a for a play to try a pass on third and 10 yards to go?

What if, on fourth down, Yates had thrown it anywhere past 10 yards rather than dumping it to tailback Johnny White five yards short of a first down? For that matter, what if any of the three receivers had looked back to see Yates in trouble rather than running longer patterns than needed? It seems the Heels were going for more than a first down with the deep routes.

Certainly most teams that lose a close game can play the what-if game. But, in light of the big what ifs for the Carolina program this year, it seems appropriate to outline the Heels' what ifs against Georgia Tech.

Saturday a reminder of what matters to UNC in football

Saturday was a brilliant day for college football in Chapel Hill. Hot, sunny, the home opener, and the defending ACC champions, Georgia Tech, visiting Kenan Stadium. It was a good reminder of what North Carolina does, and does not, want from the sport.

The crowd was strong – late arriving, as is typical, but still plenty vocal. The student sections were packed with light blue and roared throughout the contest. There were some pockets of empty seats, but overall, from a UNC perspective, there was enthusiastic support for a program struggling to generate a positive headline.

There wasn’t much grumbling about the NCAA and academic investigations. All that is there, of course, but the mood overall was more festive – glad to be back in Kenan Stadium, alums glad to be back on camps, and everyone curious to see how this team might respond in light of the LSU loss. But even when Carolina lost at the end of the contest, there was little anguish. The Tar Heels are 0-2 and any hopes for a big season are gone, and UNC fans sort of shrug and say, OK, well, fine.

That’s the way it usually is for Carolina, and it’s an interesting point. Carolina fans don’t agonize all week over the football team’s foibles. Monday morning comes and it is on to other things. Also Saturday, Alabama arrived in the Triangle, with all the passion and zaniness that does with Tide football. Bama fans get speechless over losses to Auburn and fire coaches who let Duke take halftime leads.

The contrast in Chapel Hill was stark. Football, for UNC fans, is entertainment. They are not the dispassionate, snooty group some make them out to be, but they don’t want to lose, either. What they really don’t want is for the football program to embarrass the school, and the fact that 12 starters were missing still felt bizarre. I saw one UNC fan on Franklin Street pointing to a poster of the Carolina team and naming all the starters who were held out.

What’s left is a team with talent but lacking in experience, and that killed Carolina against Georgia Tech. What really tilted this game was how the Yellow Jackets explointed the Tar Heels’ young secondary. Carolina is without all four starters in that crew, and Tech chewed up big yardage when it got through the front seven.

You  just didn’t see UNC cornerbacks or safeties coming up to close down plays, and you definitely didn’t see them prepared the few times Georgia Tech threw the ball.

UNC has amazing linebackers. Zack Brown is a force, and he can’t even get on the field. Bruce Carter, Quan Sturdivant and Kevin Reddick are superb – exactly the type of superior linebackers UNC could never field under John Bunting. The front four is talented, although Carolina desperately misses the backside pursuit that makes Robert Quinn such a talent.

There is still talent on this team. T.J. Yates is a quality quarterback, Johnny White held onto the ball and showed some real burst and the offensive line is light years ahead of last year. True freshman James Hurst, who wears No. 68, got the first of what will be many starts for UNC at left tackle, and there was a reason Carolina ran so often to his side. The receivers are deep and swift, although Dwight Jones has to learn to hold onto the ball even when a safety is on him.

What’s left this year is a good team, and not a great one. What’s also left are five home games, five chances for fans to enjoy being in Kenan and on campus. Sure, North Carolina would love to compete on the national stage – who wouldn’t? – but what Carolina fans really want is a team, and a game-day experience, they can feel good about.

This season, if nothing else, has been a reminder of that.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Durham Bulls' season comes to an end as Columbus wins title

The Durham Bulls fell in game 4 of the Governor's Cup championship Friday night in Durham 13-2.

Jason Kipnis led the way for the Columbus Clippers, hitting for the cycle to pace a 20-hit attack. The loss ends a record-breaking season for Durham, whose 92 total victories broke the team's Triple-A record and was the most since the 1962 team won 94 games in the Class-A Carolina League. The win gives Columbus their eighth Governors' Cup Championship in their history, and first since 1996.

Jose Constanza got the scoring started in the first inning off right-hander Paul Phillips, doubling off the left field wall before coming around to score on a ground out by Cord Phelps. They would add three more in the third, as Kipnis led off the frame with a solo blast to start the inning. Josh Rodriguez added an RBI single later in the inning, and another run came across on a sacrifice bunt by Constanza.

Phillips lasted just 1.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on five hits to take his first loss at the Triple-A level.

The Bulls added single tallies in the third and fourth innings against Clippers starter Paolo Espino. Chris Richard brought home a run with an RBI double to plate Elliot Johnson in the third inning. After Columbus added a run in the top of fourth, it was JJ Furmaniak bringing home Angel Chavez with an RBI single as the Bulls cut the lead to 5-2.

The Bulls however were no match for the Clippers potent offensive attack, as they plated a pair of runs in the fifth and four more in the sixth inning to make it a nine-run advantage. In the fifth inning, Kipnis doubled and came around to score on a two-run single by Rodriguez which made the score 7-2. In the sixth inning, Kipnis completed the cycle with an RBI triple into the gap in right-center. Columbus would go on to add three more runs in the inning, making it 11-2 after six innings. They finished off the scoring with a pair in the eighth inning to make it 13-2.

Kipnis became the first Columbus Clipper to hit for the cycle since Mitch Jones in April of 2005, and the first to accomplish the feat at Durham Bulls Athletic Park since they became a Triple-A franchise in 1998.

Espino earned the win for Columbus, tossing 6.0 innings allowing two earned runs on nine hits while walking two and striking out five. Jerad Head finished the night 4-for-4, while Jared Goedert and Josh Rodriguez each had three hits for Columbus.

For the Bulls, JJ Furmaniak, Chris Richard and Rashad Eldridge each had two hits. Furmaniak finishes the 2010 Playoffs hitting .363 (12-for-33) with a double, triple and a home run.

Play-by-play account

Dan Johnson, several Bulls players win Rays organization awards

The Tampa Bay Rays today named INF/OF Dan Johnson their Minor League Player of the Year and RHP Jeremy Hellickson Minor League Pitcher of the Year. The Rays also announced one Most Valuable Player for each of their nine affiliates, as well as organization-wide awards for Best Baserunner, Best Defensive Player and Best Relief Pitcher.

Elliott Johnson was named Most Valuable Player for the Durham Bulls.

OF Desmond Jennings was named the organization’s Best Defensive Player. Jennings, 23, played 90 games in center field for Durham and eight games each in left and right field. He compiled a .988 fielding percentage and had eight outfield assists. Baseball America recently named him the Best Defensive Outfielder and Most Exciting Player in the International League, after earning the same honors in 2009 for the Southern League. He is currently on the Rays active major league roster.,

Dan Johnson, 31, hit .303 (103-for-340) for Durham with 30 home runs, 95 RBI, a .430 on-base percentage and .624 slugging percentage. Despite being recalled to the majors on August 2, he led the International League in home runs, on-base pct. and slugging and was named IL Most Valuable Player and a mid- and postseason All-Star. At the time of his call-up, he led all minor leaguers in RBI. He paced the Rays system in home runs and RBI and ranked fourth in batting. Since his promotion, he has appeared in 25 games for the Rays.

Hellickson, 23, spent most of the season at Durham and has had three stints in the majors. Recently he was named Minor League Player of the Year by Baseball America and USA Today, Minor League Pitcher of the Year by Sporting News, and International League Most Valuable Pitcher. For the Bulls, he went 12-3 with a 2.45 ERA (117.2-IP, 32-ER), allowing only 103 hits and 35 walks while striking out 123. The Bulls went 17-4 in his 21 starts. When he was first recalled on August 1, he led the IL in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Hellickson started the 2010 All-Star Futures Game on July 11 at Angel Stadium and earned the win for the U.S. team. Baseball America also named him the Best Pitching Prospect and Best Change-up in the IL, and at midseason rated him the top pitching prospect in the game.

Elliot Johnson, 26, was a mid- and postseason International League All-Star. His .319 (136-for-427) batting average ranked tied for second in the IL and third in the organization. The switch-hitter totaled 11 home runs, 56 RBI, 30 stolen bases (tied for fifth in the IL), 72 runs scored and a .375 on-base pct., while playing 109 games between shortstop, second base, left and right field. He signed with the Rays as a non-drafted free agent on June 29, 2002 and has spent his entire nine-year career in the Rays organization. He appeared in seven games in the majors in 2008.

Development of secondary will be important for N.C. State


Another factor can be that rival teams begin to see what makes a team successful, and they respond to that. This was only N.C. State's third game of the season, and you can bet the Wolfpack didn't show its hand in its easy win over Western Carolina. What we saw Thursday was a full display of the cards Tom O'Brien is holding.

Russell Wilson is a known commodity, and State should cobble together enough of a running game behind Mustafa Greene, Curtis Underwood and Dean Haynes to be effective.

But what wasn't known was how aggressive the Wolfpack would be on defense, and how active its outside linebackers would be. That's no surprise given the history of defensive coordinator Mike Archer and new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta. But given the inexperience on defense, it was hard to predict how effecive this would be.

Now, ACC teams get a chance to prepare for this new-look Wolfpack team. State has a decent defensive line, exceptional linebackers, and some real issues in the secondary. Cincinnati exploited that secondary late in the game with stunning ease, a fact that won't be lost on the offensive coordinators of other schools.

The hard part for a State opponent - or any opponent of Tenuta's schemes - is blocking for those blitzes. There's more method than madness to the scheme. If you watch State closely, you notice that the blitzes come from different angles, but the gaps are still covered. (The gaps are the spaces between the center and guard, guard and tackle, tackle and tight end. Leaving one uncovered means an offense has a lane up the field).

Offensive coordinators will start to see that, and look for ways to give their quarterback time to look downfield. There are different ways to do this, including:
  @ "Sliding" the protection, where the offensive line slides one way together; 
  @ Rolling the quarterback out
  @ Calling quick throws like slants that enable the quarterback to throw before the blitz arrives.
Cincinnati looked befuddled Thursday. The ACC isn't full of great teams, but it does have some outstanding quarterbacks, and one key to State's success this year will be handling how other teams respond to its new look.

One hunch - the Wolfpack's chances for a big year may depend on the development of that secondary. O'Brien praised it preseason, saying its growth was one reason he was comfortable moving Haynes to running back. Teams will continue to try to attack it. If the secondary begins to play with the fire and energy of the front seven, the Wolfpack could really be in for a fascinating season.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Impressive defense makes it fun to be a State fan again


The ACC finally has a team to rally around, and it’s an unlikely Wolfpack crew that has found a renewed sense of desire on defense.

Russell Wilson had a marvelous game Thursday night in N.C. State’s convincing 30-19 wins over Cincinnati at Carter-Finley Stadium.  Wilson threw with confidence, ran when he had to and showed he has learned the hard lesson of sliding feet-first to avoid a hit. He once slid just short of a first down, but Wolfpack  fans, understanding how important he is and how his injuries have changed their seasons, can understand why. 

But the difference in State between this year and last was defense, and that’s in part because of two key people – coach Jon Tenuta and linebacker Nate Irving.

ACC fans know all about Tenuta, the smart, hard-charging defensive whiz who was at UNC for John Bunting’s first season before leaving. Tenuta has coached at Georgia Tech and Notre Dame and was job-hunting at just the right time for N.C. State. Tenuta’s genius is his ability to devise blitzing schemes that cover all the gaps and leave offenses guessing.

Tenuta is considered a star defensive coordinator, but State had Mike Archer in that job. So Tenuta is coaching linebackers and feeding his blitzing ideas to Archer.   

What an impact that had Thursday night. Tenuta has linebacker Irving to coach, although Irving, so far, is nowhere near the wrecking crew he was two years ago. But fellow linebackers Audie Cole and Terrell Manning have been outstanding. It has hardly mattered that State’s defensive front came into the season untested, with end David Akinniyi transferring from Northeastern and the rest of the defensive front entirely new.

N.C. State has some weaknesses, especially with so much inexperience at defensive back.  But All those blitzes have the added benefit of not letting rival quarterbacks get time to exploit a Wolfpack secondary that, frankly, does not look impressive.

A great quarterback can mask many problems, but a bad defense is hard to hide. The Wolfpack had one of the ACC’s weakest defenses last year. Given the personnel losses from that, Thursday’s effort was nothing short of outstanding.

There are other factors contributing to the Pack’s 3-0 start as well. N.C. State is due a break on injuries after some hard knocks so far under Tom O’Brien. The offense is a determined group led by Wilson, whose father died over the summer, and coordinator Dana Bible, who could have died in the offseason from a rare form of leukemia. Every Wolfpack player sees Bible coaching in practice and understands what this sport means to him.

N.C. State has upcoming games at Georgia Tech, vs. Virginia Tech and against Boston College, and given the way the league has played out so far, you have to believe all are winnable.

N.C. State has had four straight losing seasons. That streak is about to end. On Thursday night, it was, finally, fun to be a Wolfpack fan again.

Wolfpack's offense rolls, defense stifles Cincinnati

Looking like a team that is for real, N.C. State handled Cincinnati 30-19 on national television tonight. Russell Wilson passed for 333 yards and three touchdowns, and when he wasn't passing, he was running away from trouble and picking up first downs.

Meanwhile, for the second week in a row, the Wolfpack defense proved to be a big-play squad. The blitzing Pack got to the Bearcat quarterback five times and hurried him four more times. When the Bearcats still had a pulse, the Wolfpack defense stopped them on a fourth-and-one play early in the fourth quarter.

“We wanted to blitz to help keep their quarterback (Zach Collaros) from running the ball," State coach Tom O'Brien said. "He’s a real good quarterback, and fast. So our focus was to stop him. We thought if we could stop him then we could stop their offense.”

State wrapped up the game with a special team's play when the Pack blocked a punt which led to a touchdown to make the score 30-7.

Cincinnati made the final score respectable with a pair of late touchdowns. N.C. State moves to 3-0 for the first time since 2002 when Phillip Rivers was at quarterback. Cincinnati, winners of the Big East last year, falls to 1-2.

Some are already comparing this team to the State team that started 9-0 in 2002 but O'Brien isn't thinking about that just yet. “I think we can be a better football team," he said, "but more importantly, I think our football team knows they can be better. The good thing is we didn’t get shook up when we made mistakes. If we can do a better job of coaching and making them (the players) smarter, then we can be a much better football team.”

Random Thoughts: The most important point of the game came after the Bearcats scored on a long pass play right up the middle with just over three minutes to play in the first half to pull within a touchdown at 14-7. Wilson led the Pack right down the field in about two minutes for a score to up the halftime margin to 20-7.

Kicker Josh Czajkowski missed the extra point after making a school record 83 straight.

State's Mustafa Greene, a freshman, ran for 84 yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for more than 50 yards. Jarvis Williams, a senior, caught four passes for 111 yards.

It was military appreciation night and State athletics went all out, using halftime and each timeout to honor the troops. There was also a fly over at the beginning of the game and an impressive parachute drop-in at halftime.

N.C. State picked up 28 first downs, compared to 18 for Cincinnati. The only negative about that is having to put up with many State fans arm pointing and yelling "first down" in unison. Not only does that get old, but I'm old enough to remember that ECU fans and their stadium announcer started that years before Wolfpack fans were doing it. Kind of reminds me of UNC fans yelling "airball" at basketball games when that chant was started by Duke students.

Speaking of the fans, I'm not really down with guys making that cute little wolf sign with their fingers. Young women look ok doing that but come on guys.

To end on a good note, if Wilson stays healthy and the defense continues its overpowering play, this could be a special year for Wolfpack football.

Check out this Game Photo Gallery.

Bulls stave off elimination, walk off with 3-2 victory

Leslie Anderson's sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth plated Elliot Johnson with the winning run as the Bulls defeated the Columbus Clippers, 3-2 on Thursday night in Game Three of the Governors' Cup Finals. With the Bulls winning in their final at-bat for the 16th time on the season, the team forced a Game Four on Friday night at 7:05 PM at the DBAP.

The two teams remained scoreless through the first four innings, as Bulls right-hander Alex Cobb and Clippers righty Yohan Pino combined to allow just four hits through that span. Cobb left after four innings with an injury, as R.J. Swindle came out of the bullpen to work a scoreless top of the fifth.

In the bottom of the inning, Durham's offense finally broke through after a costly defensive miscue by Columbus. With Angel Chavez on second with one out, Rashard Eldridge singled to center field and the ball skipped under the glove of Ezequiel Carrera for a two-base error as the Bulls went ahead 1-0. A sacrifice fly by Fernando Perez brought home Eldridge, making it a two run lead after five innings of play.

Wes Hodges made it 2-1 with a solo home run off Swindle in the sixth inning, his third home run of the postseason.

It would be Hodges again in the eighth as Columbus tied the game at two with a single tally against Bulls righty Joe Bateman. After a double by Cord Phelps, Hodges hit a line drive off the Blue Monster in left for a double of his own to tie the game. It was Hodges 10th RBI of the Governors' Cup Playoffs, and he finished the night 2-for-4 to raise his average to .346.

The Bulls offense broke the tie in the ninth, loading the bases with nobody out off against Clippers right-hander Josh Just. Singles by Elliot Johnson and Justin Ruggiano started the inning, before a walk to Chris Richard loaded the bases for Anderson. The Bulls slugger fouled off the first two pitches, before lining a Judy offering into center field which Carrera had to leap for. Johnson slid across safely with the winning run, as the Bulls force a game four tomorrow night at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Tomorrow's matchup will pit RHP Paul Phillips (1-0 1.69) for the Bulls against RHP Paolo Espino (3-3 5.62) for Columbus. Game time is set for 7:05 p.m. and the Bulls hope all fans will stick around after the game for fireworks as the Bulls look to tie the series at two games apiece.

Consider attending one of these 10 area high school football games

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. You might want to check with local officials as some games start at 7.
My record last week was a season worst 6-4 for a season total of 28-13.

Apex at Cary

Enloe at Durham Jordan

Fay. Trinity at Ravenscroft

Fuquay-Varina at Panther Creek

Green Hope at Middle Creek

Jack Britt at Broughton

SE Raleigh at Clayton

Southern Durham at Millbrook, 7 p.m.

Southern Lee at Leesville Road, 7 p.m.

WF-Rolesville at Northern Durham

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

No comment from Barry Saunders? How is that?

You had to wonder, when you read The News & Observer Thursday morning, about the situation with Weslye Saunders. South Carolina kicked the senior tight end from Durham off the team and both athletics director Eric Hyman and coach Steve Spurrier had little to say about it.

But what was fascinating about the story, which was written by the Columbia State newspaper, is that Weslye's father, N&O columnist Barry Saunders, could not be reached for comment. Remember that McClatchy owns both the Columbia and Raleigh newspapers. So no one could walk across The News & Observer newsroom and tap Barry on the shoulder and say, "Hey, we've got this major story on your son - what's the deal?"

Columnists obviously work from home much of the time, and that's fine. But Saunders must have been around on Wednesday - his column ran in Thursday's Metro section. At least he could tell the paper,  "Look, I hate to say I can't say anything more, but Weslye's a good kid, his mother and I support him, and we hope he graduates and gets a chance to play in the NFL."

Just because you work for a company doesn't mean you have to spill your guts about your children. We all understand that family comes first. But it looks terrible for a news organization that is regularly pounding on people's doors demanding answers to let one of its own get away with silence on a issue like this, especially when it involves the integrity of a major public institution like the University of South Carolina.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Durham Bulls head home down two after being blanked

NEWS RELEASE -(Columbus, OH) Aneury Rodriguez was able to keep the Bulls in striking distance, but Columbus now leads the Governors' Cup Finals 2-0 after a 4-0 win on Wednesday. The series now heads to Durham.

Cord Phelps hit a two-out homer in the first off Rodriguez for a 1-0 Columbus lead. Rodriguez kept Columbus at bay until the fourth when Jared Goedert and Jerad Head homered on back-to-back pitches for a 3-0 advantage. Columbus tacked on another run on a potential strike-him-out throw-him-out double play, scoring a run on a Jose Constanza double steal of home.

Mike Ekstrom, just optioned from the Tampa Bay Rays, followed with three innings of one-hit baseball, striking out three, but Durham couldn't get on the board against a Columbus team that posted its second post-season shutout.

Zach McAllister (1-0) threw seven shutout innings before giving way to Zach Putnam and Vinnie Pestano. Durham didn't get a runner to third base until the seventh, when Angel Chavez lined into a double play with runners at the corners. The Bulls outhit Columbus 8-7, but had just one extra-base hit, a Craig Albernaz double. Albernaz, Leslie Anderson and J.J. Furmaniak had two hits apiece.

Durham came back from a 2-1 deficit and won its last series over Louisville, something the Bulls had never done in Triple-A. Now the Bulls will have to bounce back from a 2-0 deficit to win a second straight Governors' Cup. The Bulls were outscored 23-5 in the two games in Columbus.

Remaining games will be in Durham. RHP Alex Cobb faces fellow righty Yohan Pino on Thursday at 7:05 at the DBAP.

Charlie Coiner added to UNC coaching staff

UNC NEWS RELEASE - Charlie Coiner has been hired as a defensive assistant coach at the University of North Carolina, head football coach Butch Davis announced Wednesday. Coiner, who has ties with several members of Carolina’s coaching staff, joins the Tar Heels after spending the previous four seasons with the Buffalo Bills.

“We’re excited to add someone with Charlie’s experience and knowledge of the game to our staff,” said head coach Butch Davis. “He will work with our defensive line and assist in our special teams preparations.

"It’s unrealistic to expect in a short two-or-three day period of time that we’ll see the effects of what he’ll be able to do,” Davis said on the ACC teleconference, “but he’s been an assistant special teams coordinator in the National Football League. He’s a good football coach. He’s smart, he’s bright, he’s got good communication skills, he’s a good teacher [and] he’s got a unique perspective in that he has seen an awful lot of very good football players and how they play. I think it’s a good addition. He’s got a close personal relationship with several of the coaches on our staff and I think that from a chemistry standpoint, that was critically important – if you’re going to add someone at this stage into the mix, it needs to be somebody that’s got really good chemistry and enthusiasm. I think that certainly Charlie will bring that.”

Joiner coached the tight ends in Buffalo and assisted on special teams. In 2008, he led a young Buffalo group that produced career receiving numbers across the board. Robert Royal posted career highs in receptions (33) and receiving yards (351) and added one touchdown. Second-year TE Derek Schouman added 15 receptions and 153 yards and rookie TE Derek Fine added 10 receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown. Tight ends also contributed to the team’s rushing game that ranked fifth in the AFC in games 9-16 with 1,092 yards. Under Coiner in 2007, Michael Gaines set career highs in starts (14), receptions (25) and yards (215) and tied a career-best with two touchdowns in his first season with Buffalo.

Coiner joined the Bills as the team’s tight ends coach after spending 2001-05 as a member of the Chicago Bears coaching staff. He held the assistant special teams coach position for the Bears in 2004-05. He originally joined Chicago on February 12, 2001 as the offensive quality control coach under then-offensive coordinator John Shoop.

A native of Waynesboro, Va., Coiner earned his bachelor’s degree from Catawba College and master’s from Appalachian St. where he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant from 1983-86. Withers and Douglas both played at Appalachian State while Coiner was coaching in Boone.

From there he moved to Minnesota where he assisted the defensive line and kicking game in 1987. He later coached with Withers at Austin Peay from 1998-90. He then coached at Vanderbilt (1991-93), Texas Southern (1994 & 2000), Louisville (1995-97), Tennessee-Chattanooga (1998) and LSU (1999).

South Carolina kicks Saunders off the team

South Carolina has kicked tight end Weslye Saunders off its football team, athletics director Eric Hyman announced Wednesday, which is a pretty interesting development in light of the fact that North Carolina's issues with the NCAA and academic irregularities continue.

“Weslye Saunders is no longer part of our football program,” Hyman said in a statement, according to The Columbia State newspaper. “Beyond that, I will have no further comment.”

UNC's Marvin Austin is not practicing with the team but there is no resolution to his issue. Meanwhile, 12 players could miss Saturday's game with Georgia Tech and there is no definitive end in sight.

Saunders, of course, is the son of News & Observer columnist Barry Saunders, who has said little on this issue to the public. But South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is a stickler for NCAA rules. And whether you like his swaggering style or not, you have to admit he runs a clean program.

Don't overlook Cincinnati's defense Thursday night


When you think of Cincinnati football, you tend to think of offense. That high-octane ability to score carried Brian Kelly’s team last year and landed Kelly at Notre Dame. As for defense, well, the Bearcats ended the 2009 season by coughing up points, especially in a 51-24 loss to Florida in the Sugar Bowl.

The 2009 Bearcats defense gave 23.1 points per game and 3.6 yards per rush – nothing spectacular for a 12-1 team.

This year, though, the rush defense is ranked 10th in the country, allowing only 71.0 yards per game and 2.3 yards per carry. Granted, Cincinnati is 1-1 after a 28-14 loss at Fresno State and 40-7 win over Indiana State, so this isn’t exactly the Pittsburgh Steelers. But given N.C. State’s inexperience at running back and along the offensive line, it adds an interesting element to Thursday’s game at Carter-Finley Stadium.

“They are very aggressive and they run very well,” Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said of the Cincinnati defense. “There are always a lot of black helmets around the football when the play is over. They have experience at the linebacker position and in the secondary.”

O’Brien said Cincinnati has switched schemes some in recent years and has now settled on a 4-3 that includes some hefty players in the middle of the defensive line.

State will throw a young pair of running backs at that front. Redshirt freshman Dean Haynes and true freshman Mustafa Greene will continue to share carries, and O’Brien said what he’s really looking for is for them to cut upfield hard and not fumble.
“We’re just trying to get one good back out of two guys playing hard,” he said.

It's 'Oh no, not Groh!' for North Carolina

The low point of last year’s football season for North Carolina is easy to pinpoint. On Oct. 3, a mediocre Virginia team came to Kenan Stadium and stuffed UNC, 16-3. Carolina got nine first downs, rushed for 39 yards and passed for only 135.

It was a remarkable performance by beleaguered Cavaliers coach Al Groh, who was fired after the season.

Guess where Groh is now? The defensive coordinator at Georgia Tech. With the Yellow Jackets coming to Chapel Hill Saturday, Carolina is quite aware of Groh’s abilities on the defensive side. Groh has switched Georgia Tech from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4, which has UNC coach Butch Davis concerned.

“The majority of  the teams we play are all 4-3 teams, whether conference or non-conference, and any time you see a 3-4 defense, it’s something unique. It’s something we don’t run in practice,” Davis said. “Al Groh has a great defensive background and pedigree. And I think that we’ve seen evidence of that over two games.”
Georgia Tech is 1-1, with a 41-10 win over South Carolina State and a disappointing 28-25 loss at Kansas.

Cam Holland, who will return to the starting job at center, said the UNC offensive line well remembers its struggles against UVa last year. He remembers the Cavaliers shifting around frequently to confuse UNC’s assignments.

“We’ll definitely be looking at that Virginia film,” he said.

Groh, by the way, was 7-2 against UNC while at Virginia.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Durham Bulls routed 18-5 in first game of finals

NEWS RELEASE - (Columbus, OH) Justin Ruggiano's grand slam in the eighth was about the only bright spot in an 18-5 loss on Tuesday night to Columbus in game one of the Governors' Cup Finals.

Clippers starter David Huff retired his first 12 hitters, and the best hitting the team in the league scored five runs in the first inning off Durham's Richard De Los Santos (0-2 in the post-season).

De Los Santos was ejected in the third inning after hitting Wes Hodges with a pitch. Hodges had homered in the five-run first off De Los Santos.

Darin Downs did throw two scoreless innings, and Durham got on the board in the fifth on a Columbus throwing error, but the Clippers then put the game away with a seven-run fifth, sending 12 hitters to the plate.

Columbus eventually scored 12 unanswered runs over three innings to take a 17-1 lead before Ruggiano hit a grand slam in the eighth inning, his first homer of the post-season.

Columbus hit four homers, and collected 20 hits, as each starter had at least two hits. It was the most runs allowed by the Bulls this season, and the most lopsided loss since a 20-2 defeat against Scranton in the last game of the 2008 Governors' Cup Finals.

Durham will try to answer in game two on Wednesday at 6:35 with RHP Aneury Rodriguez takes the mound against Zach McAllister in a matchup of righties.

Cary-Apex game selected for great American Rivalry Series

NEWS RELEASE - Bring on the face painting, crowd cheering, car-pooling, cookouts, pep rallies, halftime showdowns, hometown pride and mud-slinging battles in the trenches. It is week four of the Great American Rivalry Series, and this year the Series alongside the United States Air Force comes to Cary to cover the action.

For the first time, the Great American Rivalry Series will feature longtime rivals the Cary Imps and the Apex Cougars on Friday, Sept. 17 at 7:30 p.m.

The Cary-Apex Rivalry is one of 30 must-see match ups selected for the Air Force-sponsored Rivalry Series. The winning team not only earns bragging rights but also the coveted Great American Rivalry Champion trophy, presented on field by a member of the United States Air Force. The game’s Most Valuable Player will also be recognized, and the Series will award a college scholarship to the top student-athlete from each school.

In addition to game-night festivities, students from each school are invited to participate in the Great American Rivalry Series “IT Factor Challenge” to determine which school has what “IT” takes! Conducted by the Rivalry Series and the U.S. Air Force, the “IT Factor Challenge” will be held the week prior to the big game and consists of physical, mental, and coordination tests. The winning school will be announced and awarded a trophy during the game.

"The Air Force is proud to be part of the Great American Rivalry Series again," said Master Sgt. Jeffrey B. Morris, program manager, Events Marketing for Headquarters Air Force Recruiting Service. "This allows us to showcase how teamwork, dedication, and commitment to excellence goes beyond the football field. It helps us connect with fans and emphasize these values are common in both football and the Air Force. We are excited and pleased to be associated with this series, the schools and the student athletes."

The Great American Rivalry Series emerged from a desire to celebrate the cultural phenomenon of Friday night high school football. The Series shines the spotlight on classic gridiron clashes where expectations are sky high and die-hard fans abound.

For more information, contact 859-225-3399 or visit www.greatamericanrivalry.com.

Albright in Redskins future after botched snap in his first game gone?

Maybe it's time to bring former UNC player Ethan Albright, a long snapper, back into the fold in Washington.

A botched snap from Albright's replacement Nick Sundberg almost cost the Redskins the game against the Cowboys. A chip-shot field goal in the third quarter never got off the ground because Sundberg snapped high and hard to the holder who couldn't handle it. Even if he had handled it, the likelihood of the field goal being blocked was great.

The field goal would have made the final score 16-7 and the holding call on the last play of the game would have been a mute point.

Albright, 39, handled long snapper duties for more than a decade. If the new Redskins coaches really wanted to go young, why did they bring in Donovan McNabb, Larry Johnson and Vonnie Holliday, among other older veterans? You normally build for the future with guys who play almost every down, not long snappers.

If Coach Mike Shanahan thinks the Redskins have a chance at making the playoffs, you'd think he would have stuck with Albright's experience. As one sports journalist wrote, "(Long snapper) has not been an area of concern for the Redskins for years, with Ethan Albright handling the duties perfectly for almost a decade."

Perfect for a decade and now a botched field goal on his first game gone. It appears than Albright has not hooked up with another team. Bring Albright back.

The Panthers brought back kicker Rhys Lloyd after Todd Carter, his replacement, had back spasms after a kickoff Sunday.

Lloyd is used as a kickoff specialist and had previously done well for the Panthers but they decided before the year to go with the younger and cheaper Carter. The Panthers reached an injury settlement with Carter.

O'Brien's complaints are ill-timed with Thursday game ahead

N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien missed the mark this week with his complaints about Thursday night's game with Cincinnati in Raleigh.

O'Brien, speaking to the Wolfpack radio network after Saturday's victory at Central Florida, said the ACC made N.C. State "a sacrificial lamb" by scheduling a Thursday game following a Saturday contest.

Whether O'Brien is right or not isn't the point. The bottom line is, the game was scheduled months ago, and O'Brien and his staff have had plenty of time to prepare. Complaining on the radio - and sending a negative message to your team - is no way to spin the situation.

This is the type of situation where Duke's Mike Krzyzewski is superb. Krzyzewski takes a situation, even a negative one, and finds a way to use it to his advantage. In this case, for example, O'Brien could have praised the toughness of his team, applauded the depth he has seen develop, and said this was a great opportunity for the Pack to showcase its talents. He could have said the Wolfpack program and fans are ready for national recognition and, despite the short turnaround, will be ready for opportunity.
But he didn't. And even though he didn't expound on his postgame comments when meeting with the media Monday, he essentially framed the game in a negative light.

O'Brien knows better. He's a smart guy and savvy coach. There's no ACC conspiracy to hold down the Wolfpack. Sure, State has a tough turnaround, but it is part of the sport when television dollars rule. The Wolfpack should embrace the opportunity, rather than whine about it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

UNC clears Draughn to play against Georgia Tech


The University of North Carolina keeps saying every case is an individual one, and at least one more case has been resolved. On Monday, the school announced that senior tailback Shaun Draughn has been cleared to play and will be in the lineup against Georgia Tech Saturday in Kenan Stadium.

Draughn was one of 13 players held out of the LSU game as the school worked to determine his eligibility.
Carolina started Johnny White at tailback against LSU, but White fumbled early in the game and the Heels appeared to lose confidence in him. Anthony Elzy, a converted fullback, got the bulk of the carries.

Draughn, 6 feet and 210 pounds, rushed for 567 yards and a score last year before suffering a shoulder injury against Duke.