Say this about Saturday's North Carolina-Rutgers game: you couldn't have predicted many of these storylines during the summer.
The Tar Heels (0-2) were supposed to be the team with the all-world defense and shaky quarterback play. Instead, suspensions and investigations have gutted the roster, and North Carolina's defense is ranked just 81st overall and 118th against the rush in the FBS. Meanwhile, quarterback T.J. Yates has been very effective, helping lead the nation's 11th-best passing attack.
Rutgers (2-0) has relied on its defense, as expected. But surprisingly, its quarterback has regressed, at least statistically. Sophomore Tom Savage seemed on the verge of a breakout year, but so far he's the lowest-rated passer in the Big East and is completing just half of his attempts.
So it's anyone's guess what will happen this week in Piscataway, though this much is clear: The Scarlet Knights will have to play better on offense to win. They scuffled most of the opener against lowly Norfolk State, then needed their defense and special teams to help them get by Florida International 19-14. North Carolina has scored 24 points in its first two games against vastly superior competition: LSU and Georgia Tech.
When asked how he'd evaluate his team's offensive play so far, right tackle Art Forst said: "Definitely disappointed."
The Scarlet Knights had a bye week last week, and they tried to find ways to fix the slumping unit.
"We're trying to develop guys," head coach Greg Schiano said. "We had a lot of change in our offensive line. Our oldest receiver is a redshirt sophomore. We have a sophomore quarterback. One of our top two tailbacks is a freshman.
"So it was really a continuation of fundamentals. All you can do is keep teaching guys so it's not the first time they're seeing something. Unfortunately, when you have young guys, that's what happens. [The defense] changes coverage or changes a front, and they have no recall, no cumulative reps to call upon."
Savage blamed his poor performance at FIU (7-of-15 for 72 yards and an interception) on being surprised by the defensive alignments. He's hoping to turn it around this week.
“I just have to go out there and make the throws and stay on the field as much as I can,” he told the Home News Tribune. "Quarterback is all about getting into the groove so I just have to make that first pass and keep going.”
The offensive line also has to get better at opening holes. Meanwhile, the Rutgers offense could get even more inexperienced, as leading rusher Joe Martinek may miss the game with an ankle injury. That would make true freshman Jordan Thomas the No. 1 back.
Forst said it's all about everyone on the offensive side paying attention to details.
"I've said it before, and I think it's very true with this team: The difference between a 10-yard run and 1- or 2- yard gain is just a little bit," he said. "It could be 10 guys doing the right thing and one guy not.
"I think we're very close. But there are a lot of teams that are close, and only a few teams get it. We have a lot of work to do to close that small distance."