Tar Heels recovering

Some players might return from injuries this week

Staff writerSeptember 15, 2009 

— North Carolina beat Connecticut without three injured starters on offense and lost a fourth during the dramatic 12-10 road win.

Coach Butch Davis doesn't know what his lineup will look like for East Carolina on Saturday, but the 24th-ranked Tar Heels started the week with good news on the injury front.

Tight end Zack Pianalto did not break a bone when he injured his right foot after scoring the tying touchdown, Davis said.

Pianalto, who caught seven passes for 87 yards, suffered a subtalar dislocation of his right foot.

Davis left open the possibility that Pianalto could play against the Pirates. When asked what the offense would do without Pianalto, who leads the team with 112 receiving yards, Davis responded:

"I don't know that he's going to be out."

As for the three starters who missed the UConn game, Davis said their status will be updated throughout the week. The absences of left guard Jonathan Cooper (ankle), center Lowell Dyer (shoulder) and fullback Bobby Rome (flu) meant UNC was without three of its seven primary blockers.

The missing parts showed up in the running game. The Heels ran for just 35 yards on 38 attempts after a 261-yard outburst in the opener. Shaun Draughn, who had 118 yards against The Citadel, was limited to 21 yards on 14 carries by UConn.

"We struggled in some areas on the offensive line, but I thought they gained their composure," Davis said.

Greg Elleby started in Cooper's spot at guard, and Cam Holland replaced Dyer at center. It was the first career start for each player.

"They made some mistakes," quarterback T.J. Yates said. "They got better as they game went on and really stepped up."

Rome missed the UConn game with symptoms of the H1N1 virus. His fever had subsided and is expected to return to practice on Tuesday, Davis said.


While the UNC offense couldn't get in gear until the fourth quarter, the defense put together a second straight complete effort.

The defense forced two turnovers, registered four sacks and held UConn's potent running game to 72 yards on 35 carries.

The stat that impressed Davis the most was UConn's lack of success on third down. The Huskies converted only two of 13 third-down opportunities.

"We were getting three-and-outs and keeping our legs fresh," UNC safety Deunta Williams said.

A new No. 88

UNC quarterback T.J. Yates relied on an old habit when to get out of trouble on third-down -- throw to No. 88.

Yates hit freshman receiver Erik Highsmith, the new No. 88, for two third-down conversions in the second. Half of Highsmith's four catches came on third down -- one on third-and-20 and another on third-and-18.

Highsmith, from Vanceboro, wears the same number record-setting receiver Hakeem Nicks did from 2006 to 2008

"He played above his years," Yates said.

Highsmith, who didn't have a catch in the opener, finished four catches for 59 yards.

The flip side was that starter Joshua Adams, who had two catches in the opener, was shut out, as was receiver Johnny White.

"The more they play, hopefully, the more they'll start to get a sense of the pace of the game and the speed of the game," Davis said. "Hopefully, each week they'll continue to improve."

Noon TV game

The Sept. 26 game at Georgia Tech will kick off at noon and be televised by Raycom Sports.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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