Before the NCAA investigation began, North Carolina's biggest question was whether its offense, which ranked 108th nationally in 2009, would be better in 2010.
After three games, there's no doubt about the answer, according to senior tight end Zack Pianalto.
"We're definitely better than we were last year," said Pianalto, who leads the team with 19 receptions.
A healthy offensive line and improved quarterback play from T.J. Yates are the two biggest reasons UNC's offense has been better. At 361 yards per game, UNC has improved by 54 yards and is up to 73rd nationally.
Given the personnel losses on defense - seven regulars are ensnared in NCAA cases - UNC's offense has had to carry the flag for the program, for the most part. Last year, UNC won in spite of its offense, and the country's sixth-best defense was largely responsible for UNC's 8-5 record. This year, UNC has been in every game despite the absence of several future NFL players from the defense.
As senior offensive tackle Mike Ingersoll points out, it wasn't until UNC was trailing 30-10 in the fourth quarter against LSU that the Tar Heels figured out their strength.
"We discovered against LSU, through necessity, that we can throw the ball," Ingersoll said.
Yates threw for 412 yards in the loss to LSU and followed that up with 209 yards against Georgia Tech and 204 against Rutgers, which puts UNC at 25th nationally in passing offense (up from No. 102 in 2009).
"When T.J. has time, he's a good player," Ingersoll said. "He's matured as a quarterback, and we've matured as a line."
Yates was spectacular in the second half of the LSU game and has been steady since, which is apparent in both his 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and his 68 percent completion rate. In 2009, Yates completed 60.3 percent of his passes and threw an interception once every 23 attempts (compared with one in 100 attempts this season).
Decision-making has been Yates' biggest area of improvement, Pianalto said. For example, during the second quarter against Rutgers, facing second-and-goal from the 1, Yates lofted a pass into the second row of the stands rather than trying to jam the ball in to Pianalto, his favorite target.
"Last year, he pressed to make plays," Pianalto said. "This year, he knows that we can throw it away and live to fight another day."
Historically, UNC's offense has had big days against its opponent this week, ECU. The 433 total yards in last year's win and 423 total yards in the 2007 loss at Greenville rank among the four best games by UNC's offense under coordinator John Shoop.
The Pirates' defense, which has undergone major structural changes under first-year coach Ruffin McNeill, has given up an average of 41.6 points and 303.3 passing yards in its first three games.
That hasn't gone unnoticed by UNC's offense.
"They play a lot of man coverage," Ingersoll said. "We have good speed on the outside; man coverage might get hurt by that, maybe. With that said, I think they're a really good defense."
QB change at BC: Not long after Boston College got shut out at home by a previously vulnerable Virginia Tech defense, Eagles coach Frank Spaziani decided to make a change at quarterback.
Out is Dave Shinskie, who has indeed been the "next Chris Weinke," only the version of Weinke with the Carolina Panthers, not the former minor league baseball burnout who won the Heisman at Florida State.
In is? Well, Spaziani isn't telling. It's either freshman Chase Rettig or sophomore Mike Marscovetra for Saturday's date with Notre Dame.
"On Saturday night at 8 o'clock we'll have one of those guys out there," Spaziani said. "That's the timetable."
There's nothing wrong with being coy about personnel decisions, but I've never understood the purpose. Is Notre Dame really going to change its scheme for Rettig or Marscovetra or Shinskie?
Quick slants: With Saturday's win over Georgia Tech, N.C. State's Tom O'Brien improved to 8-2 against Coastal Division teams. Virginia Tech, this week's opponent, is responsible for one of those losses, 38-10 last year in Blacksburg.
UCLA, which hasn't been good since Troy Aikman left 20 years ago, has won its past two games (2010 and 1997) at Texas by a combined score of 100-15. Texas coach Mack Brown called Saturday's loss to the Bruins "embarrassing."
To be filed under "Here we go again," the New York Post is reporting that the Big East is interested in adding Texas Christian. Since the Big East would be given ex post facto credit for TCU's BCS work, it makes some sense, but geographically it defies the word "East."
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