UNC's 24-22 victory against Rutgers on Saturday at Kenan Stadium was nothing less than total team survival for Carolina.
"Anytime you can have five turnovers, probably five personal foul penalties and at least three interception opportunities [and don't make them] and we win, it's a good day to be a Tar Heel," interim head coach Everett Withers said. "We get a chance to go back [on Sunday] and work on those things to get better for next week."
Carolina (2-0) will play its first conference game next Saturday at Kenan Stadium versus Virginia at 3:30 p.m.
UNC fumbled the ball five times against Rutgers (1-1), including the snap as the Tar Heels were trying to run out the final seconds of the game. Fortunately for Carolina, Rutgers recovered just two of those fumbles and one of the two was not the final fumble.
The Scarlett Knights intercepted three Bryn Renner passes. Yet Renner actually played well outside of those plays. He completed 20 of 26 passes for 273 yards and a touchdown. Who knows what would have happened if Dwight Jones and Erik Highsmith had not fumbled the ball at the end of two big catches and runs.
Then again, the Tar Heels probably would not have won if Jones had not caught six passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. He beat his defender deep for 66-yard touchdown catch on the opening series of the game.
Renner threw the ball perfectly, hitting Jones in stride and on the outside shoulder, just as quarterbacks are taught to do. Renner being Renner, though, he did not rationalize his errors.
"I'm going to go watch film and see where I made mistakes right after I take a shower," Renner said.
The offense placed the defense in some tough spots throughout the day, none more so than when Rutgers safety Duron Harmon intercepted Renner and returned the ball to the 2-yard line.
"The defense was standing up," UNC running back Giovani Bernard said. "We have to help them a little better. We gave them the ball and put a lot of stress on the defense.
"Our defense really won this game. All the credit goes out to them."
Renner played a little defense himself after that first interception. Had he not, the Tar Heels would not have had an opportunity for a goal-line stand. And if the Scarlet Knights had scored a TD on that series, they probably would have won.
"I was just trying to get a little piece of him and make sure I got him down," Renner said.
The Tar Heels' defense took control at that point, stopping Rutgers in four downs. The final spot, when UNC ran onto the field to take position heading the other way, had the ball sitting about one inch from the goal line.
"It's real tough," said defensive end Kareem Martin, who had an huge game for UNC with a team-leading eight total tackles, a quarterback sack and two tackles for losses, which included the sack.
"It takes mental toughness more than mental," Martin said. "They only have about an inch to go. To be able to come off the ball, get penetration and stop the offensive line, it takes a lot of mental toughness to tell yourself you can do it and to be able to perform it. It's just amazing."
UNC sacked the Rutgers' quarterback four times, but also hit him hard repeatedly throughout the four quarters.
"That is one of the premier defensive lines in the country," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said.
Bernard started at running back and led the Tar Heels with 81 yards on 16 carries and scored two touchdowns, one of which covered 60 yards off a toss sweep.
He came to a near stop halfway through the run, used his eyes as much as his feet, eluded tacklers and then burst through into the open field and then the end zone.
"I had a great view," Renner said. "When I tossed it to him, I kind of just stood there. I said, 'OK, he's going to get 10 yards. Oh, he broke that tackle. He broke that tackle.' Then he scored.
"That was fun to watch."
The same cannot be said for the game overall, but in the end the Tar Heels won and that is what counts the most.
UNC's defense secured the win with another fourth-down stop, this time on Rutgers' final possession.
"There were a few possessions where they made big third-down plays," Martin said. "But we stepped up on that fourth down and won the game.
"It shows how good a team we are, that in spite of all the penalties and turnovers, we were still able to come out on top."