Freshmen Hilee Taylor and Trimane Goddard made an impact in their first scrimmage as Tar Heels on Saturday.
“Hilee Taylor is going to have a great career here,” coach John Bunting said. “He’s very special. He really works hard. He just can’t get enough of it. He wants to please.”
Goddard intercepted a pass off third-string quarterback Roger Heinz and returned it for a touchdown, while Taylor had a quarterback sack and proved to be disruptive from his defensive end position.
“Goddard is a very talented athlete,” safety Gerald Sensabaugh said. “He showed he’s ready to play right away. He’s been in practice making a lot of plays. He’s very surprising to me when I’ve seen him out there playing because he’s young and he’s playing awfully well.”
This doesn’t mean Goddard is going to play this season, however. Bunting said that he hasn’t decided yet whether Goddard will redshirt or play.
Taylor almost certainly will play. He showed his speed coming off the end time and again Saturday. He switched from linebacker to end after Chase Page injured a hand and was lost for the season.
“He’s very quick,” tailback Ronnie McGill said of Taylor. “When he comes off the end and he’s one-on-one with a tackle, he can just fly past him. That’s a pretty good weapon.”
Junior Mahlon Carey, who moved from safety to linebacker last week, intercepted a Matt Baker pass. Bunting said he likes what he’s seen of Carey at linebacker.
“He’s very instinctive,” Bunting said. “Maybe being closer to the line of scrimmage will help him. He’s a quick reactor down low.”
McGill sat out practice Friday because he suffered some cramps on Thursday, but he returned rested and ready to go Saturday. He carried the ball seven times for 36 yards. Jacque Lewis had five carries for 16 yards and a touchdown.
Quarterback Darian Durant completed 7 of 13 passes for 89 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass, but he didn’t throw an interception, either.
The offense drove the ball down field and scored on its first possession, reacting to a challenge from offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill.
“The main thing we wanted to do, and coach Tranq emphasized, was start early and start fast,” Durant said. “We haven’t been starting fast in games. We really started fast today. On the opening drive, we went down to score.”
In spite of this, a key theme on Saturday was just how much better the defense looked than in the last two seasons, particularly in the secondary.
More people are getting to the ballcarrier or receiver and making surer tackles once they get there.
“They’re fast,” McGill said. “They’re real fast. Last year, we ran whatever we wanted to. This year, you have to pick and choose. If you make one cut, you can’t make another one because a defensive lineman is going to be there.”
Not all the Tar Heels’ problems have been solved, and the scrimmage was not a perfectly smooth endeavor. But Bunting said he felt positive about what he saw.
“The procedure penalties were limited,” Bunting said. “Off-sides penalties were limited. We had a face-mask penalty against the defense, which was disappointing. We didn’t have any fumbles.
“It was good overall. … We looked good stopping the run, particularly on the perimeter, which has been a concern for two years. We had speed getting out there.
“I’m not distressed at all,” Bunting said. “What pleased me the most was the running of the backs, and the opportunistic play of the defensive backs. I thought they were all over the place. They played solid. We had a couple of sacks. There was some pressure.”
Durant said the differences in this team and the one from a year ago is obvious.
“I don’t think we’re far from being ready,” Durant said. “We just have to get rid of a few small penalties, nail our offense down a little bit. I think we’re ready to go.
“We’re a lot further ahead (than last year). The main thing we have is confidence. All 11 guys on both side of the ball are playing with confidence.”