After a long summer of (mostly) sport-less Saturdays, I’ve at long last got a reason not to sleep in. That’s right, football has once again returned to Chapel Hill, graciously providing Tar Heel fans with something other than the offseason misadventures of P.J. Hairston to serve as fuel for dinner conversation.
Saturday brought fans back to a familiar place with a not so familiar face, as the first steps of Coach Fedora’s plan to revolutionize the gameday atmosphere for Carolina football had been put into action.
The traditional “Old Well Walk” during which players would parade from Cameron Avenue down through Polk Place and ultimately to the Kenan Football Center was replaced with an abbreviated “Victory Walk” — essentially the same as the OWW, but starting at Bell Tower Drive. This is all part of the bigger relocation of Tar Heel Town festivities from the main quad in front of Wilson Library to the newly created (and vaguely Tar Heel shaped?) amphitheater just outside Kenan Stadium.
But maybe you’re not impressed with food trucks, inflatables, and party bands belting out Brown Eyed Girl?
Well gameday modifications weren’t limited to outside the stadium. Amongst the painted masses at the front of the student section you could find a newly installed D.J. spinning out pregame rap and electronic music. The general consensus amongst the Tar Pit seems to be a resounding “Yes!” in favor of said D.J., though I’m sure the people over at football operations will receive plenty of complaints from older Rams Club members distraught over the lack of Neil Diamond tunes during warmups. C’est la vie.
The most visible gameday alterations were on the field. The new argyled endzones seemed to be a hit, and if nothing else garnered a lot of attention on social media in the week leading up to the game. The Heels also took to the gridiron decked out in all blue for the first time since 2003. Despite the fashion faux pas of blue jerseys on blue pants, the new Nike Pro Combat uniforms managed to look pretty sharp.
And of course, there was a game.
Though the Carolina football machine was anything but well-oiled in its efforts against the Blue Raiders, it managed to double up a team in Middle Tennessee State that is a bit better than its name would lead you to assume.
-Kickoff was at 12:30. Because that’s just our thing at this point apparently. I’m still waiting on the announcement from ESPN that the October 17th matchup with Miami will be the first ever 12:30 p.m. Thursday game in the network’s history.
-The students in the Tar Pit had a great showing. Though the Greek section was its customary sea of aluminum and the official attendance was an optimistic 48,000, the Tar Pit was pretty well packed out for most of the game. Their presence was especially felt on the Heels’ goal line stand against the Raiders on the game’s opening drive.
-Tre Boston is still Tre Boston. Always finding a way to make an appearance in the highlight reel for both teams, Tre had a fantastic one-handed pick in the back of the endzone to end an MTSU scoring threat, but not before serving as a key delegate on the first team of captains to ever select to kickoff to open each half of a college football game. That’s right. You weren’t imagining things. The Heels elected not to receive a kickoff to open a half. Let’s hope Boston at least remembered to be fast and physical.
-Young players are stepping up to contribute. Freshmen defensive backs Dominique Green and Brian Walker have shown a lot of promise in the secondary, an area where the Heels could certainly use some help. On the other side of the ball, frosh wide receivers Ryan Switzer and Bug Howard have shown flashes of potential. Mark my words: Howard’s acrobatic TD catch in the corner of the endzone late in the fourth quarter was the first of many to come. Freshman tailback Khris Francis also seemed to prove himself as a capable backup, picking up some solid yardage in garbage time.
Enjoying the luxury of a critical bye week, the Heels have extra time to prepare for their showdown with Georgia Tech on September 21. That extra week is usually seen as a blessing when it falls before a matchup against Paul Johnson’s triple option offense, but the extra preparation didn’t seem to help the boys in blue last year as they gave up an almost unfathomable 68 points to the Jackets. Maybe we’ve learned from last year. Then again, maybe we’ll kick off to start each half.