The Optipessimist Week One: UNC-JMU

First off, I would like to highlight for all the UNC readers out there that Duke lost to Richmond. I will repeat that, since it makes me slightly giddy every time I do. Duke lost to Richmond! HAH! This is amazing not only because Duke lost to RICHMOND, but also because it means I get to read Angry Shane posts, something I have yet to see on TRB.

I'm expecting greatness, Shane.

Okay. Onto the game. Everything said below this line has to be taken with a grain of salt, because Carolina’s opponent was James Madison University. And this wasn’t the same JMU that knocked off Virginia Tech in their opener; this was a pretty bad iteration of JMU. You’ll see why.

Without further ado, I’d like to debut my post-game feature: Optipessimism. Over the next ten weeks, I’m going to try my hardest to make this into a real word, which I define as the tendency to follow any positive statement with an immediate qualifier. According to my mother, I might be the most effective optipessimist in the world. “CAN’T YOU EVER JUST SAY ANYTHING GOOD!?” Brutal.

OPTIMISM: New quarterback Bryn Renner. If you watched the game, you likely recognize the following:  22-23, 277 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 95.6% completion rate. That means Renner never threw an incomplete pass, seeing as his only “incomplete” throw was to the other team. He also missed setting the all-time NCAA record for pass completion percentage with 20-29 passes by .1%. That’s crazy efficient. More impressively, on the admittedly few throws where he had to make a reads progression, Renner pump faked, looked off the safety, and often delivered right on the money. Looking off receivers was a skill that took former QB T.J. Yates his entire career to develop; Renner has it, at least against an anemic pass rush, from day one.

PESSIMISM: One would think you can’t say anything bad about a 22 of 23 performance, but I can! Renner was definitely on the money all day, but Carolina fans need to realize that the jury will have to be out on Renner for quite some time. For one, JMU was a vastly inferior opponent; in particular, they struggled mightily to apply any pressure to Renner. He had all day to pick and choose his spots. JMU also spent the vast majority of their snaps in a vanilla base defense, rushing four and playing a Cover 2 or Cover 3 without a hint of urgency. I could have sat back and thrown for at least 150 yards, which is at least a backhanded compliment to the offensive line. Even so, the majority of his passes were wide-open throws or checkdowns when JMU sat in coverage. Specifically, I counted four legitimately challenging throws:

  • The first touchdown throw to WR Dwight Jones (more on him later). I crowed to a UNC friend that it was “the most perfectly-placed dead duck throw I’ve ever seen.” Indeed, the pass looked a little wobbly coming out of Renner’s hand, but it settled perfectly into Jones’ breadbasket. Point to Renner on that one.
  • The interception, Renner’s only not-completion for the night. I actually can’t blame him too much for that one. He took a shot downfield, and a potentially perfect throw was altered by last-second pressure by the JMU pass rush. The throw leaked inside, and the backside safety had time to come over and pick it off. A veteran quarterback probably would have tucked it and taken the sack, but I do have to be realistic in expecting a youngin’ like Renner to take some shots downfield and make some mistakes.
  • A crossing route into triple coverage to Dwight Jones. Jones caught the pass, bailing out Renner. Again, more on Jones in a bit. Not a great throw, but again, with a young quarterback, I’m not going to get upset about it.
  • A 21-yard catch-and-run by Jones where DJ shook a defender and ran untouched for the score. It was a nice throw by Renner, and the kind of delivery he’ll need to keep Carolina at pace in big games.

I like Renner’s fire, his skill set, and just about everything about this game.  My only caution are his numbers are Joe Flacco-esque: deceptively good stats, but obviously your numbers will be good when you throw twenty-seven times a game to Ray Rice. Next week will be a much better test of Renner’s abilities.

OPTIMISM: UNC has a freakish front seven. Like I said in Blatant Homerism, these are Davis recruits: fast, aggressive, and extremely athletic linemen and linebackers. Quinton

All day, buddy. All day.

Coples, at one point in the middle of a game, came off a block and absolutely wrecked JMU QB Justin Thorpe by jumping from what looked like seven feet away, lion-vs-gazelle style, to simply envelop the guy. If a photographer got a shot of that, an instant message-board meme is coming. Zach Brown was everywhere from blowing up runs in the hole to making Thorpe’s day generally hell.  On the whole, the Carolina defense team speed is genuinely scary.

PESSIMISM: UNC seemed to let up at the half, especially in the third quarter. There was a lot more space for JMU’s spread option to work, but it’s hard to tell if this was due to fatigue or just the knowledge that you’re up 28-7.  But coming from a team that has had a bad habit of blowing leads in the 4th over the past few years, that’s got to change.

OPTIMISM: Matt Merletti is Vince Papale from Invincible. He’s a little white guy who worked his way into the secondary lineup the old-fashioned way, from special teams excellence (he downed a punt on the one-yard line early in the game), and it’s awesome to

Let's be real, Marky Mark: this movie sucked.

see him out there sticking receivers and forcing fumbles. He’s a glue guy, and you just need guys like that on your team.

PESSIMISM: Merletti – and really, the entire secondary – got torched on the rare occasions JMU decided to pass. Actually, the JMU game plan was completely inexplicable, seeing as they had great success through the air, then refused to keep at it. The first time JMU took a shot downfield, they scored, and their receivers were generally winners in man coverage battles. It’s deeply troubling to see converted WR Todd Harrelson getting a lot of playing time at corner, not because he’s bad, but because a guy who was catching Renner passes three months ago is now on the other side of the ball. That screams thin, inexperienced talent, and it’s not good: the ACC has some really good quarterbacks.

OPTIMISM: Dwight. Motherf***ing. Jones. Jones looked like a total veteran out there, almost bored en route to catching nine passes for 116 yards and 2 TD’s.  On one play, he simply out-jumped everyone, Calvin Johnson Megatron style, to catch a high Renner crossing ball. Jones appears to be Renner’s favorite target, and with good reason.

PESSIMISM: This has nothing to do with Dwight Jones, but Devon Ramsay going down with a sprained knee is bad news bears. Ramsay, a fullback, provides invaluable experienced lead-blocking for thunder back Ryan “Rhino” Houston and lightning speedster (and redshirt freshman) Giovanni Bernard. If he’s out for a while, the rushing game will suffer – putting pressure on Renner. (Side note: how can you NOT love a 5’9”, 200-pound black guy named Giovanni? Bene, stupendissimo!)

OPTIMISM: John Shoop called a near-perfect game (I know, I gasped myself when I wrote that). Shoop bore the brunt of my criticism last year for extremely poor play selection in important moments. This game had practically no important moments, but there’s something to be said for the way Shoop brought Renner along with short, easy passes early in the game. With an absolutely massive offensive line to run behind, Shoop leaned on the run game early and often, helping the famously-fiery Renner get his game feet. This Carolina team looked… well, exactly like last year’s Carolina team, underscoring my guess from Blatant Homerism that Withers isn’t going to change a whole lot. And that’s cause for optimism all by itself.

PESSIMISM: During the first half of the game, UNC’s offensive line simply blew JMU off the ball at the point of attack. Houston and Bernard had their pick of holes with which to gash into the secondary. But as the third and fourth quarters rolled on, either JMU blitzed more or the OL eased up a bit, because the urgency disappeared. Again, not a big problem against an inferior opponent, but that’s the kind of behavior that lets good teams back in it.

A Final Word: Can I just say that I absolutely hate the spread punt formation? It takes all the fun out of a punt play, because there’s essentially no possibility of a blocked punt save for a botched snap. Even when the punt takes place backed up in the end zone, you pretty much know the defense can’t coming after it, because the spread punt does one thing extremely well: it protects the punter. There’s basically no moment of suspense any more, no split second where an Ed Reed type comes flying around the corner and you just know he’s going to get to the punt before the punter’s leg does. Because even if that guy gets around the edge, there are three – THREE!  – personal protectors waiting for him. What a gyp.  Whoever invented the spread punt needs to be locked in a room to watch picture-perfect punts with fair catches at the end of them until he dies. Special teams hell.

About Nate

I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2010. I've written about the UNC-Duke rivalry since my best friend from high school took his talents to Durham the same year I went to Carolina. Astoundingly, we remain friends in part due to a moratorium on talking around Duke-Carolina games. Though capable of rationally approaching the rivalry, I generally prefer low-intellect vitriol, because it makes me feel better about myself. Visit my blog at
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4 Responses to The Optipessimist Week One: UNC-JMU

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  1. William says:

    I’ve always wanted someone just once to come through on the spread punt formation and just absolutely blow up one of the blockers and toss him into the punter to block the kick.

  2. Nate says:

    I wondered one if that was even possible. I suppose if you got a big defensive lineman running fast enough and timed the snap, he might have enough momentum to pull it off. But they pick the personal protectors for their size…

  3. TarHeelAlex says:

    A summation of my thoughts: I agree with you on Shoop, I said the same thing myself. His short yardage based offense was perfect for introducing a new QB. I was pleased with Houston’s hands and pass catching ability. But nearly all the routes were dump passes, quick screens, outs, drags and other flat-curl level throws. When the longer game comes, we shall see. I liked the Offensive Line, especially on pass pro, but I noticed that when we pulled our guys on screens, etc., (especially Hurst) they wiffed on kill shots at the secondary players. I was mildly surprised that the H Backs knew fully what they were doing, and where to motion every second. BTW, I freaking that. Defensively, the line was great, as always. I’d like a little more pressure though. At LBs Brown and Reddick are great but that third LB is a huge problem. First of all #55 (forget his name) is HORRIBLE. He was frozen everytime. And then I noticed we gave up altogether and went to two LBs. Saturday that works. Against a team with a real rush it doesn’t, because our 2 LB set stacked them on the DEnds, leaving a giant hole in the center of the field. And secondary, thank GOD Charlie Brown is back and JMU can’t throw. They were WEAK. I think Boston needs to remember he is a corner again and not a safety. As for your final word, I agree. I know BRUUUUUCE is gone, but goodness that safe punt sucked. And on the flip side, what the hell was with using that freshman punter? He was lost! I want CJ back.

  4. Nate says:

    I actually thought the punter, who beat out Feagles in practice, did fairly well. The punt that Merletti pinned on the one was on the money, and I think he held his own the rest of the game. But cj did quite well for us last year (God knows we punted a lot), so I see your point.

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