It’s the first time since the 2001 season that the Tar Heels have opened with two road games. Carolina has been challenged in its first two games by quality teams and loud, boisterous opposing fan bases—particularly the one in the Georgia Dome on Sept. 3.
“We’re looking forward to getting back to The Tar Pit,” Coach Larry Fedora said Monday. “We’ve played in front of two hostile crowds and I think we’ve handled it pretty well. I don’t think we’ll face anything the rest of the year that will rattle our guys after what we’ve been through.”
The Tar Heels open their 2016 home schedule at 3:30 Saturday against James Madison University, a school Carolina last faced in the 2011 season opener (a 42-10 Carolina win). And they’ll be right back, same place, same time, the next week to meet Pittsburgh in the ACC opener.
No matter that JMU is a FCS opponent. Fedora’s mindset with his team is that you have only 12 games a year; you’d better make the best of them.
“Every week you’re seeing FCS teams challenge and in some cases even beat Division I teams,” Fedora said Monday at his weekly press conference. “Our approach is that no matter who, where, when, what the weather is—you play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Dukes have won their first two games by a combined score of 136-28 over Morehead State and Central Connecticut State and have rushed for 405 yards a game.
“Four hundred yards—that’s hard to do in practice against air,” Fedora noted.
The game could have provided an interesting coaching twist had Everett Withers, the Dukes’ coach in 2014-15, still been in Harrisonburg. But Withers left to become head coach at Texas State and Mike Houston is the new coach. Withers was the Tar Heels’ defensive coordinator from 2008-10 and interim head coach in 2011 after the firing of Butch Davis.
There will be another familiar face on the opposing sideline, however. Bob Trott, a Tar Heel defensive back and Letterman from 1973-75, is the James Madison defensive coordinator. Trott’s in his first year there after coaching at Richmond from 2010-15.
One element of the Kenan Stadium experience that Tar Heel fans will notice are the new LED ribbon boards that will run the entire length of the fascia of the upper decks on the north and south sides. They have been upgraded at a cost of nearly $3 million after the previous eight-year-old boards had become outdated and difficult to find replacement parts for.
The installation of the new boards will, however, mean having to find a new location for the “Honored Jerseys” that previously were displayed on the same real estate. Those numbers will be displayed in a temporary fashion in 2016 before a design team and university architects determine a suitable location for 2017 and beyond.