Staff video by Travis Long
If North Carolina is going to catch Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division, the Tar Heels are going to have to do it without Brandon Tate.
The senior playmaker will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, UNC announced Monday.
Tate injured his knee when he was tackled on a punt return (see video) in the first quarter of UNC's 29-24 win over Notre Dame on Saturday. Mike Anello's tackle, a head-on collision with Tate's right knee, tore the ACL and MCL in Tate's knee, according to a statement released by UNC.
"This is certainly tough for our football team," UNC coach Butch Davis said. "It's tough on him, he's such a great kid, and valuable, integral part of this football team.
"We don't have another Brandon Tate to pull off the shelf and plug in the game."
Tate led the ACC, and ranked third in the NCAA, in all-purpose yardage (163.7 yards per game) heading into Saturday's game. He finishes the season with 376 receiving yards, 305 kickoff return yards, 158 punt return yards, 143 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. For his career, Tate is the NCAA's all-time leader in combined kick return yards with 3,523.
This is the second major loss to injury for the 18th-ranked Tar Heels. Quarterback T.J. Yates fractured a bone in his left ankle in the third game of the season and has missed the past three games. Yates was originally diagnosed to miss six weeks, or five games.
The strong play of quarterback Cam Sexton, 38-67 for 567 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, has offset the loss of Yates. The Heels are 3-0 under Sexton.
The loss of Tate could be more damaging. The team's top playmaker carried the offense over the first three games with his kick returns and ability to not only catch the ball but run it.
Without Tate, Johnny White, Hakeem Nicks and Kendric Burney will likely take over at kick-returning duties. Burney returned punts against Notre Dame while White and Nicks handled kickoffs.
On offense, senior Brooks Foster moves into Tate's receiving slot and receiver-turned-running back Greg Little could move back to receiver with the emergence of Shaun Draughn at running back.
"It will put us in a situation to look for expanded roles for different guys on the team there are going to be some guys we ask more out of," Davis said.
Davis was optimistic Tate would recover and heal to be prepared for the NFL Draft and the 2009 NFL season. He told Tate, after the diagnosis on Sunday night, that two of the best receivers he coached — Michael Irvin, at Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys, and Reggie Wayne, at Miami — suffered the same injury.
"The good news is he will recover from this," Davis said.