CHAPEL HILL — Maybe it was the nine-month layoff or maybe North Carolina was mesmerized by the familiarity of The Citadel's uniforms, either way it took one quarter for the Tar Heels to find their bearings in Saturday's season-opener at Kenan Stadium.
The 21st-ranked Tar Heels made up for a sluggish start with an assertive finish in a 40-6 win over the lower Division I Bulldogs.
With everyone on the field wearing the same colored helmet, there was bound to be some confusion. UNC spent the first 15 minutes playing like they were trying differentiate their version of light blue with The Citadel's. There were dropped passes and missed assignments, the usual residual effects from the offseason, as the first quarter ended 0-0.
UNC's hyped-up defense lived up to the hype and kick-started the rout in the second quarter. UNC forced four turnovers, including three in the decisive second quarter. Safety Deunta Williams netted two interceptions, both in the first half, to help the Heels build a 23-0 halftime advantage.
With all the free possessions, the Heels' offense — with a new receiving corps and two new starters on the offensive line — found its game legs, and play-calling balance. Quarterback T.J. Yates threw for two touchdowns, both in the second quarter, and the running back tandem of Shaun Draughn and Ryan Houston accounted for two more touchdowns.
As has become the pattern, Draughn picked up the yardage (118 yards on 20 carries) and Houston cashed in the touchdowns — a 5-yarder and a 3-yarder.
After a 22-yard field goal by Casey Barth broke the ice 45 seconds into the second quarter, Yates found receiver Johnny White for an 18-yard touchdown and a 10-0 advantage.
The Citadel, missing its top two running backs, couldn't get anything going against UNC's faster defense, picking up only 73 total yards in the first half, and just 16 yards on 10 rushing attempts.
Houston stretched the lead out to 16-0 with his first touchdown but Barth missed the PAT.
Defensive end Robert Quinn gave UNC's offense the ball right back. Quinn sacked Bart Blanchard and forced a fumble at the Bulldogs' 26-yard line. The offense turned the short field into a 21-yard hookup between Yates and receiver Greg Little.
Yates, who finished 9-of-20 for 114 yards, threw an interception at the end of the half which gave The Citadel got the ball at UNC's four-yard line but Williams picked off Blanchard in the end zone with 37 seconds left in the half.
Houston, finishing off another drive where Draughn did the heavy lifting, scored the only touchdown in the third quarter, a 3-yard plunge.
The special teams got in on the act with a 77-yard punt return by Da'Norris Searcy on the first play of the fourth quarter.
A fumbled punt by Kendric Burney, in UNC's territory, in the fourth quarter set up The Citadel's first score, a 42-yard field goal by Sam Keeler, which prevented UNC from its first shutout since 1999. Keeler added a 28-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the game to complete the score.