For years, one football season was pretty much like another at the University of North Carolina. Every year, some big tailback would make his way to a 1,000-yard season while the Tar Heels made their way through a good -- but seldom great -- year. There were high hopes and easy schedules. From 1979 to 1983, North Carolina won 45 games and went to five straight bowl games as Amos Lawrence, Kelvin Bryant, Ethan Horton and Tyrone Anthony all rushed for 1,000 yards at least once.
Last year was different. Navy quarterback Bill Byrne beat North Carolina in the season opener with a 60-yard touchdown pass with two minutes left. A week later, Doug Flutie led Boston College to a 52-20 victory over the Tar Heels. At midseason, North Carolina was 1-4. The Tar Heels finished 5-5-1. Horton rushed for 1,247 yards last year, marking the 17th time a North Carolina player gained 1,000 yards in a season, but it seemed clear that Coach Dick Crum's program was at a critical juncture.
Now the word from Crum is that the days of relying almost solely on the power sweep and the running back up the middle are over. North Carolina, which has produced more 1,000-yard rushers than even Southern Cal (16), is going to the air.
"We want to balance things out," said Crum, whose team opens against Navy and plays Louisiana State and Florida State in addition to its ACC schedule. "For so long we had such good tailbacks."
With Horton gone, the top tailback is William Humes, an oft-injured junior who gained 302 yards in the first six games last year before missing the rest of the season with a knee injury. Furthermore, Humes, just 6 feet tall and less than 200 pounds, will be carrying the ball behind the smallest line in Crum's eight-year tenure.
The offense's diversification is in part a philosophical move, but it's also a personnel one. Kevin Anthony, a junior quarterback, set 10 school records last year, including total offense and passing yardage. His 265 attempts were a school record, and his 146 completions just one shy of the mark. He's also a Phi Beta Kappa economics major, and Crum said he has confidence in Anthony's decision-making.
"He's a mature quarterback," Crum said. "He's pretty astute at all points of the game. We're going to give our quarterback more responsibility."
Anthony has good receivers in tight end Arnold Franklin, who caught 27 passes for an 11.7 average last year, wide-out Earl Winfield and split end Eric Streater. In fact, the Tar Heels' receiving unit was so deep that Crum moved senior Larry Griffin to defensive back to help out the secondary.
Even though Anthony attempted 84 passes in two spring games, Crum is not abandoning the ground game. "If the passing game does what we hope it does, it ought to open up the running game for us," he said.
One of the chief beneficiaries may be Brad Lopp, a sophomore fullback who expects to carry the ball more with the shift in philosophy.
"The traditional fullback here blocked for three years in a cloud of dust," he said. "We're going to open it up. We'll run some split back and single back and, in the single back, the fullback carries the ball."
With more passing and the possibility that he'll be carrying the ball a lot more, Lopp said it will be much tougher to defend against North Carolina.
"Before, as soon as they saw it was a running play, all eyes were on the tailback," he said. "This makes three options instead of one."
Lopp also said the play calling will be unpredictable.
"We'll pass on first and 10 or third and two. We may run on first and 10. We may run on first and 15."
It seems certain that, if nothing else, it will be an interesting year for North Carolina football. A team criticized in the past for unimaginative offense and unemotional play seems ready to pull out the plugs.
There will be changes in the defense as well. North Carolina has gone from a five-man front to what looks like an eight-man front, designed to improve pass defense.
With good size in the defensive line, more experience and the move of Griffin to defensive back, Crum has confidence in that defense. One thing is certain: it will be tested Saturday against Navy.
"Navy is a better team than a year ago," Crum said. "With a running back like (Napoleon) McCallum and a quarterback like Bill Byrne, you can't say you're going to stop McCallum. You've just got to slow him down. If we can get him slowed down, we're going to be happy."