CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina relied on third-stringer Cameron Sexton to overcome the loss of starting quarterback T.J. Yates earlier this year. Now that Yates is healthy again, the Tar Heels (No. 22 BCS, No. 25 AP) might be ready to go back to their early season look.
Coach Butch Davis said Monday the Tar Heels will open the competition for the starting spot against rival North Carolina State this weekend. Yates has practiced for about two weeks as he recovers from a broken left ankle he suffered against Virginia Tech in September, while Sexton has won four of six starts since the injury.
But Sexton didn't play particularly well in the 17-15 loss at Maryland over the weekend, completing 10 of 24 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown with an interception. Before the loss, the Tar Heels (7-3, 3-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) had a chance to win the league's Coastal Division by winning their final three games.
Davis initially said Sunday that he was not planning a change, but apparently changed his mind after meeting with his coaching staff later that night and Monday morning.
"It's no disrespect to Cam," Davis said. "Cam's done an outstanding job for the most part. We've won games with him, he's performed well, he's made some good decisions. ... Now that we have a situation where T.J.'s healthy, what is the best choice for our football team, because ultimately that's how you have to make decisions: what's the best for the football team at that given moment?"
Yates certainly has the edge of game experience. He started all 12 games as a redshirt freshman last year, throwing for a school single-season record 2,655 yards and 14 touchdowns and 18 interceptions despite playing with a shoulder injury late in the year. Before this season, Sexton's only significant game action came when he lost four of five starts and threw four touchdowns with eight interceptions as a freshman in 2006.
Yates led the Tar Heels to wins against McNeese State and Rutgers, and a second-half lead against the Hokies when he was injured while being taken down on a sack. The Tar Heels went with redshirt freshman Mike Paulus the rest of the way in that 20-17 loss, then gave Paulus the start the following week at Miami.
But Sexton came on in relief with a strong performance, throwing for 242 yards and two touchdowns -- including the winning 14-yard score with 46 seconds left -- to cap a comeback from a 14-point deficit and beat the Hurricanes 28-24. He has held the job ever since, leading the Tar Heels past Connecticut, Notre Dame, Boston College and Georgia Tech. During that stretch, North Carolina's losses at Virginia and Maryland came by a combined five points.
Yates returned with some mop-up duty late in the 28-7 win against the Yellow Jackets. He didn't play last weekend.
As Yates recovered, Davis tried to deflect speculation about a possible quarterback switch by saying Sexton was likely to stay in the starting role. But Yates apparently performed well enough in a workout Sunday to open the competition.