PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Butch Davis has North Carolina back on the road to respectability.
T.J. Yates threw three touchdown passes and the Tar Heels won for the first time outside North Carolina since 2002, beating error-prone Rutgers 44-12 in a nationally televised game that pitted Davis against his former pupil, Greg Schiano.
"You're going to see a whole lot that's changed," said Tate, who caught four passes for a career-best 138 yards. "We could go anywhere and win any game now, so everybody just has to stay focused, stay humble after the win. This win was big, nobody can take us as a joke anymore because we're gonna come in and play hard."
The Tar Heels intercepted four passes, including three by starter Mike Teel. Linebacker Bruce Carter returned a bobbled pass 66 yards for a touchdown as the Tar Heels (2-0) handed Rutgers (0-2) its worst loss since a 56-5 loss to Louisville on Nov. 11, 2005. Freshman Jay Wooten added field goals of 43, 29 and 27 yards.
The victory was the Tar Heels' biggest since a 52-17 win over Duke in 2001.
The start is the best since 2000 for North Carolina, which is looking for its first winning season since 2001. The Tar Heels were 4-8 a year ago in Davis' first season.
"For us, it's nice to win this game," Davis said. "But for us it's 12 one-week seasons. We got an unbelievable monumental task next week against Virginia Tech. I think what it does, what you hope all victories do, is validate the sacrifices you are asking your players to make because we are asking them to do an awful lot to try to become good."
Immediately after the final gun, the team walked over to their supporters in the crowd and thanked them.
"This is a great feeling," senior linebacker Mark Paschal said. "Being here so long and never winning out the state of North Carolina to have an opportunity to come in here and get a win is great. It's great for me. It's great for the team and great for all the guys who have been here."
The start is worst for the Scarlet Knights since 2002, when they finished 1-11 in Schiano's second season. It also was the worst home loss since being thrashed 40-0 by West Virginia that same year.
"You don't want to be naive," Schiano said. "I do believe like I said, don't count this team out. We've had two bad games but I believe we will turn it around."
In many ways, the Scarlet Knights looked like the Rutgers of old. They blew pass coverages on all three of Yates' TD passes, had a bad punt lead to a North Carolina score and saw their senior quarterback turn the ball over three times.
By the time the third quarter was over, North Carolina had a 38-6 lead and only a couple of thousand fans from the sellout crowd of 42,502 were on hand for a derisive cheer when Teel threw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Kevin Brock.
San San Te kicked field goals of 34 and 32 yards for Rutgers, which came into the season looking for a fourth straight bowl trip. After losing two at home, the Scarlet Knights need to turn things around quickly.
Davis, who hired Schiano as his defensive coordinator at Miami, saw his team improve markedly after struggling in the season opener against McNeese State.
Yates finished 14-of-22 for 221 yards and matched his career high with the three TD passes. Tate caught four passes for a career-best 138 yards. His 69-yard touchdown catch was the longest of his career. Nicks added six catches for 63 yards with the two TDs, tying his single-game high.
North Carolina took control of the game with 38 points in the second and third quarters.
The Tar Heels scored on three straight possessions in the second to take a 17-6 halftime lead.
An interception by cornerback Charles Brown, set up Wooton's longer field goal that tied it at 3.
A 25-yard punt by Teddy Delleganne gave North Carolina the ball at its own 49 on the next series. Five plays later, Yates found a wide-open Nicks in the corner of the end zone for a 10-3 lead.
A 12-yard run by backup quarterback Jabu Lovelace and passes of 16, 11 and 10 yards by Teel led to Te's 32-yard field goal that got Rutgers to 10-6.
On the ensuing play from scrimmage, Tate ran by cornerback Jason McCourty and Yates lofted a pass down the right sideline for the 69-yard catch and run.
North Carolina blew the game open in the third quarter as Tate scored on the end around, Carter tallied on the interception and Nicks had his second TD catch.