Defense Helps Build Tar Heels Into Winner

Eighty, as in the number of points the Tar Heels scored in Saturday’s 80-20 win over Old Dominion, is remarkable to be sure.

Another number associated with the Tar Heels, 90, might be even more impressive, however. It’s the total points the team has allowed in its last five games, all wins, as UNC climbed back into the bowl game picture.

DSC_8425-539x385If the Tar Heels can top a revived Duke squad Saturday, no mean feat, the Tar Heels can also boast a winning record at 7-5. That’s almost unfathomable for a team that started the season 1-5, though as UNC’s defense has stiffened the wins have suddenly piled up.

The Tar Heels success has been much to the pleasure, if not the surprise of, head coach Larry Fedora. He didn’t bother trying to low-key his team’s terrific performance, which lifted UNC to 6-5 overall.

“Going into that game, I believe [Old Dominion] had punted 24 total times in 11 football games – we forced 10 punts in that game the other day. There were just a lot of great things, too many to really single out,” Fedora says.

Many aspects of the Tar Heel “D” deserve credit, including cornerback Brian Walker. The freshman led a unit that limited ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke to a 14 of 31 passing effort, good for just 130 yards and a touchdown.

“Brian is another one of those true freshmen who has just gotten better every week. Now [Coach Dan] Disch is very comfortable throwing him out there in any situation. That is always a little bit of a scary situation when you put a guy out there at corner, because everybody sees if he makes a mistake. I think Dan has complete confidence in what Brian can do. Brian has no fear; he doesn’t mind getting up in your face and playing you.

“He’s one of those guys who has got the right mentality as a corner. He’s got that short-term memory – he doesn’t worry about one play to the next. He’s playing the play that he’s got, and if something bad happens he understands that it’s just part of the business and he moves on to the next play. He really played well. He had some really bright spots in the game – he was all over the receivers,” Fedora said.

Walker’s play, along with the stellar coverage by his teammates, made life miserable for Heinicke, whom his coach compared to the Saints great signal-caller Drew Brees. That may be a bit lofty, but Heinicke was FCS offensive player of the year in 2012 with 25 touchdown passes to just one interception.

Things don’t get much easier for the Tar Heels this week, with Duke’s Anthony Boone behind center. After struggling with four picks in a 13-10 win over Virginia Tech, Boone has completed 48 of 65 passes for 499 yards and had three scoring strikes in Saturday’s conquest of Wake Forest.

Boone also has an 8-0 mark to be proud of, his record as the Blue Devils’ starting signal-caller, including seven wins on this campaign. Strong fourth quarters, with a 110-34 advantage for the Blue Devils in the stanza, has been a key to their success.

“We are a 3 ½ hour team,” Boone says of Duke, a top-25 team that has won nine games for the first time since 1941. “We put more steam into the second half. No matter what happens in the first half, we come out ready to play in the second half.”

Fedora, meanwhile, says staying positive and not looking too far ahead has been the focus of his team, and the approach has obviously worked for the Tar Heels.

“If we continue to get a little bit better, if we continue to believe and hold this team together, if they keep working hard and have good attitudes, there is no doubt in my mind. That’s what they’ve done. We’ve focused on being 1-0 each week, giving one more inch. They’ve found a way, whatever it takes. That will be our entire focus again this week,” Fedora says.

Duke, And The War for Wiggins


Some sobering        thoughts on Car olina’s bad — really bad — loss to Duke Saturday night:

  • The Tar Heels lost the battle but they may have won the War for Wiggins. More on that later.
  • Larry Fedora has a new goal to hit Duke with a two touchdown lead (14 points) next fall before the Blue Devils know what happened.
  • The UNC students didn’t have to sleep in tents for two months to watch that.
  • Carolina got so many bad shots out of its system that the Tar Heels might actually think about trying to score from some kind of half-court offense. It was an utterly composure-less performance.
  • If they need a lesson, they can watch the tape of Mike Krzyzewski and his staff having Carolina’s small lineup scouted so well that they saw the immediate mismatches and called out plays as the Devils crossed half court.
  • Carolina discovered a weakness in the Blue Devils – in case the teams should meet again (like next Saturday in the ACC Tournament). They can’t throw the lob to Mason Plumlee from half-court. The one time they tried the ball went into the stands. Anywhere inside that, it’s a slam dunk.
  • The fans that stayed to the end avoided the traffic that poured out of the Smith Center throughout the second half.
  • And the Tar Heels didn’t have to suffer a long, somber flight home to think about this one.
  • The UNC women can gain a measure of revenge against Duke in the ACC Tournament championship game Sunday (just kidding, expect a blow-out there, too).
  • And, indeed, the crushed and demoralized men can have another crack at Duke by winning their first ACC tournament game next Friday (definitely not kidding).

Now for Andrew Wiggins, the best high school player in the country who is a senior and still hasn’t committed to any college. The 6-7 son of former NBA star Mitchell Wiggins is likely a one-and-done, but UNC wants him badly to regain national prominence next season. Wiggins, who is also considering Florida State (where his father went to school), Kansas and Kentucky, was at the game, sitting on the baseline in front of the student riser section.

And, just coincidentally, there were some  different  wrinkles to UNC’s senior night besides sending Dexter Strickland, walk-on Frank Tanner and three managers off with a rose and a rise from the crowd in a pretty over-cooked pre-game ceremony.

A whole new set of video features seemed tailored to what Wiggins is reportedly thinking about besides playing 25 games on national TV for a team with a chance  to win the NCAA championship   .

There were Sean May, Tyler Hansbrough, Marvin Williams and Harrison Barnes – all NBA lottery picks – talking about how much they loved Carolina. Barnes, especially, had his own highlight reel of high-flying dunks.

And there was this weird video of the Carolina players dressed up in costumes and horsing around in the locker room. Could it be that Wiggins loves the Harlem Shake (which I’ve since learned what that was supposed to be).

For sure, Williams didn’t have to tell Wiggins after the game how much the Tar Heels need him. Wiggins got a bird’s eye view of that from where he was sitting

A few more words about a game to forget.

P.J. Hairston, who made the only three-pointer on UNC’s 1-for-15 night, launched a shot from halfway to Durham on the Tar Heels’ first possession. He fired four more scud missiles before finally making one with 5:00 left in the game, cutting the deficit to 63-49. If only they hadn’t spotted Duke those 14 points.

Williams said he actually thought Carolina might still win at that point, but then Duke got two offensive rebounds and hit the last of its five treys to kill even ol’ Roy’s hopes (this game was basically over five minutes in).

You will likely never again see Reggie Bullock go scoreless in the first half on 0-for-4 shooting against Duke’s Tyler Thornton, starting in Coach K’s three-guard lineup to try to shut down Bullock and Hairston, who eventually combined for 22 points (17 in the second half when they were truly  moot points).

Ryan Kelly, who torched Miami and Virginia Tech for 54 points in his return from a re-broken foot, was largely used as  a  post-up decoy, so Carolina could not double team Mason Plumlee, who was the star of the second half and finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds to rekindle his ACC Player of the Year  candidacy.  

Seth Curry was the star of the first half, when Duke made its first six shots (Curry three of them) and bolted to the 14-0 lead that caused Williams to call maybe the earliest timeout of his coaching career. Curry had 18 in the first half and did not miss a shot until 8  minutes remained on the clock.

Duke shot 70 percent in the first half, while Carolina misfired at 27 percent. The Blue Devils went 5-for-9 from the arc; the Tar Heels went 0-for-8 (ouch!) and shot so poorly for the game (34 percent) that they wound up with seven more offensive rebounds than Duke.

The Blue Devils went back to Durham as the likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the odds-on favorite to win their 11th ACC title in the last 15 years in Greensboro next weekend.

To do that, they will probably have to beat Carolina again. This time Williams might  try his really big lineup and see what happens. The results could not be much worse. Hopefully, Wiggins liked what he didn’t see.

All Game Photos By Todd Melet

Shoop Heads For Purdue

   When Everett Withers and the remains of the Butch Davis coaching regime were not retained, only one member of the old staff stayed in Chapel Hill.
John Shoop was still under contract for the 2012 season at UNC, so for the first time since grade school Shoop spent an autumn off the football field. Besides a completely new experience, he said it turned out to be one of the best years of his life.
He grew a beard and wore cool, outdoorsy clothes. He watched his son and daughter in their school activities, like a normal parent. The Shoops actually took weeks and weekends off to travel, see the world and visit family and friends.
While the early morning meetings and late-night game-planning were not part of his life and he barely stepped on a football field, the game he has loved forever was never far from his mind. He wrote a weekly column for Chapelboro, previewing the local college and high school games of note. He called Friday night prep games on WCHL radio with play-by-play sidekick Paul Connell.
And, as the only member of Davis’ staff who still lived in Chapel Hill, Shoop unobtrusively remained an advocate for the players he had recruited and coached at Carolina. He wanted them to succeed under new coach Larry Fedora and he supported the players who had been through two awful years of NCAA investigation and suspensions plus several entangled in the academic scandal.
“The year was an unbelievable blessing for us,” Shoop said this week after being named the new offensive coordinator at Purdue. “I loved helping out on the radio, filling in for D.G. Martin occasionally, doing the high school games and writing the column. We loved all of it.             But the most important thing we did was to continue supporting the UNC players who had gotten caught up in some of what happened here. We advocated for student-athlete rights, particularly the young men who we had recruited to UNC.”
Shoop uses the word “we” when he speaks, because he and his wife Marcia are a team in such endeavors. Her website became popular with UNC players and their families during the NCAA problems, and her spiritual blog “Calling Audibles” was often a frank and telling memoir of her view on the controversy and those it touched.
The Shoops were particularly close with fullback Devon Ramsay, who was suspended for much of the 2010 season and then reinstated when Ramsay’s mother hired an attorney and challenged the suspension. Upon returning to the field in 2011, Ramsay was injured and spent most of the last two seasons rehabbing his knee before graduating last May.
“We had a small party for Devon at our house before I left for Purdue,” Shoop said. “A lot of folks came, friends and teammates. He’s staying fit, hoping to get a shot in the NFL, and I’m doing everything I can to help him; he’s a really good fullback. Either way, that guy’s got so much on the ball that we all might be working for him some day. He is what’s right with college athletics.”
Despite how his tenure at UNC ended, Shoop holds no grudge over what happened to the coaches and program that earned four straight bowl bids from 2008-11. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
“We have feelings deeply invested in this place and many of the people here,” he said. “We’re not bitter; it’s the reason we stayed. We wanted to do what we could to be part of the solution.”
Shoop knew he would return to coaching, continuing to network and stay in contact with the industry during his year off. He said he had several offers from colleges and NFL teams but found Purdue to be the best fit for him and his family.
With almost 40,000 students, Purdue is one of the biggest of the Big Ten schools and, though not nationally prominent in recent years, the Boilermakers have a rich tradition, having produced players named Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Leroy Keyes and Drew Brees. Shoop found similarities between Chapel Hill and West Lafayette, Indiana, particularly the opportunity to live out in the country as he did here but still close enough to campus. He has known new Purdue head coach Darrell Hazell and offensive line coach Jim Bollman since they worked together with the Chicago Bears, where Shoop was the offensive coordinator for three years including the 2001 season when they finished 13-3 and made the playoffs. Hazell and Bollman moved on to work for Jim Tressel at Ohio State. Every year, the Carolina and Ohio State staffs spent time together. With Hazell and Bollman landing at Purdue, going with them felt right.
“Our offensive philosophies were kind of similar at Carolina and Ohio State,” Shoop said. “We both liked to be physical, run the ball from a pro style offense. We see the game similarly. And I’m excited that this is the first time I’ll be an offensive coordinator for an offensive head coach. I’ve always worked for defensive head coaches, so this will be fun.”
He did not settle on Purdue until it became clear that Butch Davis was not taking another head coaching job for the 2013 season. Shoop said he stayed in touch with his former boss over the last year   “and it is fair to say he was close” to starting over again at another school.
“It’s something we would have considered,” Shoop said of going with Davis, “and I’m surprised he didn’t get one. But he will, he deserves another chance.”
Happily, Shoop has gotten his.
(Read John Shoop’s final, touching column for Chapelboro)

The Martin Report

Former Governor Martin’s report on his independent investigation into academic fraud at UNC is due Thursday, and my educated guess is that it will confirm what we already know and reveal little that we don’t.

That’s the outcome UNC must have to finally put this scandal to rest and move on, and any new revelations would be even more damaging than the massive hit the university’s reputation has already taken. Any such new allegations would be a bombshell that could reverberate through the athletic department, past and present and future.

Martin’s report is sure to say that, yes, there were too many independent study courses offered in the Department of Afro and African-American Studies and, yes, there were too many athletes clustered in some of those courses. We already know that and the university has pledged to fix the problem that apparently created a climate conducive to cheating.

Fewer independent study courses will be offered and the students taking them will have to be fully qualified, which is the point of independent studies in the first place. Athletes liked them because they had no classes and helped balance the time burden of playing a varsity sport.

And while we may suspect that more cheating occurred than has already been exposed, some of it claimed by former athletic support employee Mary Willingham, hard proof will have been difficult to find by Martin and the Baker Tilly consulting firm that has helped conduct the investigation.

Heretofore, as far as we know, no tutors or teachers have come forward to admit they illegally helped write term papers for athletes. And the only paper found to be plagiarized belonged to former football player Michael McAdoo who after being suspended from the team went in the supplemental NFL draft to the Baltimore Ravens, where he is still on their practice squad.

By UNC policy, term papers do not have to be kept on file for more than a year, so Martin’s committee may have class rolls and transcripts but will likely uncover no evidence that any students (athletes or not) received improper help in writing the papers that determined their grades in independent study courses.

At least I hope not.

Let’s theorize what would happen if Martin found several papers by former prominent athletes at UNC that his investigation suspects were written with impermissible help from tutors or illegally plagiarized. The ramifications could be sweeping, far beyond the possible vacating of victories and championships. It would mean further investigation and more public records requests from the media, which already seems never ending. 

Say those athletes were now members of professional sports teams. Just as Julius Peppers was unduly embarrassed by the publishing of his first-semester transcript, dragging any more of UNC’s famous athletic alumni into the scandal would tarnish the reputation of the pro athletes who have been such great ambassadors for the university and substantiate claims that the cheating was not contained from 2007-2011.

And say those pro stars implicated after the fact were African-Americans, like every student-athlete that was part of both the NCAA investigation and academic fraud that resulted in Carolina’s three-year probation and one-year bowl ban. The widespread unrest among the minority students on campus over the last three years is no secret, with claims that some athletes were not protected enough—in fact suspended and sacrificed too quickly by UNC.

What would this mean to Carolina’s long-standing reputation as one of the most popular schools in the country for minorities? And how much would that affect Larry Fedora’s and Roy Williams’ and all the other UNC coaches in continuing to recruit and sign quality African-American student-athletes? It certainly would not help.

Most damaging, UNC might be permanently branded the same way as other universities that have been associated with repeated academic scandals.

That Carolina has taken its medicine, fired culpable coaches and staff members and already begun fixing what was broken should be enough. It would be different if the athletic department considered getting caught the “cost of doing business” and was only paying lip services to making changes. That goes on at some SEC schools, which have served more probations than any others in the country and continue winning championships.

UNC has never been of that ilk, and what happened over the last five years was clearly an aberration that has embarrassed and hurt thousands of proud alumni. Holden Thorp and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham have reset goals for academics and athletics that far exceed any baselines previously used for excellence in the classroom and on the playing fields.

More than 40 years ago, in the stifling summer of 1971, a Tar Heel football player named Billy Arnold suffered a heat stroke during preseason practice and died after several weeks in a coma. An investigation ensued and Coach Bill Dooley and his staff were cleared of any wrong-doing.

But what resulted spoke far more loudly than the internal probe. The football coach at Carolina no longer determined the length and nature of practices once the temperature and humidity reached a certain level, and mandatory water and rest breaks were dictated by the medical staff on hand. From an environment where the coach and team doctor controlled practice came the formation of UNC’s Sports Medicine Department, now considered one of the finest in the country.

Billy Arnold’s parents could have sued the university, but chose not to. Dooley and his staff could have been fired or reprimanded for negligence, but were not (at least publicly). Dooley remained coach of the Tar Heels for seven more seasons.

The unthinkable had happened. After grieving for Arnold, the university was more focused on making changes to ensure it never happened again than assigning blame. There was no benefit in looking back, only to learning from any mistakes that had been made.

That’s why I hope, and believe, the Martin report will confirm everything we already know, but tell us nothing that we don’t. And UNC can finally, and fully, move forward.

We've Got Our Coach!

Within 24 hours of going 8-4 in his inaugural season at the helm of UNC Football, Larry Fedora found himself the second longest tenured “major college” football coach in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area.  Only Duke’s David Cutcliffe has been in his current position longer than Larry.
One of Coach Fedora’s eight victories, of course, came at the expense of the, then, Tom O’Brien-coached NC State Wolfpack.  TO’B’s fateful decision to punt to Gio Bernard in those waning moments accelerated the coaching discontent that seems to ever-fester among the Carter-Finley crowd like a peat bog fire.  
That Gio-hangover was so debilitating that O’Brien’s gridders somnambulated themselves a week later versus the woeful Hoos of UVa.  Those eight days and the resulting howls from the West Raleigh lunatic fringe convinced NCSU AD Debbie “Frau” Yow to pull the trigger on The Ruddy-faced Marine after six years. 
For all their high-tone talk about “building character” and “running a clean program,” UNC’s sister institution has decided to once again go asearchin’ for a savior to lead them to wherever the heck they think they belong.   Apparently a series of Whozit Bowls wasn’t it.
Early mumbling from the Yow-led search party center on Vanderbilt’s James Franklin because he and Frau were together at Maryland.   This is a version of the Sean Miller basketball search that ended with Mark Gottfried.   Choices beyond Franklin will likely go the usual lunatic path of Cowher – Gruden – Belichick – Saban – et al.
Life offers fewer on-looker pleasures more enjoyable than an NC State coach search.  If you’ve never watched one of these wild ‘n woolies, I definitely recommend doing so.  Keep in mind that the Internet and talk show comments you will be absorbing come, for the most part, from humans who can breed and even vote….. and operate heavy machinery.
Meanwhile amid Kenan’s lofty pines, the off-season preparation for The Fighting Fedorians version 2013 begins immediately.  Seventeen seniors depart including the last remaining Barth Brother.  Haven’t we had a Barth doing our placekicking since we switched to soccer-style back in the 70s?
I have it on excellent source that Coach Fedora knows that Defense was a bit of concern this year among some factions of HeelNation.  Personally, I’m just fine with Pinball Football so long as we have the highest number on the scoreboard.  That said, seeing an opposing QB sacked every now and then would be nice.
I have every confidence in Larry Fedora knowing what his team needs to get better and how to achieve that state of being.  I’ve been impressed with every thing I have seen and heard from “our coach”.   I am one fan who does pay attention to off-field behavior as well as Fall Saturdays.  Bring in youngsters who can run, jump, and benchpress a Buick….. and who behave themselves….. AND can navigate UNC’s academic curricula.  
Coach Fedora and Bubba The Real AD are “good people”.  If you haven’t met either / both try to do so at any opportunity.   Ask them stupid question if you must.  Their tolerance for such is limitless.   Engage them with your interest and support.
UNC Athletics has labored under some most unfortunate revelations over the past several years.  Mistakes were made and oversight was, in many cases, non-existent.  Some individuals responsible for that oversight are no longer employed at UNC, or at least in the athletic department.   Healing our wounds is a painful process but a mandatory one.
Support UNC Athletics to the degree you are comfortable.  Fans are fickle and tough times usually lighten the load of any bandwagon.  ….. and do try and watch that lunatic fringe at State during their coach search.   Guaranteed to be more fun than a box of puppies.
More BobLee at

Heels Good Bet, Sort Of

LAS VEGAS – Well, when in Vegas . . . where gambling is legal.

After finishing our final Good Sports show on WCHL before the Maryland-Carolina game, I was intending to go to the hotel sports book and bet on the Tar Heels to cover the 24.5 point spread by which they were favored to beat the Terrapins.

Only, I waited too long, watching the end of the Virginia-Virginia Tech game, which I had bet on the Hokies to win by more than their 10.5 spread. Now I have another reason to hate the Gobblers. They couldn’t score more than 17 points on a UVa defense that had been giving up 35 to 40 in recent weeks.

Then, after watching UNC’s first half unfold, I was glad I did not get to the wager window on time. Despite Bryn Renner and Gio Bernard having their typical offensive days, the Tar Heels gave up long plays to a Maryland team quarterbacked by an ex-linebacker who looks like, well, a linebacker.

No. 31 had the paunch of an LB and was hard to bring down when he ran; the stocky lefty also had a surprisingly good arm for Maryland’s fourth-string quarterback after all the others got hurt for the future Big Ten member.

Maybe Maryland played Carolina so tough from the inspiration of its new destination. After all, the ACC has proven itself one of the most overrated leagues in college football history – witness Georgia Tech (at Georgia), Florida State (at home to Florida), Clemson (at home to South Carolina) and Wake Forest (at home to Vanderbilt) losing all four games convincingly against SEC foes Saturday.  Maryland, headed out of the ACC, looked very much alive for most of the late afternoon in Chapel Hill.

The Terps stayed with Carolina in the first half on one-handed catches, reverse passes and, amazingly, went ahead at the break on a one-play scoring drive following a fumbled kickoff by the shaken Heels.

By then, it was clear Carolina wasn’t going to win this game by 25 points, if winning the Senior Day home finale at all. So I was happy I had not bet on the game.

Up to that point, I had won money on the Patriots over the Jets Thursday night and never rooted harder for Duke to cover the spread against scrappy VCU Friday night. I did make a mistake on betting against Arizona State in a basketball tournament out here because the Sun Devils are coached by Herb Sendek, who we hated when he was at the other State in Raleigh. Sendek’s team covered.

Virginia Tech’s failure to cover had left me even money on the weekend, and I was about to quit.
Then they put up a halftime line on the Carolina game, the Tar Heels by 14. Didn’t matter that they were behind, 28-21, all they had to do was outscore Maryland by 15 points in the second half. Sure thing, I thought.

The Terps Stefon Diggs ran the second-half kickoff back 100 yards to give them a 14-point lead, but Renner went back to work on his 5 touchdown passes and Gio got to churning out tough yards. Soon, Carolina had scored enough to be “winning” the second half by 17 points, and I was looking good!

As for the game, by the way, Carolina was winning that, too, by 10 points. Smaller matter, of course, when your money is on the line.

Meanwhile, I was checking on another basketball game I had bet between Cornell of the Ivy League and one of the dumbest teams and I had ever seen the day before. A lock for the Big Red to win and cover, right?

Well, they turned out to be not so smart on this day, and the dumb team got mighty lucky, banking in 3-pointers and making twice as many free throws as they had clanged the day before.

Back to the Tar Heels, who got conservative with their 10-point lead and started working the clock, which good teams should do. And that Maryland quarter-backer made a HUGE fourth-down completion to Diggs to keep a drive alive.

It didn’t cost Carolina the game, because all the Terps got was a field goal. But it tied the second half spread and I went to the window to get a refund on my bet, but not to collect any winnings.

So, I guess it turned out right, all the way around. Larry Fedora got his eighth victory in his first regular season, something a Carolina coach hasn’t done since Ray Wolf in 1936. His maiden Heels also tied for the ACC Coastal Division title at 5-3, but shush we’re not supposed to mention that. 

And Renner continued his surge as perhaps the greatest UNC quarterback ever, throwing for unprecedented yards his last four games on the way to setting a school record for TD passes in a season (28). He already shared the five scoring throws in one game with other notables named Darian Durant and Kevin Anthony.

Bernard piled up more yardage, and also can become known as the greatest in UNC history if he joins Renner to return for the 2013 season.

If they do, and Fedora shores up a leaky defense with maturing players and new recruits, merely eight wins will be a thing of the past.

I’ll be happy to bet on that!

Huddle Up, As Season Ends

With the 2012 Carolina football season drawing to a close, this is the last week of Chapelboro’s Huddle Up With The Heels. It has been a pleasure to contribute to this diverse special sports section, which was invented to inform, entertain and educate UNC fans of all ages.

Appropriate for today, we are most thankful to have John Shoop, Carolina’s former offensive coordinator, contribute “The Shoop Scoop” every Thursday. His latest piece is a moving tribute to some of the youngsters he recruited and coached at UNC. Don’t miss this from-the-heart tribute from a good friend of WCHL and Chapelboro. When the Tar Heel coaching staff turned over, it was our gain that Shoop remained in the community with his family for a year to call the color on weekly high school football broadcasts and write his Huddle column. Thanks, Coach.
Freddie Kiger is one of Chapel Hill’s greatest ambassadors, and the former teacher and long-time media personality used his vast historical knowledge to post a unique Friday column that shared some jewels about the town and university just before game day. In his last piece this Friday, Kiger reflects on the 85th anniversary of the Dedication Game in Kenan Stadium. As with all of FK’s writings, this final post is filled with facts and whimsy about our history.
As we had in our Drive To A Championship basketball special section last winter, UNC students from the Carolina Fever group contributed their oft-insightful and mostly humorous takes on the view from the Tar Pit. In football, it was Andrew Darvin and Alex Collette who made us laugh and think about things from a young perspective. Thanks, guys, and go get painted up.
Brian Chacos, a newcomer to Chapelboro but a Tar Heel lineman forever, took a Tuesday turn to tell us the players’ perspective before, during and after games – big wins and tough losses. Chacos, who played for John Bunting, says the thrill of strapping on those pads and entering Kenan Stadium through the home tunnel will never leave him and still juices his fall Saturdays.
And, of course, our Monday Morning quarterback has been the indomitable BobLee, whose 12-year-old BobLeeSays blog has become one of the most popular and hilarious on the Internet. BobLee always delivered with a follow-up piece that put the game, and all of its machinations, into a perspective that if not so proper be damned!

Occasionally, we also had guest columns, such as Kristin Tucker’s tailgating tips and Dave Kirk’s view from afar.
To all of you, plus the great action photos shot by Josh Drye and contributed by the Daily Tar Heel, thanks for making Huddle Up With The Heels regular reading for Carolina football fans this season, Coach Larry Fedora’s first and one we hope ends with a big victory over Maryland Saturday. See you next year!

Pinball? 50 Is The 'New 30'

Was it a coincidence?   The Who performed Friday night in Greensboro . . .  and “pinball wizards” performed in Kenan on Saturday afternoon?  The football opera was co-orchestrated not by Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey but by Larry Fedora and Paul Johnson.   The Heels & Ramblin’ Wreck  “sure played a mean pinball” on a BEE-youtiful November Saturday amid the remaining lofty pines.
The Kenan scoreboard operator is in intensive care in the Jim Knight Wing of UNC Hospitals suffering from severe carpal tunnel syndrome.  A Kenan scoreboard lighting up like a Dean Dome scoreboard? 
“50 is the new 30” in college football.  Each week there are a dozen teams passing half-a-hundred.  If you don’t like it, I suggest soccer or hockey as more your speed. 
If The Fedorians had the 68 and the other guys had the 50 would the Franklin Street teeth-gnashing be the same today?   Was it more fun to ring up 60 on the Idahoians than have 60+ run up on us?  Heck yes. 
I perused a few media comment boards frequented by the Tar Heel knee-jerks.  They are oh-so-predictable, duh!  The FireDaveHuxtable & SendHisFamilyToAGulag Society has reopened for business.  They were a fun bunch of pathetic sickos from the early Bunting Era.  This pack o’ rabid dogs decided Bunting’s Defensive Coordinator – a nice guy named Dave Huxtable – was all that stood between them and BCS Glory.   They finally ran Dave off but their own miserable lives remained BCS-less.
Their knee-jerking counterparts on The Brickyard during their Amato Era did the exact same with Chuckie’s Offensive Coordinator de’jour for 3-4 years running.   It got so bad that Chuck’s OCs simply rented a room at the Ramada Inn by the Fairgrounds knowing their stay would be “shorter than a Monte Towe bobblehead doll”. I digress.
Big Time College Football is indeed in its pinball era of point-a-minute offenses.  If you prefer trench warfare and “3 yards and a cloud of dust” go rent The Woody Hayes DVD Collection at Blockbuster.   ‘Dem days is long gone.
Just wait.  In three years the football rules guys will narrow the width of the playing field to 25 yards.  Plant land mines in The Red Zone and require all wide receivers to tie one hand behind their backs.  These things run in cycles.  Trust me.
“Pinball football” is a perfect complement to big flat-screen HDTVs.   Aerial shows featuring cannon-armed bomb-throwers and glue-fingered gazelles…. wearing glo-in-the-dark helmets.  “Everybody Go Long” is now the basic game plan.
To quote the leader of The Fedorians:
“If you leave your seat to go to the rest room you’re gonna miss a Tar Heel touchdown.”  Yesterday that was modified to “turn to the guy next to you to ask ‘which one is Gio’ and you missed both teams scoring.”
Me?  I like Pinball Football.  I like Home Runs in baseball and 3-point shots in basketball too.  Not everyone does.  I watched long-faces exiting Kenan on Saturday muttering obscenities centered around “get rid of whoever our defensive coordinator is and go hire Buddy Ryan”.  Buddy Ryan???  Beats Bud Foster I suppose.
Mel Kiper wannabees are bemoaning “we have great talent but all Fedora cares about is offense”.   No, amateur Kipers, you’re wrong.  We DON’T have a bevy of “great talent” on defense and Larry Fedora cares about WINNING and, of course all that “mold men & build character” yadda yadda too.  Of Course!
Carolina Football has labored under 2+ years of “damage-control recruiting” due to a certain lingering unpleasantness.  While every coach claims each recruiting class is “exactly who we wanted from Day One” only Nick Saban would “pass a poly” on that one. 
Ergo for 2+ years the depth of incoming talent has been less deep than desired and the incoming “NFL can’t miss-types” much less too.  In case you have forgotten, “those types” bring with them “other issues” that can complicate a program….. oh yeah!
The current crop does have enough O-talent to delight the local aficionados to no end, especially the talent embodied in #26.  The talent on the “stop’em” unit is, alas, of a lesser level of magnitude.  Mother Fedora son Larry is quite aware of all this and “has a plan”….. which might include calling Dave Huxtable, but I doubt it.
PS: If you missed our Good Sports w/ guest Curry Kirkpatrick, your life is a little less complete than it could have been.  It was A GREAT SHOW!
More BobLee at

You Left Us Defenseless

Carolina had no defense for what Georgia Tech did Saturday.

The Tar Heels, in fact, gave up nine more points than their basketball brethren did in THAT season opener Friday night (a 76-59 win over Gardner Webb).

In losing to the nearly-defenseless (themselves) Yellow Jackets, 68-50, Larry Fedora’s first UNC football team has much less to play for; it won’t have a losing record and could still finish 8-4, but that is no better than any of his predecessors have done over the last 15 seasons of football frustration.

That elusive nine-win season will have to wait at least one more year, now that the probation-laden 6-4 Tar Heels have only two games left after having lost for the first time this fall in Kenan Stadium. They were trying to become the second UNC football team to ever go 7-0 at home.

But a defense that had been keeping its collective finger in the dike the last two weeks while giving up 69 points to Tobacco Road rivals Duke and N.C. State fell apart while falling one-point short of relinquishing that number against a Wreck that Wrambled for 1,328 all-purpose yards, including so many uncontested long gainers that it often looked like Georgia Tech was playing dummy offense.

The only consolation in giving up those 68 points was that it fell short of the school-record 69 that Carolina allowed Louisville to score in 2004. But that was on the road; this was at home before a Homecoming crowd that, by midway through the second half, had to wonder what the heck it came home for.

An almost capacity-filled Kenan did witness the highest-scoring football contest in UNC history on its way to the most points in a game ever played by any ACC team. Now, that’s one of those neurotic records to feel good about because it meant YOU had to score a bunch yourself.

And a bunch it was, Carolina leading 29-28 at halftime before succumbing in a third quarter the Tar Heels have owned all season. Coming into their 10th game, they had outscored opponents 89-23 in the third quarter. This time, they were waxed 30-14 in Period 3 during which the Yellow Jackets scored 24 unanswered to pretty much seal the deal for the bees.


The second half, In fact, started like none Kenan has ever seen before — a 100-yard kickoff return by Tech’s Jamal Golden followed by – on Carolina’s very first snap from scrimmage – a 79-yard tightrope run down the left sideline by (who else?) Giovani Bernard with a Bryn Renner screen pass.

After that exchange, the Heels still led by two points but it was their last lead. Three more Tech touchdowns and a field goal followed before they mounted a rally. That came on a long-awaited sustained drive followed by the only major mistake Georgia Tech freshman quarterback Vad Lee made all day. His receiver went right and he threw left, directly to Carolina corner Tim Scott who took it back for a 34-yard pick 6 to, how they say, reduce the deficit to 58-50.

Lee, in fact, is from Durham and played at Hillside when recruited by Butch Davis and his staff. Only, they wanted the 6-2, 213-pound Lee to play safety. Lee proved Butch, Blake and the boys wrong by rushing for 124 yards and completing 6-of-10 passes for another 169 and a touchdown. Several were lovely long bombs over the UNC secondary he might have helped had he stayed home.

As it was, while winning the starting job, Lee helped the Jackets score the most points in their own storied history while carving up their hosts with the triple option for which UNC had an extra week to prepare. Sometimes it was an option, but often it was just a quick pitch to a back who, behind low-cutting blockers on the edge, gobbled up huge chunks of yardage on their way to 380 total on the ground. Add to that 208 passing. And add to that 740 return yards. Yikes.

Fedora likes to talk about winning all three phases of the game and making at least one-game-changing play in special teams. The Hat had to be chewing on a Red Bull can after this one was over and his team LOST all three phases in dramatic fashion. Carolina not only was outgained by Tech 588-497, it gave up that long TD return and handed the visitors three more breaks of the game with a fumble in the red zone, an interception in their red zone and a fake punt that fooled no one and gave the Jackets another short field from which to score.

Even Bernard, who entered the game leading the nation in punt returns, took two back for a grand total of two yards while again tweaking his sore ankle, He finished with 173 all-purpose yards that will likely end all the Heisman talkn although Gio’s 79 on the ground were enough to make him Carolina’s first consecutive-season thousand-yard rusher since Narone Means 20 years ago.

The M*A*S*H unit, especially on a decimated defense, grew during the gorgeous fall day, which now makes the Thursday night trip to Virginia even more perilous. What once appeared to be a showcase opportunity on ESPN for the bowl-sanctioned Tar Heels is now ripe for a national embarrassment, the likes of which Carolina no longer needs.

An earlier laughing stock in the league, Virginia has reeled off upset wins at N.C. State and at home against Miami, scoring 77 points in the process. That means a dinged-up, knocked-around and head-hanging defense had better get better in a hurry. More bending but not so much breaking would be a good goal.

And please, no more basketball scores unless, of course, Fedora’s fast-break offense can hit the game-winner at the buzzer.

A Banner Year?

If the fortunes of North Carolina’s two largest football programs over the last week forecast the outcome on Election Day, the “blues” are trending upward and the “reds” are in a free fall.

In other words, the North Carolina Tar Heels are feeling great about themselves while the N.C. State Wolfpack is in a panic that even the best spin doctors cannot cure. While UNC enjoyed a much-needed weekend off, State followed its fourth-quarter collapse in Chapel Hill with a one-sided Homecoming horror show against last-place Virginia that could be the beginning of the end for Coach Tom O’Brien.

Even before the State-Carolina kick-off on October 27, an undercurrent among the media was that new Wolfpack Athletic Director Debbie Yow is not TOB’s biggest supporter. And, supposedly, she gave her incumbent coach a preseason ultimatum that he had to beat the Tar Heels for the sixth straight year and win the Atlantic Division of the ACC.

Neither happened, and then State showed up against Virginia with a major hangover, trailing 26-0 on the way to a 33-6 loss to a 2-6 team coming into the game. Caulton Tudor of the Raleigh News & Observer wrote afterward that O’Brien may be in hot water but should survive because he has three years left on his contract and has a spotless record with the NCAA.

That won’t hold much political capital with the tough-minded Yow, who before coming to State fired Ralph Friedgen at Maryland with millions left on his contract. And having a clean slate with the NCAA is what coaches are supposed to do, as O’Brien led the laugh track over UNC’s troubles for two years.

His infamous “triple play” comment last season about Carolina’s NCAA woes – impermissible benefits, an agent on staff and academic fraud – made him the unofficial mayor of Raleigh, if not the Governor in a Republican state, but his support has since abated big time.

It all began to change in the fourth quarter last week and then turned over, in the blink of an eye, with Gio Bernard’s dramatic game-winning punt return. State had rallied to take a 10-point lead and likely would have won had it kept attacking the Tar Heels’ vulnerable secondary.  But, after Carolina forged a 35-35 tie, O’Brien and his staff were guilty of horrible clock management and ultra-conservative play-calling down the stretch, opening the door for much more than a win on the football field.

“It felt cathartic,” said Jones Angell, the second-year Voice of the Tar Heels whose call of Bernard’s 74-yard gem has already become Carolina lore. He said it was a combination of describing a return that was setting up perfectly from his vantage point and then letting his emotions follow Gio down the State sideline.

“You could see the blocking wall forming on the right side of the field,” Angell said, “and all Gio had to do was get around the corner for what would have been, at least, a long return to get Carolina pretty close to field goal range.”

But when Tre Boston blocked one State defender into another, essentially wiping out two men, and T.J. Jiles threw another big block, the only man left for Bernard to beat was punter Will Baumann, who had foolishly kicked it right to him.

“No he’s not! Yes he is!” Angell shrieked as Gio high-stepped over Baumann and outran State’s Brandan Bishop into the end zone “FOR A TOUCHDOWN!”

Then Angell ripped off the words that will live as long as any his predecessor Woody Durham bellowed during his 40 years behind the mike.


Angell said the spectacular finish tapped into his place as a lifelong Carolina fan, just as an insane Kenan Stadium rocked with people yelling their own words of joy and amazement. But he also said the play was like taking the biggest sigh of relief one could imagine.

“It did seem like a cathartic moment,” Angell said. “First, we hadn’t beaten State for five years and, second, so much had happened to our football program over the last two and half years. It just felt like when Gio turned the corner, Carolina football finally turned the corner with him.”

The 43-35 victory for Coach Larry Fedora was something neither Butch Davis nor Everett Withers could accomplish. It also kept Fedora from going 0-3 against Tobacco Road rivals in his first year. With no post-season play, a loss last weekend might have sucked much of the motivation from the last three games.

As it is, the Tar Heels will be favored to win out over Georgia Tech, Virginia and Maryland and finish 9-3, which would be the most regular-season victories since the Mack Brown era ended 15 years ago. And it just might leave Carolina alone in first place (6-2) of the Coastal Division of the ACC, although UNC has been instructed that it cannot officially claim such a championship.

A post-season ban is one thing, but not being able to call yourselves division champs is ridiculous and is without precedent. Two N.C. State basketball teams that were on probation and banned from the NCAA Tournament won the ACC Championship and have banners hanging to prove it.

There are still three weeks to go, but if the Tar Heels turn this state blue in that way, UNC ought to hang the biggest banner possible and declare them the 2012 Unofficial ACC Coastal Division Champions!

They would have won it on the field, if not in the political process.