Underdog Tar Heels Strive To Survive Hurricanes

The North Carolina football team, 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in ACC play, will take on the 5-3 Miami Hurricanes, also 2-2 in conference, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in Sun Life Stadium.

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Both teams harbor realistic hopes of an ACC Coastal division crown, but neither can afford a loss this weekend.

Miami is playing formidable football these days. Coming off two dominating wins over Cincinnati and Virginia Tech, the Hurricanes currently sit as 17-point favorites in the betting lines.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora (Elliott Rubin)

But junior offensive guard Landon Turner says the Tar Heels are ready for the challenge. The Notre Dame game changed the team’s mindset.

“I think it [ND game] helped a lot. You play a high-caliber team like that and play very well. I think that spoke volumes and boosted our confidence up for the weeks to come. It was tough to lose. The loss hurt, but it was still healthy for us. We still came out of that game winning,” Turner says.

Miami’s star running back Duke Johnson has tallied a touchdown in seven straight games and has amassed 35 first downs in the past five outings. He’ll be a handful for the Tar Heel defense.

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

Duke Johnson (Miami Herald)

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says Johnson’s legs take pressure off the rest of the Hurricane offense.

“They’re getting better in the offensive line. They’ve got Duke Johnson and have the big kid behind him that comes in and does a great job. They’ve always had the guys that can fly on the outside. I think they’ve done a good job with the quarterback and bringing him along. It helps when you have an offensive line and Duke Johnson that can run the football like that to take some of the pressure off him so he doesn’t have to throw it all the time,” Coach Fedora says.

Miami’s freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has matured greatly in the past few games, playing with a newfound sense of comfort and confidence. Earlier in the year, the young signal caller was prone to coughing up the football, but he’s cleaned up his act.

“You watch his film as he goes, and he’s more poised every week. I watched the TV copy of the Virginia Tech game. He handled every aspect of it just like a junior or senior. He wasn’t rattled by the noise or hype. He did a nice job of managing the team,” Coach Fedora says.

The Hurricane defense has been up and down in 2014, but Coach Fedora says their experience has allowed them to be a much more worrisome unit than in years past.

“Defensively, a lot of these guys were playing three years ago. I think they have six or seven seniors starting on the defense. I think out of the eleven guys, there’s one sophomore on the defense. You have some age and experience. They’ve been through the battles together. They’re playing well on defense,” Coach Fedora says.

As for the Tar Heels, UNC junior quarterback Marquise Williams says the offense must get off to a faster start this weekend.

“As an offense, we’ve got to start out much faster. This past Saturday, we started off too slow. We’re just going to keep playing our style of football – smart, fast and physical,” Williams says.

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Williams in action (Elliott Rubin)

Coach Fedora says the keys to UNC’s success on Saturday will rest in special teams play and stopping the run.

“On special teams, we’re going to have to create another game-changing play. That’s going to have to happen. On defense, we’ve got to play with a lot of energy from the very beginning. We’ve got to stop the run. We’ve got to put the game on the freshman quarterback’s back,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina leads the all-time series with Miami 9-8, but fell to the Hurricanes by a 27-23 margin in dramatic fashion a season ago. The two schools have battled to a 5-5 draw in their 10 games as ACC members since 2004.


Transformed Meeks Poised For Breakout Season

Low-post returning starter Kennedy Meeks could be an X-factor for the No. 6 North Carolina men’s basketball team this season. After losing nearly 50 pounds, Meeks is hoping his body transformation translates into more dominant play.

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UNC head coach Roy Williams has been challenging his players throughout the offseason. Who is going to rise up and stand alongside Marcus Paige as an elite performer?

“I’ve said this so many times I’m already sick of hearing it myself, but one or two of those guys needs to step and say, ‘I’m going to be a big-time player.’ I don’t think anybody questions that last year; Marcus stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to be a big-time player.’ Now, one of the post players has to step up, say that and not just be willing to run up and down the court and wait on Marcus to do something,” Coach Williams says.

Meeks (Todd Melet)

Meeks (Todd Melet)

Meeks believes the Tar Heels relied too heavily on Paige’s play a year ago. The sophomore from Charlotte says other teammates are ready to lift the heavy scoring burden off Paige’s shoulders this season.

“I don’t think we need to carry as much weight on Marcus as we did last year. I think we looked to him in situations more than we should have, but he always came through for us in every situation that we asked him to. He’s always going to be the No. 1 scorer, but I think me and Brice [Johnson] could be the ones that step up,” Meeks says.

Meeks should be much better equipped to run the floor at the frenetic pace Coach Williams likes to employ. Meeks says he’s proud of his weight loss, but sometimes, he has to do a double-take when he looks at himself in the mirror.

“I try not to be conceited about it, but it’s hard not to when you really know you’ve put the work in. I try not to be too conceited about it, but I’m very proud of myself,” Meeks says.

In his freshman campaign, Meeks earned ACC-All Freshman team honors from both the media and head coaches. But he was clearly gassed in numerous games, forcing him to take a seat on the bench.

Coach Williams says Meeks’ weight loss efforts are far tougher than what he’s asking him to do on the court. With that said, though, he says he wants the sophomore to be more aggressively-minded going forward.

“He’s running better and is more explosive. I want him to be more aggressive thinking. That doesn’t mean foul people. Get the ball and go stronger to the basket. You’re not carrying 285-295, explode up there and get it closer to the rim when you do it. I think he’s got to realize he’s worked his tail off to do something. He came in at 319. He’s in the 270-275 range now. That’s a lot more difficult than what I’m asking to do as a basketball player,” Coach Williams says.

UNC’s preseason practices have been tough. Meeks says he never forgets his mouth guard and calls the training “vicious”.

But so far, Meeks is happy with what he’s seeing from the Tar Heels.

Meeks addresses media members (The Daily Tar Heel)

Meeks addresses media members (The Daily Tar Heel)

“In practice, we’re hitting a lot more three-point shots. Also, we’re getting the ball in the post and being aggressive. I think that’s what is going to help our team this year – both on the perimeter and inside. I think it’s a great experience for us. I think we should continue to work on it,” Meeks says.

It remains to be seen whether Meeks will truly become the dominant inside threat that his teammates and many observers project he’ll be this season, but one thing’s for certain, his body won’t be the thing holding him back.


Mack Hollins, Team Confidence Soaring for Tar Heels

There’s a much more positive atmosphere surrounding the Tar Heel football program following back-to-back ACC victories. UNC head coach Larry Fedora says the belief is sky-high for his 4-4 Tar Heels.

Coach Fedora was asked Monday what he points to as the key to UNC’s turnaround the past few weeks. His answer? Greater team unity.

There are no pointing fingers these days on the UNC sideline. Maybe that’s why the UNC defense has begun to play with more confidence.

Coach Fedora says getting back on the winning track has reinforced positivity within the program.

“It helps the morale of your team. I don’t think they’re lacking for confidence, but I think it’s a boost that you didn’t play as well as you needed to play and yet still found a way to win a football game. I think it reemphasizes that if you just keep believing in each other and keep playing hard, eventually something good will happen,” Coach Fedora says.

Larry Fedora (AP)

Larry Fedora (AP)

Good things have been happening – on both sides of the ball. When the UNC offense was sputtering in the second half in Charlottesville, it was the Carolina defense that rose to the occasion, limiting Virginia to a mere three points in the final 30 minutes of play.

A regular laundry list of players has stepped up to help spur on the Tar Heel success. Coach Fedora credits it to a team-wide buy-in that anybody can step in and make a big play.

“I think kids keep believing. They’ve bought in to that if we keep playing hard and keep believing in what we’re doing, something is going to happen and somebody’s going to make a play. We’ve had guys step up and make plays,” Coach Fedora says.

Walk-on wide receiver Mack Hollins is a special story. His two touchdowns, 120 receiving yards and onside kick recovery in the Virginia win earned him the title of ACC Receiver of the Week.

Mack Hollins hauls in a bomb (Zimbio.com)

Mack Hollins hauls in a bomb (Zimbio.com)

“It’s a great story for a kid to come in unknown and prove to everybody that he’s not only worthy of a scholarship, but he’s a great teammate and a guy that wants to contribute in everything. When he’s out there playing, he’s going hard on every snap and going to give you everything he has,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora says the over-achieving Hollins is a shining example of how hard work and maximum effort can help you achieve at the highest level.

“I expected him from what we saw in spring to contribute on the offense, but he’s big play after big play after big play. I don’t think anybody saw that coming but himself. Mack doesn’t lack for confidence and never has from the moment he stepped foot on campus. He was ready to prove he was as good as anybody or better. That’s what he’s done,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina’s red zone efficiency has been top-notch this season. The Tar Heel offense has scored 26 touchdowns in 34 trips.

Coach Fedora says cashing in on six points in the red zone was a point of emphasis in the offseason and cutting out the stupid mistakes has only aided his team in that regard in recent weeks.

“I think our guys have responded very well down in the red zone. We’ve quietly and slowly stopped shooting ourselves in the foot. I don’t want to talk about it a whole lot, but without you asking me about it, we’ve started doing that a little bit. That always helps you down in the red zone,” Coach Fedora says.

The Tar Heels will certainly need to maintain that level of efficiency and use their growing confidence to their advantage when they travel to take on the surging Miami Hurricanes this weekend.


‘Comeback Carolina’ Keeps Coastal Crown In Sight

UNC head coach Larry Fedora wasn’t pleased with the way his football team played Saturday in Charlottesville. But the Tar Heels snuck past the Cavaliers and in turn, kept alive their dreams of playing in the ACC Championship game.

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It was a complete team victory for Carolina. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones stepped up with a momentum-shifting interception late in the contest and wide receiver Mack Hollins snagged a pair of electrifying touchdowns.

But despite only coming in for a single play, backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky may have been the player of the game. After losing his helmet a play earlier, junior signal caller Marquise Williams was by rule, forced to sit out the following play and on a third down and 15 in the red zone, Trubisky took center stage.

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

Mitch Trubisky came up big for the Tar Heels (UNC Athletics)

The go-ahead score to T.J. Thorpe stunned the Charlottesville faithful, but for Coach Fedora, he wasn’t at all surprised by Trubisky’s heroics.

“We’ve got confidence in Mitch. We knew Mitch can go in and execute – that’s why we’ve done what we’ve done with him all year and why he’s played. This team has confidence in what he can do. He showed it,” Coach Fedora says.

But the game was sealed by an improbable gamble by Coach Fedora with the 28-27 lead. In a decision that was reminiscent of LSU head coach Les Miles, Coach Fedora elected to go for an onsides kick. The Tar Heels executed perfectly.

Coach Fedora, who’s now a spotless 5-0 against Virginia in his coaching career, says he had full confidence the play would work. He wanted the ball in his offense’s hands.

“It was there all day. It was a great time to do it. I wanted to have the ball in our hands when the game was over. Those guys did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite the dramatic road win that evened UNC’s record up at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in ACC action, Coach Fedora says he didn’t think his team played all that well.

“We didn’t play very well anywhere actually. What we had to do was find a way to win a football game. We did that,” Coach Fedora says.

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Nazair Jones snagged a big interception Saturday (UNC Athletics)

The stat sheet backs up Coach Fedora. The Cavaliers had six more first downs than the Tar Heels, gained more yards and dominated the time of possession. But UNC had the edge where it counts most – the scoreboard.

Coach Fedora says the victory was made more special in light of the disturbing conclusions drawn from the Wainstein Report that has a dark cloud hovering around the University.

“We got a lot of people that are getting blasted. There’s a lot of negativity out there. I can assure you, our University, our football team and everybody that’s a Tar Heel will be much stronger from this. We’ll overcome it,” Coach Fedora says.

And with the gutsy win, Carolina’s improbable drive to the ACC Championship game in Charlotte stays alive, at least for another week.


Tar Heels Survive Cavaliers 28-27

The North Carolina football team dispatched the Virginia Cavaliers 28-27 Saturday afternoon at Scott Stadium to improve to 4-4 on the season and 2-2 in ACC play.

With the loss, the Cavaliers fell to 4-4 on the year and a 2-2 mark in conference action.

It was Virginia who darted out to a quick 14-0 lead thanks in large part to Kevin Parks’ sturdy legs. The senior running back rumbled down the field, giving the home team a 14-0 advantage at the 3:06 mark in the first quarter.

Then, the Tar Heel offense promptly answered right back. A Marquise Williams 52-yard dash cut the deficit in half, and a 57-yard bomb to Mack Hollins tied the game at 14-all with 55 seconds to go in the opening quarter.

The Cavaliers pushed ahead with a 5-yard touchdown reception by Kevin Parks, but yet again, the Tar Heels responded quickly. It was Hollins again. This time, the explosive receiver snagged a 63-yard strike from Williams to knot the game up at 21 points apiece.

Virginia added an Ian Frye field goal to edge ahead 24-21 as both teams trotted into the halftime locker room.

The third quarter was a defensive stalemate with the Cavaliers able to manage a 37-yard field goal by Frye to push them ahead 27-21 with 5: 39 on the third quarter clock.

In the fourth quarter, with UVA driving, UNC’s Nazair Jones intercepted Lambert’s pass and returned it to Virginia’s 38-yard line. UNC was in prime scoring position with 6:09 to play, down six.

UNC’s Williams was forced to sit out a play on third down and ten inside the UVA red zone. Backup redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky delivered. He threw a clutch touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe to push the Tar Heels ahead 28-27.

Coach Fedora’s gamble to employ an onsides kick with four minutes left to play paid off. Hollins recovered. UNC ran down the clock to close out the vital ACC Coastal victory with the help of an illegal substitution penalty on UVA.

Next up for the Tar Heels is another pivotal road game next Saturday at 5-3 Miami.



UNC Routs Fayetteville State In Exo

Freshman Justin Jackson led five double-figure scorers as North Carolina cruised past Fayetteville State, 111-58, in an exhibition contest at the Smith Center on Friday night.  The Tar Heels jumped out to a 22-5 lead in the first 8:34 of the game, then shot 61.5 percent from the floor after halftime to lead by as many as 53 and put the game away.

Jackson started the game and finished with 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting from the floor, including 3 of 4 three-pointers.  He also had five rebounds, two assists and two steals while displaying poise throughout the game.

“[Justin] has an ability to score the ball and make some really good passes, particularly tonight in the first half, head coach Roy Williams said afterward.  “He had two assists, but he had them back to back in the first half, and he made some good passes for us as well.”

All-America point guard Marcus Paige agreed, saying of Jackson: “He is big for a guard, he rebounds well and obviously he is really efficient. He doesn’t take bad shots and he doesn’t force anything. And he can knock down open shots. And he plays hard on the defense. You know especially for a freshman, that’s a big thing. He gives his best effort on the defensive end; he is going to be a big player for us.”

Jackson’s rookie classmates also played well, as fellow freshmen Theo Pinson (15 points, eight rebounds, 6 of 9 shooting and two three-pointers) and Joel Berry II (12 points, four assists and four steals despite 3 of 10 shooting) also had solid exhibition debuts.

Brice Johnson shot 2 for 6 but was stout in the post and had 13 rebounds, including nine on the offensive end.  J.P. Tokoto had six points, seven rebounds and eight assists with just one turnover in 21 minutes, earning praise in Williams’ postgame press conference.

Sophomore Isaiah Hicks looked comfortable coming off the bench and playing in the post after a freshman season on the wing, providing energy as well as his 13 points (on 6 of 6 shooting) with five rebounds and three steals in 14 minutes.

“That is something that Coach [Williams] always talked to me about, just getting out there and being more aggressive,” Hicks said afterward in the Tar Heel players’ lounge. “Last year, it was like a deer in headlights, didn’t know what to do, just too nervous or something. This year, I just slowed down. Coach says when you’ve got a foot in the post, score. That’s what you want a big man to do. Take that and something you look at all of us to do, be aggressive and attack the rim. ”

Fayetteville State got 17 points from Juwan Addison and 10 from Marquette Hill.

Senior point guard Luke Davis was not in uniform for the game and will miss two to three months with a stress fracture in his right foot.

Both teams looked sloppy at times, as the Broncos committed 22 turnovers to Carolina’s 20.  But the Tar Heels corrected things with their second-half shooting and held FSU to 31.4 percent shooting from the floor overall.

Good ball movement by the Tar Heels led to 25 assists on 39 made baskets.

“For us, it was good to get out and concentrate on basketball for a while and get some things done, and we were happy to do that,” said Williams.  “I think it was good for us.  I think we don’t play again until the next exhibition game on Nov. 7, and we’ll have some practices until then.”

Carolina’s second and final exhibition game of the 2014-15 preseason will come in two weeks, on Friday Nov. 7 against Belmont-Abbey in the Smith Center.  The Tar Heels host North Carolina Central in the regular season opener on Nov. 14.


UNC Aims For Fifth Straight Win In ‘South’s Oldest Rivalry’

The North Carolina football team, 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the ACC, will travel up the road to Charlottesville and take on the Virginia Cavaliers, 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. in a pivotal Coastal division matchup.

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UNC head coach Larry Fedora has a secret weapon. He’s been soliciting help from Carolina basketball skipper Roy Williams in recent weeks to get the Tar Heels back on track.

Coach Williams’ call in to the Larry Fedora Live show last week resulted in a UNC victory, so the two linked up again earlier this week in hopes of a similar result at UVA.

“I wasn’t going to call because I’m not superstitious, but Wanda [wife] thought it would be a good thing since I called last week. Since we won last week, she thought it would be a lot better if I called back. Larrry, great job and congratulations. Let’s do it again this weekend,” Coach Williams says.

Norkeithus Otis flattens a Cavalier in 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

Norkeithus Otis flattens a Cavalier in 2013 (Elliott Rubin)

Carolina has dominated the South’s Oldest Rivalry in recent years, having won four straight with an average margin of victory of 25 points.

But Coach Fedora says the Cavaliers are much better team this year thanks to a stingy defense.

“They’re a much improved football team, I can tell you that. I think they’ve got seven seniors over there on the defense. They’ve got confidence over there and are running hard to the ball,” Coach Fedora says.

UVA senior middle linebacker Mike Coley, in particular, has Coach Fedora concerned.

“They’re good up front. They play hard up front. They rotate about eight guys consistently. The Mike backer, No. 44, is a load. He brings it downhill and is going to test your manhood every time,” Coach Fedora says.

One of the more intriguing matchups will be Cavalier running back Kevin Parks, who’s amassed over 500 yards on the ground this year, up against the UNC rush defense.

UVA's Kevin Parks (Virginiasports.com)

UVA’s Kevin Parks (Virginiasports.com)

The Tar Heels successfully held down the Clemson rushing attack earlier in the season. Junior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer is hoping the defense can rekindle that kind of form Saturday at Scott Stadium.

“They’re talented. They have a good running back in Parks, who is one of the better running backs in the ACC. We’ve got to do a good job of tackling him. They run similar schemes as Notre Dame and Clemson. We feel like we did a good job containing the rush against Clemson. Hopefully, we’re going to use some of the similar calls that we did against them and use it versus Virginia,” Schoettmer says.

As for the UNC running game, the Tar Heels received a welcome boost in that department from T.J. Logan and Romar Morris last weekend.

Junior quarterback and ACC Player of the Week Marquise Williams says a more balanced offense is much harder for teams to defend.

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

Marquise Williams (UNC Athletics)

“That helps out. If you’re one-dimensional, it’s not going to work out too well. People can just line up eight in the box. It’s great that we have a two-dimensional style of football. We can run and pass. We’re doing tremendously well on both sides,” Williams says.

On a larger scale, the 119th meeting on the gridiron between two of the top public universities in the nation could go a long way into determining the ACC Coastal division champion.

But Coach Fedora says he’s not thinking about all that. He’s focused on the task at hand.

“I’m aware that it’s wide open. We’ve just got to take care of our business. I’m more worried about us right now than anything else going on. I know if we keep our head down and keep improving, maybe something good will happen,” Coach Fedora says.


Scouting Report: Virginia Coach Mike London

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with UVA head coach Mike London as his team prepares to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels this weekend in Charlottesville. London says the game is a ‘must-win’ ACC Coastal matchup. The two discussed the academic side of student-athletes, the Cavaliers’ leading rusher Kevin Parks and how best to defend UNC QB Marquise Williams.

***Listen to the interview***


Less is More? Paige’s Scoring Burden Lifted

Preseason All-America pick Marcus Paige carried the offensive load for the UNC basketball team last season. But this year, Paige is hoping improved balance will ease his scoring burden.

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The Tar Heels appear to have a stacked lineup of scoring options that includes transformed returning players in Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks and uber-talented freshmen like Joel Berry and Justin Jackson.

And although UNC’s best player remains Paige, ironically, the Tar Heels may end up a better team come March if Paige’s scoring average takes a drop from last season – that would mean other big-time offensive threats have emerged.

A decline in his stat numbers isn’t an issue for the humble Paige. He says he would enjoy not feeling like he has to force the issue with the ball in his hands.

“I feel less pressure. I still think I need to be aggressive and try to create because it helps our team and offense. Coach has been telling me that’s what I should do. I’m going to listen to him. But I feel less pressure to force the issue as much. There will be times that I have to call my own number. But with Brice being a year older and hopefully, getting ready to make a jump in production and Kennedy looking a lot better, we shouldn’t have to have me forcing a lot of the situations,” Paige says.

Photo courtesy of Chapelboro's Todd Melet

Photo courtesy of Chapelboro’s Todd Melet

Head coach Roy Williams has hinted at the possibility of playing multiple point guards at once this season. He’s done it before. His 2002 Kansas team featured a trio of point guards in the lineup and that year, the Jayhawks reached the Final Four.

Paige has heard about that Kansas team on more than a few occasions from Coach Williams. He says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a few “little guys” running around the Smith Center soon.

“I’ve heard that story like a million times. It’s definitely a possibility this year. We’re going to have to find minutes for Joel and Nate. They’re too good to keep off the floor. Obviously, I want to be on the floor too. There’s going to be times we’ll have multiple little guys out there, but I think we can make it work,” Paige says.

Despite Coach Williams’ adamant reminders to his players that Paige is the premier player on the Tar Heel roster; he says Paige has handled it well.

“I know I’ve repeated this at least three times, ‘that is our best player, and don’t everybody forget that.’ And if that’s the case, we should give him more opportunities to do some things. He handles that really well. There’s not a conceited bone or selfish bone in the boy’s body,” Coach Williams says.

But Paige is looking for the supporting cast to move into starring roles this year. Since he’s stepped foot in Chapel Hill, Paige says he’s never been a part of a more balanced team.

Coach Williams addresses Paige (Todd Melet)

Coach Williams addresses Paige (Todd Melet)

“My freshman year we shot a lot of threes with Reggie [Bullock] and P.J. [Hairston]. Last year, we either threw the ball inside or I was creating from the outside. There wasn’t a whole lot of flow and balance in that regard. This year, we have a little bit of everything. I think we’re going to run more, which should help that balance. Guys get running and it opens up the perimeter. I would say this is definitely the most balanced offensive team,” Paige says.

Despite all his accolades and accomplishments, Paige has a glaring hole in his collegiate resume – a Final Four appearance.

“Personally, I have set the goal of at least making it to the Final Four. That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve got here. This team is capable. We have the players and chemistry. We just need to apply what Coach has been teaching us and enforcing in practice,” Paige says.

The ultimate team player, Paige would no doubt gladly accept a drop in his gaudy statistics if it meant the Tar Heels were still dancing in Indianapolis come April.


‘O.K. is never Okay': Larry Fedora Wants More from Tar Heels

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora says tasting success last weekend should motivate his 3-4 Tar Heels to want to experience more of it. And that’s a good thing for the Carolina skipper who knows there’s plenty to work on in all three phases of the game.

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Despite a four-game losing streak, UNC’s 48-43 win over Georgia Tech puts the Tar Heels right back into the ACC Coastal conversation.

The UNC defense has been playing with more intensity and aggression in recent weeks. But the scoreboard hasn’t got the memo. The Tar Heels have surrendered a combined 117 points in the past three contests.

And although Coach Fedora admits he’s by no means satisfied, he says it’s most important to see continual progress made each Saturday.

“O.K. is never okay. I still expect them to get better. I expect them to be better this week than they were last week. As long as we keep growing, than we’ll be alright,” Coach Fedora says.

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

The UNC special teams department has lacked the kind of fireworks put on display in 2013 and persistently advertised in the preseason.

Most notably, Carolina’s sophomore sparkplug Ryan Switzer has been bottled up by opposing coverage teams and contributed uncharacteristic mistakes of his own.

Coach Fedora says Switzer needs to stop trying to force the action and let the game come to him.

“I spent a lot of time talking to him [Switzer] this past week about not forcing anything in the punt return game. All we’ve done is try to force things, and we’ve gone backwards. We’ve been very poor in that aspect. I thought he did a good job the other day. […] There’s no reason to force it, just fair catch it and move on to the next one,” Coach Fedora says.

As frustrating as UNC’s No. 127 ranking in points allowed per game may be, Coach Fedora says the defensive intangibles like effort and attitude are unwavering.

“That is the hardest thing. It’s more about attitude and effort. I’m happy to say that we don’t face the triple option again this year. We don’t have to be concerned with it. I still think our attitudes, the way we’re practicing and the belief in what we’re doing is still good,” Coach Fedora says.

Marquise Williams is the centerpiece of the Tar Heel offense that ranks 17th in the nation in scoring. Williams was named an ACC Player of the Week for the second straight time Monday for good reason.

Marquise Williams celebrates with the Tar Pit after the GT win. (Elliott Rubin)

Marquise Williams celebrates with the Tar Pit after the GT win. (Elliott Rubin)

His record-breaking numbers over the weekend deserved that honor, but Coach Fedora says it’s the junior signal caller’s enhanced decision-making abilities that have proved most vital.

“I think he’s [Williams] gotten better and better every week. As you continue to make good decisions and when you don’t make a good decision and make something out of it, you gain confidence. Stay within the offense, take what they give you, and we’ll be okay. When you get outside of that, things happen,” Coach Fedora says.

Winning tends to breed more winning. Coach Fedora says the young Tar Heels’ confidence levels are growing as they figure out what it takes to emerge victorious on game days.

“For their confidence level and their ability to believe in each other and what they’re doing, we were getting to a point where we really needed it [a win]. It was all about finding a way to win the football game. When you find a way to win football games, you start realizing if you don’t screw it up, you got a pretty good chance,” Coach Fedora says.