Scouting Report: A Chat with VT Coach Frank Beamer

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with legendary Virginia Tech head football coach Frank Beamer this week. The two discussed the competitiveness and depth in the ACC,  how to replace injured Hokie freshman running back Shai McKenzie and of course, previewed what Coach Beamer is calling a ‘must-win matchup’ with UNC this weekend.

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UNC Veterans Thorpe, Farmer Preaching Accountability

Senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer and junior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe each lead on different sides of the football, but both Tar Heel veterans are driving home the same message to their teammates.

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One is more outspoken; the other, more of a stoic example. But both leaders are preaching the same doctrine this week in practice.

Personal accountability and self-discipline are their two pillars.

Thorpe believes the Tar Heels have been burdening themselves far too much with aspects of the game that are out of their control. He says his teammates need to focus all of their energy on their own respective assignments.

“We look too much into the big picture and try to control more than we’re able to control. I talked to some of the receivers about it. My main focus when I go out there is to control the things that I can control. I can’t control how Marquise [Williams] throws the ball or what he sees. You focus on your assignment,” Thorpe says.

Thorpe in practice

Thorpe in practice

Thorpe’s analysis could help explain the disjointed, inconsistent nature of a UNC offense that has been just as capable of a three and out dud as an electrifying touchdown play this season.

Farmer says the performance of the defensive linemen last weekend at Clemson, where the Tar Heel defensive front shut down the Tiger rushing attack, is a prime example of the success that can be achieved when everybody is handling their own gap assignments.

“It was a big-time difference. We filled all our gaps. We got lined up. It was really great for the front seven,” Farmer says.

Thorpe couldn’t agree more with Farmer. He says the receiving corps had 20 missed assignments against Clemson, contributing to the up-and-down play of the offense.

“We had situations in the game where we had receivers blocking on pass plays. We want to get on Marquise [Williams] for incompletions or starting slow, but that’s part of the problem. He doesn’t have anybody to throw to if you’re blocking. Things like that, we have to be sure to correct and make sure they don’t happen. Against good teams like Clemson, those mistakes will get you beat,” Thorpe says.

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of

Farmer refuses to point the finger at the UNC secondary for letting the defense down at Clemson. He says everybody makes mistakes and needs to take care of their own business.

“It’s frustrating, but we’re all going to learn from our mistakes. As a front seven, we make mistakes. Everybody as a defense is all as one. Mistakes are going to happen, but we’re going to learn from it this week,” Farmer says.

But one thing is for certain. The Tar Heels will definitely need to continue to clean up their act if they harbor hopes of taking down an always well-coached Virginia Tech team Saturday.

Thorpe says the key is to learn from past errors and correct them going forward.

“There’s always a sense of urgency. We don’t want to be in the situation that we were in last year. With that being said, you have to take each week at a time. We have to continue to learn from the mistakes we made in previous weeks and make sure we don’t continuously repeat those mistakes,” Thorpe says.

Larry Fedora Points To Positives Despite Back-to-Back Defeats

UNC head football coach Larry Fedora focused on the positives when speaking to the media Monday at Kenan Football Center. Despite the defeat, Coach Fedora was happy with his team’s fight, energy and improved play on defense last weekend.

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Coach Fedora says he learned a lot about his team’s character Saturday night. Even after falling behind 20-0 early in a hostile environment, the Tar Heels continued to battle.

“I expected them to come out, fight and play hard all the way to the final buzzer. I thought they did that. They played hard throughout the game. I don’t think there was ever an issue with anybody as far as confidence. They showed that they have a lot of grit and determination. They’re going to continue to persevere,” Coach Fedora says.

Larry Fedora talking to an official (UNC Athletics)

Larry Fedora talking to an official (UNC Athletics)

UNC’s special teams unit has yet to produce a kind of “game-changing play” Coach Fedora always talks about. But the Carolina skipper still thinks it’s coming, because his guys are approaching kickoffs and punts the right way.

“I think our effort and attitude on special teams has been tremendous. We just still have not made one of those game-changing plays,” Coach Fedora says.

Skipping a check at the scoreboard, the Tar Heels showed some life on the defensive side of the football, especially against the run. More UNC players were flying to the ball, increasing the number of gang tackles.

Coach Fedora saw all of these things on film and says it’s encouraging.

“When you really break it down, there were some really good things. You hold them to 2.1 yards rushing per attempt, and you hold them to under 100 yards rushing. We had multiple guys getting to the football, and we tackled much better. There were some bright spots defensively,” Coach Fedora says.

Taking away a stretch of five straight punts, the UNC offense pushed Clemson’s defense to the limit with trademark up-tempo action and a well-rounded distribution of the football.

But blown assignments in the UNC defensive secondary proved to be the deciding factor.

Coach Fedora, however, admits playing a game in which all three phases are working perfectly is not to be expected. He says the trick is to be able to counteract the unit that may be struggling with a lift in play in another area of the team.

“Very seldom are all three phases hitting on all cylinders and playing extremely well. It doesn’t happen very often. That’s something we dream about as coaches, and we’re trying to strive for, but it doesn’t happen very often. Being on a team, you have to understand when one side is down, the other one’s got to pick them up,” Coach Fedora says.

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (

Coach Fedora says it’s no time to point fingers at the offense or defense. In essence, he says you win and lose together as a team.

“Whatever mistakes are made, the other side’s got to make up for it or you don’t win. You can be as frustrated as you want, but I’m not going to pin it on what thing or one side. I don’t have the luxury of being a fan and saying, ‘this side is the reason we didn’t win the football game’. It doesn’t work that way. We’re a team, and the only way we are going to get better as a team is to continue to pull together as a team,” Coach Fedora says.

The good news for the Tar Heels is that after two tough road games, this week’s pivotal Coastal division matchup with the Hokies will be played at home in Chapel Hill.

UNC Defense Still Struggling To Find Its Form

The UNC defense improved against the run Saturday night at Clemson, but the big plays down the field engineered by freshman Tiger quarterback Deshaun Watson doomed the Tar Heels.

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“We didn’t make enough plays on offense, and we gave up too many big plays on defense. That’s all there was to it,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

For Carolina’s much-maligned defense, Saturday was a bit of a mixed bag. The Tar Heels managed to stop the Clemson rushing attack, giving up a stingy 71 yards on the ground.

But through the air, it was another story altogether.

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (

Watson torched the UNC secondary to the tune of 435 yards and six touchdowns. Watson’s six touchdowns tied an ACC record.

All in all, following Saturday, UNC’s pass defense ranks second to last nationally, ahead of only Bowling Green. Shockingly, the Tar Heels average giving up 6.62 yards per play. No power five conference team is allowing more yardage per snap of the football.

Coach Fedora says the only thing that kept UNC hanging around in the contest was their success against the run.

“There were too many major mistakes on the back end. We turned them loose. We’ll have to figure out what went wrong in those situations. We did do a much better job against the run, which gave us a chance,” Coach Fedora says.

Williams was under pressure all night at Clemson (

Williams was under pressure all night at Clemson (

On the other side of the ball, Coach Fedora says he was pleased with the play of junior signal caller Marquise Williams, especially given the duress he was under most of the night.

“I thought he stood tough the entire game. He had a lot of pressure. They have a very good defensive line. We knew that was going to happen against our offensive line. Marquise got the ball out. There were just a couple times that he held onto it. Other than that, I think he did a nice job,” Coach Fedora says.

Williams’ four touchdown passes at Clemson moved his career scoring throws up to 25, he is now just one shy of the top 10 in school history.

Looking across the field at Clemson’s quarterback, Coach Fedora says he was thoroughly impressed with the maturity of Watson in leading the Tiger attack.

“He did a really nice job. The kid can throw the ball and run it. He’s a very good player and going to be really good in the future,” Coach Fedora says.

Despite recording their second loss of the year, Coach Fedora says he was happy with the competitiveness and fight displayed by his players.

“Our guys fought. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. There was no lack of confidence that people were worried about. Our guys got after it. We just didn’t make enough plays,” Coach Fedora says.

But in order for Carolina to be successful moving forward, it’s not so much the plays they need to make; it’s the big plays they’ll need to prevent opponents from making that will likely decide UNC football’s 2014 fate.

Clemson Clobbers Carolina 50-35

The North Carolina football team fell behind 17-0 early and couldn’t recover in a 50-35 loss at Clemson Saturday night, dropping to 2-2 on the season.

With the win, the Tigers evened their record up at 2-2 on the year. For the third straight season, the Tar Heels have now dropped their conference opener

Clemson  freshman signal caller Deshaun Watson threw for 435 yards and set a school record with six touchdown passes in his first ever start to lead the Tigers to the victory.

The 19-year-old didn’t shrink in the spotlight. Watson completed 27 of his 36 passes.

Watson’s six TDs tied the ACC record and only Tajh Boyd has thrown for more yards in a game for Clemson.

The Tar Heel defense continued to struggle, giving  up 528 yards, and has now allowed its opponent to gain more than 500 yards in the past three games.

Mike Williams had six catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns for Clemson, which has scored 49 or more points in five of its last 10 ACC games.

UNC was clamping down on the run game, but Watson excelled.

Watson had a 50-yard TD pass to Hopper in the second quarter, waiting in the pocket until the last moment to drop the pass right into the receiver’s hands. Clemson gained 218 yards in the first half, with Watson’s two long passes accounting for more than half that total.

Elijah Hood led UNC in rushing yards (UNC Athletics)

Elijah Hood led UNC in rushing yards (UNC Athletics)

In the second half, Watson had two 33-yard touchdown passes and a 24-yard scoring throw before tight end Jordan Leggett jumped high in the end zone to pull in the freshman’s record-breaking TD pass.

Clemson needed Watson’s passing as the Tigers gained only 71 yards on the ground.

Artavis Scott had eight catches for 66 yards and a touchdown, while Hopper caught three passes for 139 yards and 2 TDs.

Ammon Lakip hit a 27-yard and a 45-yard field goal. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney stuck with the junior kicker after he missed two field goals in last week’s overtime loss to No. 1 Florida State.

The Tar Heels are still struggling, a week after allowing the most yards, points and first downs in school history. On Saturday night, the Tar Heels had 15 penalties, one off the school record, for 130 yards, which was 20 yards away from their worst game.

Marquise Williams was 24-of-38 for 345 yards for North Carolina and threw to 13 different receivers. Elijah Hood ran 13 times for 71 yards to lead the team in rushing.

Next up for the Tar Heels is a home contest in Chapel Hill against ACC Coastal foe Virginia Tech on Saturday, Oct. 4.


Tar Heels Hoping To Tame Tigers In Death Valley

The 2-1 North Carolina football team will open its ACC schedule with a trip down to Death Valley to face the 1-2 Clemson Tigers Saturday night for a nationally-televised 7 p.m. kickoff.

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“They’re really good. They’re really good on defense. They’ve settled on their quarterback for the offense with freshman Deshaun Watson, who’s a very talented young man. He can run or throw. It will definitely be a task,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

UNC will need to reverse its recent trend in head-to-head battles with Clemson as the Tar Heels have dropped four of their last five meetings against the Tigers, including the most recent encounter, a 59-38 loss in 2011.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey A. Camarati

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey A. Camarati

But Coach Fedora has never taken on Clemson. In his maiden campaign against the Tigers, he’ll be saddled with more inexperience than he’d like.

Coach Fedora says he’s had to work on his patience with the extreme youth on UNC’s roster.

“When you’re playing with young guys, you know there will be mistakes made. I don’t have a whole lot of patience. I have more patience than I used to have, because I have three daughters now. It’s still tough for me. Every day is tough. You want to be as good as you can possibly be every single day,” Coach Fedora says.

For junior wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, an athlete who has persevered through numerous ankle injuries, the key for the Tar Heels is to just keep it simple and compete hard 100 percent of the time.

“We just need to play hard. Above all, that’s the thing that I feel like we lack. We need to play hard and sustain playing hard – just compete. We have good players the same way they do. We have talented guys who can make plays. That’s it – focus, attention to detail and play as hard as we can,” Thorpe says.

With an experienced defensive unit at Clemson that includes National Player of the Week Stephone Anthony, the young UNC offensive line figures to have its hands full.

Sophomore offensive tackle John Ferranto says he’s prepared for a rugged battle Saturday night.

“They’re an experienced group. The interior linemen are big, strong and quick. Their defensive ends are quick and really good pass rushers. They have a really good group on defense,” Ferranto says.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney recognizes the challenge of facing a UNC offense that he says is the most up-tempo unit the Tigers have faced.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Coach Swinney says the best defense against the Tar Heels will be a good offense.

“We are a tempo team ourselves, but they’re a little faster than us. We’re trying to do some things ‘good on good’ to try to prepare our guys, use our scouts and get them ready for the tempo that they’ll see. But the biggest thing that we have to do is take care of the football on our side. We’ve got to do a good job offensively and keep them off the field,” Coach Swinney says.

The Tigers have returned 8 starters on their defense. To put that in perspective, the Tar Heels returned a total of 10 starters on their entire team.

Coach Fedora is concerned from the havoc the Tiger defense can create, especially from veteran defensive end Vic Beasley.

“The Vic Beasley kid that everybody talks about is as good as everybody says. He’s relentless and has speed like a defensive back or receiver. He’s quick as a cat. They’ve got guys that can run at every position. They have a lot of confidence right now,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora identifies two keys to the game – big plays on special teams and stopping the run.

“Starting with special teams, we’ve got to have a game-changing play, we really do. We have to make some plays. It’s going to be vital for our success this week. Jumping over to defense, we have to stop the run,” Coach Fedora says.

Scouting Report: A Chat with Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney

WCHL’s Matt Oakes caught up with Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney as his squad prepares to host the Tar Heels Saturday night. Among other things, the two discussed the legendary Death Valley atmosphere, the emergence of freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson and the best way to stop UNC’s Ryan Switzer on special teams.

***Listen to the conversation***

UNC Per-Athlete Spending Lower Than ACC Median

Additional reporting by Zach Mayo

UNC is spending more on athletics than the median average within the Atlantic Coast Conference, but athletic director Bubba Cunningham says that’s due to the commitment to giving more student-athletes the opportunity to play college sport.

“We want to provide a great experience for our student-athletes,” Cunningham says. “If you look at the finances within the ACC, we’re about in the middle. But, the one thing I’m really proud of is we have more sports than anybody, except Boston College, but we offer more scholarships. What we’re about is trying to create a broad-base program and give kids the opportunity to participate in sport. Carolina’s been very effective in doing that.”

According to data presented to the UNC Board of Trustees Wednesday, UNC spent $83 million on athletics last year. The median of the ACC was $128,576 per athlete while UNC spent $104,464 per athlete. Carolina currently has 26 men’s and women’s athletic programs.

UNC ‘Focused On Student-Athletes’, All Students’ Success’

Story by Zach Mayo

UNC Provost Jim Dean gave a detailed report on athletics at the University to the Board of Trustees Wednesday afternoon.

The Provost offered a broad look at how student athletes are performing in the classroom, saying the University is on par with other ACC schools in terms of graduation rate and grade point average. Still, efforts are being made to bridge the gap between GPAs of athletes and non-athletes.

“We’re doing a number of things to try and make sure we’re providing as much help as we can to student athletes in terms of being successful, but at the same time we’re providing additional help to students who are not athletes,” Provost Dean said. “So, I’m not sure if that’s going to bring them together or not, because we may be raising the bar for everybody.”

Dean’s report comes as Kenneth Wainstein’s independent investigation on academic irregularities on campus is expected later in the Fall. Dean does not have a more specific timetable for its release.

STORY: Wainstein: ‘Don’t Have Findings Yet’

Athletes had a 2.95 GPA in Spring 2014 compared with the 3.2 GPA of all undergraduates.

Switzer, Tar Heels Still Searching For Spark

UNC sophomore wide receiver and return specialist Ryan Switzer threw a touchdown pass last weekend – that’s one more score than he’s achieved with his legs so far in the 2014 season.

And although Switzer places second in receiving yards for the Tar Heels, the going has not been as easy in year two at Chapel Hill for the player who electrified fans in his freshman campaign with trademark elusiveness.

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For Switzer, positivity is the key to momentum. He saw poor reactions from teammates on the sidelines in Greenville, but he says UNC can learn from the successful turnaround in 2013 and apply it this year.

“I think we have to be more positive. We talked about positive energy all though the preseason. So far, the guys have done a good job of keeping each other positive and making sure everybody is upbeat and has the right attitude. On Saturday, guys got a little negative. Frustration and emotion overcame a lot of the positive energy that we had. We can use that experience, as well as what we went through last year, to propel us forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Switzer says.

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

Switzer celebrates (Elliott Rubin)

It remains to be seen whether this year’s bunch of Tar Heels can replicate the transformation undergone last season, but Switzer says if it’s going to happen, it needs to begin in practice this week and in the game at Clemson Saturday.

“It’s definitely a hit on the head. It’s definitely a wake-up call. It’s something we need to make sure doesn’t happen again. That’s why this week in practice will be important and how we come out against Clemson will be important. We really need to have a good showing against those guys. It’s a game that we can win. We all feel that way,” Switzer says.

Carolina’s last win in Death Valley came way back in 2001. Only a handful of the Tar Heels on the roster have ever experienced the raucous atmosphere that will await them, but Switzer is looking forward to the experience and the opportunity to produce an upset on the road.

“The older guys have played in Death Valley, but the majority of us haven’t. From that aspect, it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be important that we go out with the right attitude and positive energy to come out with a win,” Switzer says.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels pride themselves in their special teams play. But this season, the fireworks have been notably absent.

The main sparkplug, Switzer, isn’t overly concerned with the lack of a special teams score in 2014. He says it will come.

“The time is coming. We didn’t get a punt or kick return until the latter part of last season. We’ve got great schemes going into each game. We spend a tremendous amount of time in film on special teams. It’s all a matter of time. We just got to make sure we keep pressing the issue and keep believing like Coach Fedora says. Eventually, one’s going to pop,” Switzer says.

In a surprising twist for some observers, even after naming junior Marquise Williams as the starting quarterback, the UNC coaching staff has been incorporating a rotation at the signal caller position.

But for Switzer, he says it doesn’t make a difference whether Williams or his roommate, redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, is taking the snaps.

“For me personally, I think I mentioned this in training camp, we really didn’t see a difference between who was throwing us the ball. If you talked to the quarterbacks, maybe they would have a different story. From the receiver standpoint, as long as the ball is coming out, it doesn’t make a difference who’s back there,” Switzer says.

Ryan Switzer sprinting ahead (Elliott Rubin)

Ryan Switzer sprinting ahead (Elliott Rubin)

Switzer has tallied 115 yards on 16 receptions through three games. Fellow sophomore Mack Hollins leads the team with 242 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

With the poor play of the UNC defense, is the Carolina offense feeling even greater pressure to produce? Switzer doesn’t think so.

“I wouldn’t see it as guys getting tensed up. It’s one of those things as a competitor; you take it as a challenge and try to outscore each other. Hopefully, that’s not always the case. They are much better than what they showed. Hopefully, that isn’t the case for the rest of the season,” Switzer says.

Switzer is certainly remaining optimistic. But positivity alone won’t necessarily guarantee production on Saturday.