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Upset-Minded Tar Heels Meet No. 5 Fighting Irish

The North Carolina football team, with a 2-3 record, heads to South Bend to take on an in-form 5-0 Notre Dame squad ranked No. 5 nationally. The two programs will collide for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday afternoon in a nationally televised contest.

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Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson remains in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy in 2014.

UNC head coach Larry Fedora says Golson has improved tremendously as a passer and has the luxury of playing behind a stout offensive line that averages over 300 pounds per player.

“He has really grown as a passer. He can zip the ball and really spins it well. He’s got a tremendous offensive line – that has probably been the biggest thing for him this year. They’re big up front. They can move you,” Coach Fedora says.

Photo courtesy of www.uhnd.com

Photo courtesy of www.uhnd.com

But the true strength of the Fighting Irish lies in a dominating defense that’s only giving up a measly 12 points per contest.

Coach Fedora says Notre Dame’s size and speed is a formidable combo.

“They have the No. 3 scoring defense in country right now. They’re big and can run on the back end, not that they can’t run on the front end. They’re really big up front – 300-plus [pounds] across the front. We’ll have our work cut out for us up there,” Coach Fedora says.

Defensively, UNC has shown improvement in the past couple games, especially against the run. But this Saturday, Coach Fedora says they’ll have to guard against the dual-threat ability of Notre Dame’s Golson.

“They’re going to go as far as he takes them. He’s really a good player. He can run and beat you with his legs on any play. He can turn an ordinary play into a great play. He’s what makes it tick. He’s a really good football player,” Coach Fedora says.

The Irish are coming off a thrilling come-from-behind victory against Stanford. But head coach Brian Kelly says it’s vital for his team to put that behind them and focus on a talented Tar Heel team.

“Coming off a win against Stanford, it was important that we got right back to work against a very athletic and young, aggressive team in North Carolina,” Coach Kelly says.

For sophomore offensive tackle Jon Heck, the trip to South Bend will be a family affair. But he says his family members won’t be pulling for Carolina.

“My entire family went to Notre Dame. My uncle is actually a priest there. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins went there and are going to be there. They say they want me to do well, but they’re cheering for Notre Dame,” Heck says.

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey A. Camarati

Photo courtesy of Jeffrey A. Camarati

The Tar Heels will certainly have nothing to lose against the heavily-favored Irish, but Coach Fedora says he’s relishing the opportunity.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity sitting before us right now. It should be a lot of fun to find out how we’re going to respond and who we are. It should be a great game,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina and Notre Dame will meet for the 19th time in a series that dates back to 1949. The Tar Heels trail the all-time series, only managing to emerge victorious on two occasions.

UNC’s last win over a top-10 team was a 31-28 victory over No.4 Miami in 2004. Coach Fedora says he’s looking to make some history this weekend, but will his error-prone Tar Heels be up to the challenge of a smothering Irish defense and an efficient offense? Saturday will provide the answers.


Tar Heels Still Tackling ‘The Little Things’

Carolina junior offensive guard Landon Turner and head coach Larry Fedora agree it’s the fine details that are tripping the Tar Heels up so far this season. At 2-3 on the season, UNC is hoping to shore up its deficiencies soon.

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If the 2014 college football season has shown us anything, it’s parity. After a weekend littered with upsets that flipped the rankings on their head, the Tar Heels will be aiming to author a surprising win of their own Saturday at Notre Dame.

Turner says he’s confident the Tar Heels can beat anybody in the nation on a given week.

“That’s what college football is about. Anybody can win on any given Saturday. As a team, we have to believe we can win any week. I think we have the talent to beat anyone in the country. We just have to find a way to put it all together,” Turner says.

For the offensive line, penalties have been a major issue. Turner says he remains optimistic despite being discouraged by all the ‘little things’ that have been holding back the unit.

“We just need to refocus as an offensive line and make sure that when we come to compete on game day, we remember the technical things, the smallest things that are easy to correct. I’m encouraged by it, but it’s disappointing at the same time,” Turner says.

Kedrick Davis, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer try to get in sync (Elliott Rubin)

Kedrick Davis, Mack Hollins and Ryan Switzer try to get in sync (Elliott Rubin)

Five games deep into the season, Coach Fedora is still waiting for some light bulbs to go off in his players’ heads. He says it’s up to the individuals to make a decision to block out the big picture and focus on what they can control – the ‘small stuff’.

“You can fix it. You can fix it when you decide as an individual you want to fix it. I’ve been talking about it from the beginning and will continue to talk about it until those switches flip. We’ll get it going. We’ll get it corrected. But sometimes, as an individual, you’re worried about the big picture and forget about the smallest detail that we just need you to take a six-inch step at a 45-degree angle with your right foot,” Coach Fedora says.

With so few returning players in the starting lineup, Coach Fedora says youth can cloud the ability to lock in on the details.

“Every detail is very important or we wouldn’t give you the detail. We would just say, ‘step’. We do have to get all of those and sometimes, when you’re dealing with young kids; their focus is not on the smallest details. Their focus is on everything that’s going on,” Coach Fedora says.

By contrast, perhaps it’s fitting that UNC’s opponent this weekend, Notre Dame, is making a living on doing all the ‘little things’ well. There’s nothing flashy about the Fighting Irish, but they take care of the football.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels continue to grind it out on the practice fields, striving for cohesiveness. Turner says putting all the small pieces together is what makes football special.

“That’s the one thing I love about this game. It takes 11 guys moving almost perfectly. If there’s one chink in the armor, the whole play falls apart. I guess it is alarming, but when you play it for a while, it’s what makes the game great,” Turner says.


Fedora on South Bend: ‘I’d Rather Go In There and Make Some History’

Head coach Larry Fedora leads a Carolina football team that has earned the dubious distinction of being one of the most penalized teams in the ACC, and in turn, the nation. But Coach Fedora says the mistakes are correctable with a road trip at No. 6 Notre Dame looming.

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It’s an old cliché, but it’s never a good sign to hear coaches reference the ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’ saying.

On Monday, Coach Fedora went to the well one more time when discussing the myriad mistakes committed by the UNC offense in Saturday’s 34-17 home loss to Virginia Tech.

“You name it. Whether it was a guy flinching, jumping off sides, missed assignment here – it would be easy if it was just one guy. But that’s not the way it is. We take turns shooting ourselves in the foot right now. The good thing is that everything is correctable. We just got to get it corrected,” Coach Fedora says.

Carolina's offensive line had trouble protecting the QB. (Elliott Rubin)

Carolina’s offensive line had trouble protecting the QB vs. VT. (Elliott Rubin)

With back-to-back games against two of the remaining 10 undefeated teams in the FBS, the Tar Heels had better get the sloppiness out of them sooner rather than later.

Coach Fedora says for right now, his players are battling within themselves. He says until the mistakes are corrected, the Tar Heels have more pressing issues to worry about than their next opponent.

“The focus for us was going back, breaking down the film and looking at all the mistakes we made. We see that we look like a team that if we could our mistakes corrected and take care of the things within our team, we could be a decent football team. Until we do that, it’s going to be tough,” Coach Fedora says.

With that said, the Carolina skipper recognizes the huge opportunity afforded to UNC this weekend. Coach Fedora says playing at Notre Dame in front of a national T.V. audience is exciting.

“We have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us this week. We get a chance to go to Notre Dame and play on national T.V. It’s exciting and should be a lot of fun,” Coach Fedora says.

Snagging the program’s first top-10 victory since a 31-28 win over No. 4 Miami in 2004 would make the trip all the more fun. But with three straight defeats, it’s easy to question the confidence level in the UNC locker room.

Coach Fedora, though, insists his players maintain belief.

“I’m not a guy that wavers up and down in my confidence based on one game. I don’t know how you do that. There’s frustration involved, but I don’t think there’s a lack of confidence in what we do or how we do things,” Coach Fedora says.

Nazair Jones pulverizes Tech's Michael Brewer. (Elliott Rubin)

Nazair Jones pulverizes Tech’s Michael Brewer. (Elliott Rubin)

The UNC defense appears to have steadily improved, with far better tackling and energy, since the debacle at ECU a few weeks ago. Coach Fedora agrees with that assessment.

“I think they’ve taken the challenge. They’re doing a better job of maintaining their gaps and not trying to do too much. When the ball’s thrown, we’re getting pressure on the quarterback. They’re also doing a good job of retracing and getting back down the field,” Coach Fedora says.

Coach Fedora, who will be making his first trip to Notre Dame, was asked if he’d let the team soak in the rich tradition and history at South Bend this weekend. He says there won’t be time for sight-seeing and offered a more attractive alternative.

“We don’t get that opportunity. We stay an hour away. We’re there a couple hours before the game and leave after the game, so there’s not a whole lot of time for soaking up anything. I’d rather go in there and make some [history],” Coach Fedora says.


The Missing Link: UNC Rushing Attack

The Carolina rushing attack has struggled to gain traction all season long, but the void was especially glaring Saturday against Virginia Tech. The tailback trio of T.J. Logan, Romar Morris and Elijah Hood combined for 15 yards on nine carries.

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Through five games in the 2014 season, the stable of highly-touted UNC running backs has only mustered a combined 450 yards.

Myriad factors are circulating as key contributors to the lack of production.

Freshman running back Elijah Hood says the UNC offense lacks any kind of flow due to sloppy mistakes.

“We shot ourselves in the foot a lot. That limited what we could do offensively. We had a lot of drives that we couldn’t get a good flow going. That threw us off. When our offense can’t get a rhythm, we struggle to move the ball,” Hood says.

Elijah Hood found the end zone in the second half Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Elijah Hood found the end zone in the second half Saturday (UNC Athletics)

Some of those errors include frustrating false start penalties that continue to plague the offensive line. Hood says the penalties destroy momentum.

“It can get frustrating. You obviously want to move the ball. When you’re moving the ball backwards, that’s the opposite of what we’re trying to do. Having those penalties hurts bad. We need to be moving forward and using our tempo. We can’t do that when we’re drawing penalties,” Hood says.

Tar Heel RB T.J. Logan tries to break loose near the sideline.

Freshman Tar Heel T.J. Logan tries to break loose near the sideline.

Frustratingly for Hood, he was handed the ball on a mere three occasions Saturday afternoon. Compare that to the Hokies, who gave the ball to Trey Edmunds 12 times and a whopping 20 handoffs went to Marshawn Williams.

It’s tough to get in any sort of rhythm with only three cracks at the ball. Hood says the penalty yardage, though, forces the Tar Heels away from a commitment to the run game and into more difficult passing situations.

“It’s pretty tough when you don’t get a lot of carries to get a good rhythm. Also, we were giving ourselves a lot of long field to get first downs. When that happens, it just makes it hard for running backs to run the ball. First and fifteen, it’s a little bit harder to run the football,” Hood says.

The youth of the UNC offensive linemen has been well-documented. But junior offensive guard Landon Turner says the Tar Heels need to get off to quicker starts and take care of their own assignments in order to set the running backs up for success.

“We didn’t really get a chance to run as many of our run plays that we had because we didn’t start fast enough this week. Guys need to buy in. There are breakdowns every play. You can look at the film. There’s a breakdown in someone’s position somewhere. We all have to come together and put a whole game together by doing our own jobs,” Turner says.

Junior quarterback Marquise Williams was named the ‘lone bright spot’ by head coach Larry Fedora in his postgame remarks Saturday. Williams says he has full confidence in his offense to stick together and overcome the issues in the run game.

“We got to keep attacking. The offensive line is going to do a much better job. I know a lot of guys are feeling down, but they’re going to do a tremendous job. I’m not going to turn my back on them. The running backs are going to keep believing. As long as they believe that if we can get them to the safety, they’re going to make them miss. Keep fighting hard, don’t turn your back on anybody, and come together as a family,” Williams says.


Hokies Thump Tar Heels 34-17

The North Carolina football team committed sloppy mistakes and was unable to get its offense going early in a 34-17 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium, dropping to 2-3 on the season.

With the victory, the Hokies improved to 4-2 in 2014.

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Virginia Tech running back Marshawn Williams rumbled for a touchdown and Hokie signal caller Michael Brewer added another through the air to help guide the visiting team to a vital ACC win. The Hokies capitalized with 21 points on Tar Heel turnovers.

The UNC defense kept them in the game with an impressive third quarter in which they limited the Hokie offense to a mere 22 yards and recorded five tackles for a loss, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the 21-point halftime deficit.

“That whole first half, for whatever reason, we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the football game,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora says.

On the opening play of the contest, UNC junior quarterback Marquise Williams coughed up the ball on a sack, setting the Hokie offense up for an early touchdown thanks to an eight-yard scoring run by freshman back Marshawn Williams just 44 seconds into the game.

Photo courtesy of Elliott Rubin

Norkeithus Otis watches the VT QB (Elliott Rubin)

The Tar Heels answered back with a methodical march down the field on the ensuing possession, but the home team was forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by sophomore Nick Weiler when a third down pass slipped through senior tight end Jack Tabb’s fingertips in the end zone. At the 11:38 mark in the first quarter, the Hokies held a 7-3 advantage.

The Hokies continued to move the ball successfully against a reeling Tar Heel defense, converting on two third downs and a fourth down to keep the drive alive. VT quarterback Michael Brewer tossed a 26-yard scoring strike to receiver Bucky Hodges with 5:59 on the first quarter clock to give the Hokies a 14-3 lead.

The defenses largely dominated the second quarter of play until the waning moments before halftime. A 27-yard field goal Joey Slye pushed the Hokie lead up to 17-3 with 1:44 before halftime. Then, a poor decision by UNC redshirt freshman quarterback Mitch Trubisky led to a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown by VT sophomore cornerback Kendall Fuller.

As the two teams trotted into the locker room, Virginia Tech held the 24-3 lead.

The third quarter went the way of the defenses with both offenses struggling to sustain any kind of momentum thanks to dropped balls and sloppy penalties. The scoreboard didn’t change.

The Bell Tower overlooking Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

The Bell Tower overlooking Kenan Stadium (Elliott Rubin)

A beautiful punt by Tommy Hibbard was downed inside the Hokie 1-yard line. Then, M.J. Stewart’s first career interception set up a great scoring opportunity for the Tar Heels. A couple plays later, freshman Elijah Hood punched in a 1-yard run for a touchdown that cut the Hokie lead down to 24-10 with 13:19 left to play in the game.

From there, with the game in hand, the Hokies began to grind out the clock, putting the finishing touches on an important road win in the ACC Coastal race.

Next up for the Tar Heels comes a tough road game at South Bend next Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.



Virginia Tech, UNC Look To Stay Alive In ACC Coastal

The North Carolina football team, 2-2 on the season, will return home to Chapel Hill on Saturday to host a pivotal ACC Coastal 12:30 pm matchup against 3-2 Virginia Tech.

***Listen to the preview***

When facing the Hokies, an opponent typically expects a heavy dose of old-fashioned, ground-and-pound action from the running backs.

But with the loss of talented freshman back Shai McKenzie last weekend, UNC head coach Larry Fedora says he expects a different game plan that will include more passing. The Hokies have a capable quarterback in the form of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer.

“He’s [Brewer] doing a nice job for them. They have some big receivers. No. 7, he reminds me a lot of [Eric] Ebron. He’s really a big, physical and athletic kid. They have two very nice tight ends and are big on the outside as well. He’s doing a very nice job of spreading the ball around,” Coach Fedora says.

vt qb

VT QB Brewer (Hamptonroads.com)

The Hokie defense, however, has always been the bedrock of Virginia Tech football. This year, is no exception. The Hokies lead the nation with 41 tackles for a loss and also top the national charts with 21 sacks.

Coach Fedora understands the stiff defensive challenge that will roll into Kenan Stadium Saturday.

“Bud Foster [VT def. coord.] is one of the best out there. Year in and year out, his defense is always going to be up there. He’s evolved with them over time. They press you, play man coverage and outnumber you in the box. Other than Georgia Tech, I don’t think anybody has rushed for over 100 yards against them yet,” Coach Fedora says.

The UNC offense is averaging 40.8 points per contest. That total is good enough for 23rd in the nation, but inconsistency of the attack has been the frustrating issue for the coaching staff and players.

Coach Fedora, though, is not pinning any of the blame on new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell.

“I really don’t think the coordinator has had an effect as much as the people actually running it. The calls are pretty much the same as we’ve always done. The offense hasn’t changed. We’ve had to adapt the offense according to some of the talent that we have,” Coach Fedora says.

All eyes inside Kenan Stadium will be on the work in progress that is the UNC defense. Senior defensive tackle Ethan Farmer says the Tar Heels will have their hands full against the Hokies.

“They’re big up front. They have key offensive linemen back. Of course, they have a brand new quarterback. Their offensive line has always been extremely good. We are going to be challenged, as always, this week,” Farmer says.

Special teams play could prove to be the deciding factor Saturday. Coach Fedora says strong-legged senior punter Tommy Hibbard has been responding well to everything they’ve been asking him to do.

“What we do with him is difficult to do. The reason we do it is because it makes it much more difficult on the punt return unit. He has really handled that well. There are opportunities for him to boom the ball sometimes, but that’s not really what we want done. It’s always about our net and not his average. We ask him to hang it up there sometimes or put it inside the 10-yard line,” Coach Fedora says.

Hibbard in action (UNC Athletics)

Hibbard in action (UNC Athletics)

Both teams harbor hopes of winning their conference division and playing for an ACC title in Charlotte come December. With that in mind, Farmer says the Tar Heels recognize the significance of the game.

“We have goals. They have goals. It’s a big-time game for both teams. We’re going to come out ready to play. That’s our season goal – to be ACC champs. We know that starts with Virginia Tech. It previously didn’t happen against Clemson, but we’re going to be fine Saturday,” Farmer says.

Virginia Tech leads the all-time series with Carolina 19-11-6 and sports an 8-2 mark in ACC contests. The Hokies are the only team from Virginia that boasts a winning football record against the Tar Heels.

But this year’s edition is a vital chapter in the rivalry. None other than Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer says Saturday’s meeting is a must-win for both schools.

“You never know how it’s going to work out down the road, but starting off 0-2 in conference is not a great starting point. I think both of us understand it’s a critical ballgame,” Coach Beamer says.


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.

***Listen to the conversation***


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 GoHeels.com)

Ethan Farmer (Courtesy of GoHeels.com)

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 (Thestate.com)

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (Thestate.com)

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 (Thestate.com)

Clemson receiver gets in front of UNC defenders (Thestate.com)

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 (Keepingitheel.com)

Williams was under pressure all night at Clemson (Keepingitheel.com)

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.