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October 29, 2013

Fedora calls NC State 'sound,' opponent

North Carolina enters its biggest football rivalry week having just gotten over the hump of a four-game losing streak. Furthermore, by claiming its second win of the season after beating Boston College Saturday, UNC got its first conference win.

"We're coming off of a ACC victory here at home and getting ready to go on the road this week to a place we know will be a hostile crowd, should be a great environment, should be a lot of fun," coach Larry Fedora said Monday. "(We're) looking forward to getting back into a normal routine which we haven't had the opportunity to do very much this season. Actually this is the second week of a normal routine for our football team and luckily we'll get to do that the rest of the way."

In addition to now being able to compete in the last five games of the season in a traditional all-Saturday, no-bye-weeks way, North Carolina is done with the most difficult opponents of the season.

In it's last two games, though, that difficult schedule - which ranks fourth most difficult in the nation - has finally begun to pay off for UNC as the team's play started to show that its getting better.

"I think that especially the last two weeks that we've started to make some progress in some areas," Fedora said. "We haven't arrived, but we're getting better a lot of positions and we're getting better in a lot of situations. With as many young people playing as we're playing, they're getting better and they're getting more experience and they're getting more confortable with what we're doing and so we want to build off that each week and so hopefully, the good things that happened this past week as far as taking care of the football and we were much better in the critical situations."

"Defensively, we really only gave up one big play, we're still looking for a game changing play on our special teams and we haven't done that yet, and so hopefully that's going to come through but there were still a lot fewer mental mistakes in all three phases."

For Fedora, the biggest difference in the team's performance against Miami and Boston College was, "just cutting down on the mistakes," and having better mental games.

In particular, UNC improved against Boston College in executing everytime it got in the red zone. That improved execution, Fedora said, came greatly from "more focus from the guys."

"We were also I think 50 percent on third downs, which was better, and so just overall, more focus and more energy, more intensity," he said.

That energy and intensity that the Tar Heels are beginning to be consistent with will be matched, at least, by the crowd in Carter Finley stadium in Raleigh this week, but that vibe and the tension between teams is what makes college football what it is, according to Fedora.

"That's what makes college football so great, is the rivalries that you have and the fans, the hatred from one or the other," he said. "That's what's fun about college football, it really is, just the excitement that rivalries create."

Last year, North Carolina scored on each of its first-quarter drives to lead 25-14 before falling flat in the second and third quarters as NC State scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and one in the third to take a ten point lead.
Casey Barth kicked a field goal to reduced UNC's deficit to seven points before Giovani Bernard scored a 74-yard touchdown on a punt return to secure UNC's win and break its losing streak to NC State.
For Fedora, there is no other single play the resonates as clearly from his coaching career.

"I would say that that one was the biggest one play that I can remember," he said. "It was pretty neat."

The ability that Bernard had to make a play that lasts as clearly as his last year did is an ability that Fedora is still looking for from his committee of running backs, though.

"He was a big play guy, he could make big plays anytime," Fedora said of Bernard. "Any time he touched the ball, he could take it the distance and we just haven't had anybody show that this year. We haven't had anybody get that spark or get that going."

"It's not just because of that one person, I thought we just overall we did a better job of blocking downfield, getting down the perimeter, all those things, and we're still trying to work on getting better in those areas."

The group approach to creating power on the ground is something that North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson and runningbacks coach Randy Jordan have been using all season while waiting for one back to out-produce the others, but until that happens, the offense will continue with its all-in approach.

"I don't know if disappointed is the word, but I would've liked to have had one emerge and takeover, but we haven't had that," Fedora said. "So we're still doing it the same way. Randy decides who's going to start the game sometime Friday or Thursday and from there, it doesn't mean that guy's getting all the plays unless he comes in and is tearing it up. If he's hot, then he'll stay in and if he's not, then we'll see. Each guy brings something different to the table and we're looking for one guy to catch fire eventually."

Marquise Williams lead all rushers against Boston College by going for 55 yards and showing his dual ability at the helm of the offense.

"He definitely brings something to the offense, and that's why we continue to use him in different roles in the offense," Fedora said of Williams. "That has definitely helped us in the running game and it's actually helped us in the passing game to get some coverages that we haven't seen."

"He does still have some specific packages, but we've opened up the offense completely, he runs every play that we have. We haven't limited him at all at this time."

And while North Carolina is continuing to see how it can use two quarterback in its system effectively, Fedora recognizes that the same position has cause this week's opponent trouble too, and he says he thinks NC State is still trying to get a feel for where it is in the season.

"They're playing a lot of young guys just like we are," he said. "I know losing the quarterback early on was probably tough for them so they adjusted a little bit of what they're doing offensively. I know they've got the quarterback back, which has made it hard on us to try and figure out how they're going to try to attack us. I don't know what they are on offense yet, I don't know if they even know yet. Defensively, they're really good up front."

The defensive line has more experience, comfort and consistency, Fedora said, than any other area of the Wolfpack team, but he acknowledges that this week's is still a solid opponent.

"I would say they're more basic on defense because they're just playing, they're letting them play," he said. "They have a few blitzes, they don't run a lot of blitzes, that's not what they're wanting to do, but they're playing good football. (On) special teams, they're sound in everything they do. We're looking for weaknesses in how we can attack them, but they're sound in everything that they do."


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