Bye Week Comes At A Good Time For Tar Heels
ATLANTA – Over the course of 65 days, beginning Aug. 2, North Carolina’s football players had a grand total of nine days off.
Off from practice that is. Many of the Tar Heels still spent plenty of time at the Kenan Football Center getting in extra film work, maybe lifting and doing other activities related to their demanding sport.
They’re football players and that’s what football players do during the season.
But with UNC in a bye week after defeating Georgia Tech, 38-22, on Saturday, head coach Mack Brown declared Sunday and Monday as mandatory off days. Nearly 10 weeks, and six games - five down to the wire - since fall camp commenced and the Heels just need a break.
“I told them to ‘get away, go do your school work, make sure you act right and stay out of trouble, but no weights, no conditioning, no football,’” Brown said following UNC’s win at Historic Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium. “Because they’re really whipped and they’ve had so many hard games.”
With several players now out for the season, several more dealing with significant injuries and just about all of the Heels banged up, bruised and battered, getting a bye at this stage of the season comes at a very good time.”
“It really does,” Brown said. “I think they’re running to the bye week so they can rest.”
The plan for this week is the Heels (3-3, 2-1 ACC) will practice Tuesday-Thursday and then go home Friday and Saturday. They must be back in Chapel Hill on Sunday when preparation begins for the Oct. 19 game at Virginia Tech.
The three practices will be more like a mid-spring or early fall camp for the younger Heels who haven’t gotten many reps since game-week preps began in late August.
“What we’ve done for 31 years is we’ve tried to coach young ones and get older ones well,” Brown said, noting that won't change this week.
The timing of the break, and the need to step back, is important to the players and something they’re looking forward to.
“Rest, try to heal up, try to get back to 100 percent,” freshman quarterback Sam Howell said is on his to-do list. He also planned on watching the NFL on Sunday, something he hasn’t really done this season, given that Sundays are intensely long film days for him.
Senior defensive tackle Aaron Crawford knows a thing or two about having an open date and is pleased with the timing of this one.
“I think this season has been scheduled perfectly when it comes to open weeks,” he said. “We go for six and for some odd reason we have another bye week after we go for three, so it’s really set up the best way that I’ve seen because usually guys are limping into the bye week, and I don’t see that as much.”
Last year, the Tar Heels got a break after their fifth game, which was Sept. 27 at Miami. The open date was Oct. 6, so they were off 16 days in between games. But in 2016 and 2017, the Heels’ open dates were Oct. 29 and Nov. 4, respectively, so it’s much more favorable this time around.
Interestingly, college football is slated on a 14-week schedule this season, so every team gets two open dates, a rarity that only occurs about every five or six years. The college football season begins on the weekend when Saturday falls two days before Labor Day, and this season, as in 2014 and 2008, as examples, there are 14 weeks between then and championship weekend, which falls on the first Saturday in December. Hence, the two bye weeks.
UNC’s next bye week comes Nov. 9, which is also timely given that the Heels visit Pittsburgh on Thursday, Nov. 14. So between hosting Virginia on Nov. 2 and Mercer on Nov. 23, the Tar Heels play just once, and it’s a Thursday game. Add that the Heels played a Friday night game earlier in the season at Wake Forest with this weekend’s bye, and UNC isn’t in action on four of the 14 college football Saturdays this season.
For now, the mission this coming week is clear, senior safety Myles Dorn says:
“Take a break and regroup and see what we need to do to finish strong.”