UNC head coach Larry Fedora spoke Wednesday morning in the weekly Atlantic Coast Conference football teleconference as his Tar Heels prepare for Saturday's game at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field. The Tar Heels, winners of three straight, play the Panthers for the very first time as an ACC foe in a game with major postseason implications for both schools.
I am looking forward to getting this team on the road and going to our next ACC game. We are ready to take on Paul Chryst and his staff and a well prepared team that is playing really well with a lot of confidence right now, and just had a signature win over Notre Dame. We know they're going to be very prepared and very confident in what they're doing. We will have to play a very good football game to be successful.
I was wondering about your use of Marquise Williams earlier in the season. And if you're looking ahead to the rest of the season, looking ahead to the future, playing a two quarterback system there for a while?
What we were doing with Marquise, he brought an added dimension that we didn't have with Bryn (Renner) to the offense. That would open up things in the running game with Marquise. We knew he could throw the football. We knew he was a complete quarterback. But we just utilized the things that Bryn didn't have in the offense. It also enabled us -- we knew if something happened in the future, we knew we needed to get him some reps, because he hadn't had meaningful reps all of last year.
Did you change what you were doing on offense. Your play calling is a lot different than it was before?
A little bit. The only thing that's different is we've added a few quarterback runs in the offense that we didn't do, unless he was in the game earlier in the year.
How do you think he played in the two games he started?
We were really pleased with the way he managed the game. And he's done a good job of taking care of the football. All we're asking of our quarterback is to take care of the football. And then also just manage the offense. And that means to distribute the ball where it's supposed to go according to what the defense gives you. Not try to force things. I think he's done a good job of moving the chains.
What's been the biggest difference here with your team in this three-game winning streak? Obviously you're playing with a lot of confidence. Seems like the defense is playing a lot better, too. But from your perspective, what do you think has been the difference?
I think our defense is giving up -- they're not giving up the big play. That's what we're doing. Even if they do give up a play they've found a way to force the team to kick field goals. And so that's something that they're starting to take a lot of pride in. And basically it's just assignment discipline. It's knowing my job. Doing my job. Not trying to do too much and get myself out of position.
Was it something where just a switch was flipped in their heads that they needed to start doing that in order for the defense to be playing better?
I think if you're looking for a certain point, I would say probably in the Miami game that they started realizing if we just -- if we just do our job, just do my job, and count on the guy next to me, that he's going to do his job, the defense is set up where good things are going to happen. And then I only have to make the plays that come my way.
You guys have put yourself in position now with a good finish to get to a bowl game. After not being able to go last year, what would it mean to this team and the program to achieve that this year?
I haven't put a whole lot of thought into it, because we've been really focusing on being 1-0 each week, that's where our focus has been. It (qualifying for a bowl game) does a lot. It does a lot for your program. It does a lot for your fan base. It does a lot for the players. It does a lot for everybody involved, with extra practices and just the positive feeling around the program.
There were only two catches against Virginia last week. How much does having a guy like Eric Ebron help when you are trying to work in a new starting quarterback in terms of having that safety blanket, if you will?
It makes if nice for a quarterback, because you know if you get the ball somewhere around him he's going to make plays for you. I thought Virginia did a really good job on focusing on Eric and making sure that they try to take Eric away from us. You can do that, I mean it's possible to do, but it just means somebody else is going to have the opportunity to make plays. And in our case it opened up the running game for us quite a bit and enabled some other receivers to make some plays for us.
Is there a common theme for what they've been able to do?
I think they start focusing on a couple of guys to do that, either bracket him or double him, whatever you want to call it. Whether it be a linebacker and a safety or a nickel guy and a safety. They're going to, a lot of times, they're going to bracket him one way or another, and usually it's going to be two guys that have their eyes on him.
Your impressions of Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald and how the heck do you keep that guy out of your back field?
That's a good question. He's a one man wrecking crew. The guy is all over the place. Paul (Chryst) and his staff have done a great job with him. They'll have him lined up at the left tackle. He's played at right tackle. He's played at the right end, left end. They move him all over the place. They put him in position to make plays. And the guy comes through. For a big guy like that he's quick as a cat now. He can move. He's like a skilled athlete but in a big body. And he's just got a knack and he plays hard. What a great player.
You had to prepare for South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, is this similar in any respect?
Yeah, it really is. The only difference is he usually starts out on the inside and then moves outside. But they still move him around quite a bit. And I do, I think he's that same kind of player. He has that same kind of impact on a game.
Talk about what you see with the Panthers on film, and how explosive are they on offense?
First of all, the (Tom) Savage kid can really snap the ball. He's a big guy. When that ball is thrown it's got a lot of velocity. He's going to get it there so he can throw it in a small window, so you've got to do a great job with your coverage and you've got to get pressure on him.
I think their offensive line is doing a really good job. They're running -- the running back is a good player. And then you've got the freshman, the true freshman wide receiver, the Boyd kid, who is making plays all over the place.
All of that, the combination of the run and the throw creates a problem for you, because they seem to be balanced. They're going to get you with the passes when you start trying to stop the run. And then you go on their defense, I've said it before, the Donald kid is a one man wrecking crew. But he's not the only player they've got over there. When you turn on the film, it doesn't take you long to go, wow, who is 97? And he makes it very difficult, because they're moving around all the time with him.
The preparation between going to an NFL-type stadium and playing a college football game, how do you get prepared for that?
The only thing that's really different is the markings on the field. The field, the width is the same, the length is the same. But you do have different markings on the field. Sometimes you'll see the pro hashes that are painted from before. And the numbers are a little different with the Tick marks out there where the college numbers are. We actually paint our practice field that way, so our guys and their linemen and receivers and all that feel more comfortable with it.
When you were 1-5, other than the obvious changes on the field and everybody playing better, what caused the team to go in the proper direction at that point? Locker room stuff? Something from the coaching staff?
Well, first of all, we have a very sound philosophy. As a coaching staff and as a team. So when things aren't going well, what you do is you don't just make changes. That's what everybody on the outside wants is you need to do this, you need to do that. And all we did was stay the course. We kept doing the same things. We kept the kids believing.
Our staff did a great job of keeping these kids believing in each other and what was going on and what we were doing. And if you keep doing that and the kids see, from the leadership, with the staff and the team leaders, that we're doing the right things, we've just got to make more plays, eventually the light comes on and it starts happening.
So then you're able to say, hey, you see, you see what we're talking about and they realize that and your team gets stronger and stronger from that point.
I was wondering, you said Williams had a couple of good games, what do you hope to see from him going forward?
The No. 1 thing we want to see out of Marquise is we want to see him take care of football. Don't turn the football over, we have a chance to win a football game. That's No. 1. And if he does that and just manages the game. We're not asking him to do anything special, stay within the offense and take what the defense gives you. It may not always be what you want, but if you take what they give you, you check the ball down when you're supposed to. You distribute the ball where it's supposed to go. You don't force things. Then we have a chance to have success.