UNC head coach Larry Fedora spoke in detail about Saturday's opponent, Virginia Tech, while also praising some members of his North Carolina squad in Wednesday's Atlantic Coast Conference football teleconference.
"We're real excited about Virginia Tech coming here and having a big ACC game on TV. I think our fans and players are excited, so it should be a lot of fun."
Coach, starting with Virginia Tech offensively, they've gotten off to some slow starts in ball games. What do you see that they struggle with early and what do you see that helps get them in gear that you want to avoid?
"Well, the thing that they've probably struggled with more than anything is just turning the football over. Doesn't matter who you are offensively, what type of offense you run, if you turn the football over, it's going to make it difficult for you. You're going to put your defense out on the field more often. It's something we're concerned with also, is starting fast. I know it's something that they put a lot of emphasis on."
"I think both teams will be working on trying to get out there and get after it from the beginning, not waiting to see what happens, but actually make something happen. What do we need to do? We need to play ball the way we play. We need to be good on our tempo and take care of the football."
Defensively from Virginia Tech, they obviously struggled some with the passing game with Cincinnati. What did you see in that film? How does their secondary look to you?
"Really for us, just watching them, they almost changed what their thought process was in this game. They played a lot of man coverage, whether it was man free or zero. Evidently they didn't feel like Cincinnati could hurt them that way. I think they were fortunate enough to complete a few passes. If you look at it overall, they were pretty much dominating them other than a few big plays."
Do you anticipate seeing that man-to-man coverage or do you think they'll go back?
"I don't know. That was a surprise for us that they did that. We'll have to wait and see. We've been working both ways, whether it's going to be their base defense, what they do normally, or whether it's going to be more man, man free. We have to plan for both."
Last couple weeks on this call you've talked about your team still searching for an identity. How much do you think that will evolve or emerge against Virginia Tech this weekend?
"I think we'll know a lot about this football team after this game. Obviously Virginia Tech is a very good football team. They've always been great on special teams. They're known for their defense and they're going to play hard-nosed football, be a physical team. We're going to find out a lot more about the identity of this football team Saturday somewhere around 4:00."
You are leading the ACC in pass-rush and sacks. How important is pass-rush to the fact that you're doing pretty well overall in pass defense?
"Well, it's critical. I mean, nobody can sit back there nowadays and cover guys all day in the open field because everybody knows how to throw the football these days. It's not something people just give lip service to. Everybody can do it. Everybody's systems enable it. So you have to get pressure on a quarterback to help those guys on the back end out. If you don't, they'll pick you apart eventually."
Sylvester Williams is right up there at the top. What is he doing that has made him so effective?
"He's just a heck of a football player. Plays with a great motor. He's got that never-say die attitude. He's going to give all he's got. He believes he's going to get there. For an inside guy to be leading our team in sacks, that's pretty impressive because that's normally where you get your double-teams, there's more bodies in there tight, less space to maneuver. Sly has done a heck of a job with that."
Looks like two freshmen defensive ends, Jessie Rogers, Justin Thomason are getting in that rotation. Can you talk about those two guys?
"Both of these young guys as true freshmen have come on for us lately. Jessie has been getting reps for quite a while right now. Part of it, Justin, early on he had an injury during camp that kept him from getting a lot of reps. Jessie was healthy, able to get a lot of reps. He matured quicker. He got over the shock of camp quicker. It's just taken Justin a little bit longer to go."
"Both of those guys will factor in for us. Both of them will have to make plays for us as this season goes."
Logan Thomas is such a load at quarterback. He's like a defensive end playing quarterback in some respects. He's so tall and big. What kind of unique problems does he cause?
"Well, for our defense, we'll only have two guys that weigh more than him on the football field. Our two defensive tackles. He'll weigh more than our defensive ends. It's tough. When you go to get that guy down on a pass-rush or a sack, it's going to take seven or eight guys to get him down. It's something we understand, our guys are going to have to fly to the football, we're going to have to get there, we're going to have to gang tackle. That's what's going to have to happen. He presents a unique challenge for any team."
From your side, you wanted going into this year to get Gio Bernard the ball as many different ways as possible. Considering he's got seven touchdowns so far, is that working out the way you would have liked it to?
"Well, I wouldn't have liked for him to have missed the two games he missed. I would have liked to have had him in every game. Unfortunately he only played in three games. We found a variety of ways to do it. Last week he didn't touch the ball a whole lot because it wasn't needed. I would much rather have him for the long haul during conference play. I think he's now back a hundred percent, rested up, ready to go, should have a great second half of the season."
Virginia Tech has gotten running the ball with No. 20, Michael Holmes. What do you see from their running game? Is it hard to get a handle on them because they played so many different guys?
"They have played a lot of guys. One thing I think that does for them it enables them to have fresh legs in there all the time. Probably all those guys bring something different to the table."
"But anytime you have a quarterback like Logan Thomas that will pull it down, he'll take off with it, he weighs 250 pounds, you have a problem in the running game. You have to have somebody assigned to him. You have to pray that that guy is going to get him down when he needs to."