UNC head coach Larry Fedora spoke with reporters Wednesday in the Atlantic Coast Conference weekly teleconference, three days before his Tar Heels (5-5 overall, 4-3 ACC) take on Old Dominion (8-3) in the last non-conference game of the regular season.
Check out what Fedora had to say with our Q and A.
Our football team is looking forward to playing an 8-3 Old Dominion football team that has been coached very well and who is in the middle of the transition from FCS to FBS, and these guys have done a tremendous job. They have got a great quarterback, a kid that's completing over 71 percent of his balls. He's got four receivers that are catching over 40 balls. They really move it around quite a bit and have done a tremendous job. So we have a tremendous challenge, this week, just getting ready for this football team.
The conference has a great chance of having more Bowl-eligible teams than there are contracts with the Bowls. Wonder from your perspective, knowing how tough it is to get to the post-season, how important is it that there's a home for the Bowl-eligible teams?
Well, it's extremely important that there's a home for your Bowl-eligible teams. You know, nobody knows how that's all going to shake out, but I think in the long run, it usually works out. You know, one good thing about it is the fans travel and they love Bowl games. So there's usually going to be a home. So it's not something that I really spend a lot of time worrying about.
Talk about the quarterback for Old Dominion; he's one of those pro quarterbacks you might see on Sunday afternoon.
I tell you what, he is a very talented young man. Earlier in the year, as we watched crossover tape, kept seeing him against various defenses. All of our staff kept making comments on, wow, that quarterback is special. I mean, he can extend plays. He's got a great arm. He knows where to go with the ball.
He's just a playmaker is what he is and there's no doubt he was -- you can see why he was the national Player of the Year last year in the FCS. He's a sophomore. The guy is very, very talented and does a great job within their offense. And I think Bobby Wilder and those guys do a great job using all his tools.
Talk about your team, what do you guys have to do? You're 5-5, and a lot of coaches don't look ahead, but I know you want to get that sixth win. What is the key to win on Saturday?
Well, for us, it's been the same as it is all year. First of all, special teams, we need to create a game-changing play on special teams, and then offensively, we've got to take care of the football and we've got to be -- you know, we've got to do, really, a great job in all the critical situations. That's going to be key.
And then defensively, we've got to adjust to their tempo and we've got to do a great job of stopping the run. We've got to stop the run and then we've got to be in position to not give up big plays as they put the ball out in space.
Regarding Ryan Switzer, obviously the initial blocking on a punt return sets things up, but once he finds an opening, can you describe sort of how instinct and vision take over, and what makes that so exceptional for him, whereas for other guys it might not work as well?
Well, first of all, he has the skills, the skill level and the skill set that you need to be a great punt returner. He's got great speed. He's got great, great quickness and that is probably the biggest key. And then confidence is very important. You know, I mean, he really believes he's going to make guys miss and so the other guys know, they have just got to get on guys and stay on them a little bit longer, because he's going to make a few guys miss. And when he does that, anything can happen. And he just, he does, he's got great vision and he's got some quickness, some things that other people don't have.
What's it like for you on the sideline? He breaks one in the game and then to do it a second time, how long has it been since you've seen that?
Yeah, I was thinking about it. I don't think I've been in a game that -- I haven't been involved in a game like that that with two punt returns in the same game. I mean, is it a hundred years of North Carolina football? I don't think it's ever happened here. It's a pretty unique thing.
I'm just wondering, when you guys were sitting at 1-5, how did you just keep the players heads-up and not let them get discouraged with that start, and let them know there was still a lot to play for?
Well, it goes back to your philosophy. You can't just be about when things are going good, everything is going great. Your philosophy has to be sound and you have to know that you've got to believe in your philosophy. And our staff did a great job of just keeping their nose down, kept working, nobody panicked and they were able to show the kids that there's no reason to panic. We're close; we just have to make this play or we have to do this or we have to do that.
The kids kept believing. They kept working extremely hard. They had great attitudes. And that's one thing that I can say about these guys: Their attitude after a game or going into a game has been the same each and every week. That has been very consistent, which is what we're looking for.
Does it take a unique or a special group of players to be able to do that and keep believing and not get down on themselves?
I think so. I think first of all, that leadership comes from the staff and then the leadership goes to the leaders on your team, and then the entire team has to buy into it. For us, it's earlier in the year, so you could go a lot of different ways, and that's why I give credit to the staff and those seniors and the leaders on this football team, how they kept everybody together.
You're facing Old Dominion this week. What's your assessment of your pass defense and your pass rush at this point in the season?
Well, it's going to be very, very critical that we are able to get some pressure on the quarterback and try to harass him and try to get him to make some throws early, and then we are going to have to hold up in the back end, too. I mean, we don't want to cover those guys for a long time, because if he gets a set back there, he's going to pick you apart.
And they are going to make some plays. That's going to happen. Any time you're running this style of offense where probably 50 percent of the game, they are in an empty set, I mean, you are spreading the field and you're going to create some one-on ones; that if a guy misses a tackle, it's going to be a play. That's why we have to do a great job of tackling in space.
You mentioned seeing Old Dominion on some crossover tapes you were watching for other people. I know you watch as many tapes as you can, but is it more helpful when you get a tape of someone like Old Dominion against Pitt that you just played so you get a little better judge of how they perform because you know what they are going up against?
Yeah, it really is. That helps quite a bit. Not only that, it also helps your players to understand that, hey, they just played this opponent, so they know what this opponent is all about, and then you're able to watch Old Dominion against that opponent and say, you know what, hey, this is a good football team. They are moving the ball around on this team and they are doing what they want, and so that helps. I think it helps in the focus for your football team. So, yeah, it really is good to have that good crossover film.
The thing about your players seeing it and believing it, there were some comments that came out of the press conference Monday that the players talked about when they played East Carolina earlier, that maybe they didn't give them the respect they deserve. Do you think that's a lesson that was learned then?
I tell you what, it better be a lesson that was learned. This is one thing we talk about as a team throughout the season. All of the mistakes that we make during the season, and whether it be in a missed assignment or a scheme, we are trying to -- we go back on Sundays and we try to correct all of our mistakes that we made in a game.
And then we talk about making sure that we are able to focus so that we don't make that same mistake again. And so, yes, I hope that is a lesson that this football team has learned, and if not, I'll be very, very disappointed if we are not ready to play on Saturday. And again, that's my responsibility.