North Carolina's football season has gone exactly according to plan.
While that is certainly an understatement for many fans that have followed the team throughout the years and may have had expectations of great improvement from last year's 8-4 season in Larry Fedora's
Tar Heel debut, it isn't a surprise to those that saw an inexperienced group with serious depth issues due to scholarship limitations.
But last Thursday, during a nationally televised game that many had anticipated for months, UNC almost pulled off an upset that would have given the Heels a signature victory during an otherwise disappointing year.
Coach Fedora led off his weekly radio show by focusing on the positives and thanking the faithful supporters who showed up to Kenan Memorial Stadium Thursday night ready to give the Hurricanes a hostile work environment.
"First, let me address our crowd, the game day atmosphere, our students that were there on fall break, the whole Zero Dark Thursday---it was unbelievable," said Fedora. "The atmosphere, it couldn't have been any better. I thought our fans and our students just did a tremendous job. Our players, they fought off of that. They got a lot of energy from our students and our fans. We're very much appreciative of the help we got from the fans in that stadium."
During the course of the show it was mentioned that during Fedora's first season at Southern Miss, his previous position before coming to Chapel Hill, Fedora and his staff started the year 2-6 before winning their final six games and eventually a bowl game.
He was asked if that experience is something he leans on while dealing with the slow start during this season.
"You better believe it," said Fedora. "That's stay the course. Keep doing what you're doing. We have a very sound philosophy and we're sound in everything we do in all three phases. You just keep working. You just keep the kids believing in each other and believing in their coaches. Good things will happen."
The Tar Heels suffered a crucial delay of game penalty late that contributed to a whirlwind of circumstances that led to their defeat.
While it can't be directly tied to the loss since Miami still had to drive the entire length of the field to win the game, Fedora did say he would have done things differently if he could break out his crystal ball.
"When you make a substitution, the officials are going to give the opposing team the ability to match your substitution. There is no written rule on their time frame but they'll all tell you it's going to be around three seconds," said Fedora. "For some reason, it ended up being over eight seconds. The way it worked, that was the explanation I got. We'll learn from it. If I had known that they were going to stand over the ball until the clock ran out I would have called a time-out."
For the uninitiated who may have seen UNC play football for the first time this year, the national spotlight provided a platform for all the Tar Heel players to shine and make a name for themselves.
Perhaps no one player elevated themselves more than tight end Eric Ebron.
The large, athletic pass-catcher was on-hand to answer questions during the show but before he joined the broadcast, Fedora told the audience that Ebron was dealing with a stomach bug on the sidelines, making his performance even more incredible in
"Yeah, I didn't know what was going on. We had gone maybe a couple drives and he was throwing up on the sidelines. I said 'Is he going to be alright?' and they said 'Yeah, he'll be alright,'" said Fedora. "You know, he had a heck of a game. They put an I.V. in him at halftime to make sure he didn't dehydrate and he played his rear-end off.
"He has grown quite a bit in this past year. I'm talking about when he doesn't have the ball in his hands," said Fedora. "He's doing so much better on the perimeter blocking and also at the point of attack getting attached. He's becoming a complete player."
When Ebron did join the broadcast, it was asked of him if he was a willing participant in getting better at all phases of the game or if he needed a little more encouragement. Ebron's answer was brutally honest.
"Uhm…no," said Ebron. "I didn't want to work on it. It just naturally happens. You know what to expect being a starter in the offense for two years. So now you just have a better feel for it rather than stopping and looking around and being scared. You just know what to do naturally."
Ebron, being the large target that he is, seemed like the perfect candidate to ask about the Tar Heels red zone woes this season. While they haven't been terrible, Fedora and Ebron both acknowledged they need to get touchdowns in that area instead of settling for field goals.
Ebron had a unique suggestion for how to get the job done down there---even if it didn't involve throwing him the ball.
"Wildcat with me," said Ebron with a chuckle. "I can do it all. He (Fedora) doesn't believe me. I just feel like we have to execute more. We have to believe more. That's an area where we have to step it up. We have to get our younger half of the team to understand that, that that's the most important part of the game. It's not getting down the field, it's what we do to end the drive."
Looking ahead to next week, UNC will take on Boston College in Chapel Hill. While not usually the most glamorous or notorious team in the ACC, Boston College will bring a tough, blue-collar approach to the table and that's something Fedora recognizes and is prepared for.
"They've lost to Southern Cal on the road and lost to Florida State and Clemson so they're a quality football team," said Fedora. "They will come in here, they will be sound on offense, sound on defense and on special teams."
Fedora knows that the level of completion has prepared Boston College for anything but the Tar Heels have also played high quality teams and he feels that will allow them to match their intensity.
He also called on the crowd to help the Heels out in the same manner they did for the Miami game.
"Offensively, they're going to have a lot of formations. A lot of motions, a lot of shifting to try and get you misaligned, to give up a gap," said Fedora. "Defensively, a lot of confusion. A lot of blitzing, a lot of movement. We're going to have to really lock in and focus in. We're going to need as much help as we can get from our fans."