TarHeelIllustrated - Players Monday: Vohasek, Fox, Gemmel & Morrison
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Players Monday: Vohasek, Fox, Gemmel & Morrison

Monday was defense day for this week's series of pre-Orange Bowl pressers, and here four Tar Heels field questions.
Monday was defense day for this week's series of pre-Orange Bowl pressers, and here four Tar Heels field questions. (THI)

CHAPEL HILL – Monday was defense day for the teams and media as Orange Bowl week is here. And for North Carolina, in addition to coordinator Jay Bateman, Tar Heels Jeremiah Gemmel, Trey Morison, Tomon Fox and Ray Vohasek answered questions about their season and getting ready to face No. 5 Texas A&M.

The No. 13 Tar Heels and Aggies kick off Saturday night at 8 pm. The game will be played at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL.

Here are their full interviews along with some notes and pulled quotes from what they had to say:

Jeremiah Gemmel, Junior LB

*There’s perhaps nobody better than Gemmel to give a scouting report on Eugene Asante since he played side-by-side with Surratt the last two years and is now doing that with Gemmel. So, what is his scouting report, and how does he think Asante has handled now being the starter in place of Surratt?

“I think he’s handled it really well,” Gemmel replied. “I talked to him yesterday when we had some extra time in the film room since it’s our day off. And looking at Eugene, he has great speed and he has cover skills, and that’s something you really need to have to play the Will position, especially against Texas A&M with how they run their route concepts.

“But the whole year, we’ve always had enough confidence in Eugene, and seeing the last two weeks of practice, he just closes space really good, he’s been really good timing up in his blitz. Everybody on the coaching staff and the players are confident seeing him go out on January 2.”

*Winning the bowl game is important and it’s also a big opportunity for the Tar Heels to generate even more momentum going into the offseason and launching into next fall.

“I feel like bowl games are always a stepping stone for next year’s team,” Gemmel said. “Although we do have a lot of good players out, these players that are going to be playing this game are going to be playing for us next year. Even though we have these players out, we’re going in to compete, we’re going in to win, and we’re going in to improve for next year.”

*Gemmel faces UNC’s running backs each week in practice, and with Michael Carter and Javonte Williams not taking part much in the physical stuff on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the season, Gemmel is familiar with what British Brooks, Josh Henderson and Elijah Green are all about. And with them now the only running backs available for the Orange Bowl, getting his scouting report on them is valuable.

“He’s (Brooks) really good and really patient at finding the holes and fitting off the guard and knowing when to cut it up and when to bounce the ball. He’s also really good at his angle routes running out of the backfield. Same with Josh Henderson. They have very good speed, just like Javonte and Mike, and I feel like what Mike has set in the running back room and what Javonte has set in the running back room, that’s just a picture to show that UNC’s going to have good backs for a long time…

“I haven’t been able to see much of Elijah throughout the year. But seeing him in practice, he’s really good in space. I didn’t see how elusive he was, but going through practice and watching him, he’s been able to make people miss in space and has shown that if you get him the ball in space he can be explosive.”

*The comparisons between Texas A&M and Notre Dame are fair and were a big part of Monday’s press conferences. So with that in mind, is it more important to be positionally sound or to simply bow up and get after it physically against the Aggies?

“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Gemmel said. “They’re a really good offensive line. They can climb up to the next level and get up on the backers. They also run a lot of formations, we need to be in check with all out formational calls and make sure we get into all our checks.”

Trey Morrison, Junior DB

*Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond doesn’t run a lot but he is capable of making things happen with his feet. He’s run the ball 63 times for 258 yards and three scores. As a passer, Mond is 172-for-271 with 2,050 yards, 19 touchdowns and three interceptions. How does UNC plan on accounting for him?

“I think it’s something we adapt to,” Morrison said. “We’ve played other quarterbacks, Ian Book (Notre Dame), he was a dual-threat and kind of did the same things. We’ve already pretty much practiced for this.”

*Gemmel gave a thorough scouting report on A&M, what about Morrison’s since he sees the game from a different vantage point on the field?

“Texas A&M has a very great line, I think it’s kind of like Notre Dame, very experienced older guys,” he said. “The quarterback is a veteran as well. I think he’s a great player. He sees the field well and he can run well. Two great tailbacks; (number) 28 (Isaiah Spiller) he’s super good, and (number) zero, they line him up everywhere on the field. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

*So what does Morrison say the keys are for UNC’s defense against the Aggies? Pretty short and sweet answer.

“I feel like we need to stop the run and the game is just based upon that after,” he said.

Tomon Fox, Senior DE/OLB

*UNC’s defense has clearly been better the last three games-plus since making some changes late in the win over Wake Forest. What are some of the reasons why the Tar Heels have improved their efficiency on that side of the ball?

“I think our communication,” Fox said. “When we started practice we emphasized just being able to communicate, just talking every play no matter what; every little thing we see we’ve got to talk to each other out there make sure we’re getting our plays in and making sure everybody’s on the same page.

“I think at the beginning of the year, that’s what we lacked a little bit, and that leads to busted assignments and creates big plays for other offenses.”

*Over the last several games, young players such as Clyde Pinder, Desmond Evans, Myles Murphy and Kevin Hester have gotten a lot more snaps, so how has that made the defense better up front?

“Those guys started off in practice with hard work and when they gave them some reps in games, they showed them they can play and there’s not any drop off,” Fox said. “So, I think that helps the team as a whole to stay fresh, being able to spread the workload throughout most of the people on the d-line instead of keeping one person, two people in there the whole entire game.”

*This will be Fox’s last game at UNC. So, doe she have any emotions knowing he will strap it on just one more time, and that he’s doing it on such a big stage?

“There’s a lot going through my mind right now thinking this is my last game as a Tar Heel (and) I want to make the most of it,” Fox said. “Most of it I just think about how far we’ve come, two losing seasons back-to-back and Mack coming in. New coaches every year and just thinking about all we’ve been through and making it to the Orange Bowl, just put a lot of pride in it.”

Will it be emotional for him?

“It’s going to be emotional, but I’m going to keep my composure when I’m out there.”

Ray Vohasek, Junior DL

*Vohasek has been a starter along the line of scrimmage all season and has had some terrific moments. He has 28 tckles, six for a loss of yardage, including 3.5 sacks,, and four QB hurries. How has his game grown throughout the course of the season, and how has he seen the young linemen come along over the last month?

“I think I’ve done a better job this year doing my job playing sound football technique-wise that (Coach Tim) Cross has taught us,” Vohasek replied. “I think the young guys have come along a lot. I think they’ve struggled with a lot of the stuff I struggled with last year, whether it was schemes, whether it was technique, footwork, hand placement. But, as the season has gone along, they’ve gotten better and better and now you’re starting to see the talent that they have catch up with the technique and learning the defense. I think there’s a lot of talent there.”

*Mixing it up and being physical are things that Vohasek excels on the field, he’s a very physical player. So, taking on an A&M team that exudes physicality up front is an assignment he’s looking forward to.

“Absolutely, it’s a good way to challenge yourself,” he said. “This is who you want to play. They’ve got a couple of All-SEC selections, a veteran group that plays great together. I think they’re probably, besides Notre Dame, the best offensive line that plays with each other.

“You might have talent, but they all play together, they all wanna work together and get to the next level. So, you’ve got to beat them at the point of attack to beat a team like this.”

*Vohasek agrees this game will offer a glimpse into how next season might look like, at least with respect to the featured players and ones who will fill in for the departed stars. But, there’s still a game to play, and that’s his only concern right now.

“I think absolutely it’s a glimpse, but we’ve got to focus on this game and we’ve got to try and win this game. That’s what matters. But yeah, I think we’ll see a lot of the talent we will see along the line of the Tar Heels coming into these next couple of years.”