North Carolina head coach Butch Davis spoke prior to Wednesday afternoon's practice session about his team's mindset as they not only try to get over last Saturday's debacle at Georgia Tech, but to get ready for this Saturday's opponent, Virginia.
Given the many personnel losses that the Tar Heels have had on the offensive side of the ball over the last year, Coach Davis doesn't find it to be a huge shock that the team has had a few struggles thus far.
"Let's be honest guys. At the start of this season we knew we were replacing five guys, not only that just graduated, but five guys that went to the NFL, so that in and of itself was a challenge, and a lot of the guys that we thought would potentially replace those people, they're not even available to us," said Davis.
"At tight end to replace Richard Quinn we thought we'd have Zack Pianalto and we thought we'd have Ryan Taylor. In the offensive line we thought we'd have Aaron Stahl and Carl Gaskins and Lowell Dyer," he added. "We're missing starters that we thought would be here, and guys even behind those guys, guys like Morgan Randall and Zack Handerson and Mike Dykes---there's three guys that could have been potential backups that two of them would have been seniors and one of them would have been a third-year sophomore. You've got to throw in Jonathan Cooper, who was a starter at the beginning of the season, and so you're missing him."
"You forget about the fact that Richard Quinn could have come back, and so could have Hakeem (Nicks)," Davis continued. "I mean, how differently offensively would we have looked if all those guys had stayed healthy and all those guys would had stayed?"
Not one to typically make excuses, Davis acknowledged that while it's been a tremendous challenge, the players are working in practice to correct the mistakes, and the coaches are optimistic that as certain players return to action in the coming weeks, things will improve on the offensive side of the ball.
"We knew it was a work in progress and we knew there were going to be some things, and we've been challenged a great deal by the injuries," Davis said. "Every day we just hope to come out here and try to get a little bit better. But I thought they practiced well (Tuesday), and like all offenses, the more they play together, if we're fortunate enough to stay healthy and maybe get some of those guys back, the offense, they'll gain some momentum."
GETTING OVER IT
Finding a way to get back to work and overcome a difficult loss is nothing new to Coach Davis.
Throughout his long coaching career he's been in many, many situations when his team had to pick up the pieces after a disappointing setback.
"This is something that I've gone through many times---going 1-15, you're in the NFL (for the first time back in 1989 with the Dallas Cowboys), even the first year we went to the playoffs (2002 with the Cleveland Browns), you lose seven games," said Davis. "You're always trying to be challenged (after a tough loss)---how do you get your team to bounce back emotionally?"
The UNC head coach felt the team responded with a good first practice of the week on Tuesday as they prepare for Saturday's contest with ACC Coastal rival Virginia.
"I think we had a very good practice (Tuesday)," he said. "I think they practiced with a real sense of purpose."
"One of the things that helps kids, they're a lot of times more resilient than the fans and the coaches because they've got a million things going on in their life," Davis added. "But you focus them on, 'Hey, this is a new start. New week, new team, new opponent, new challenges, a 3-4 defense and things like that,' and next thing you know they're into the adrenaline of, 'Let's get ready. Let's play well.' So it was a good practice."
Coach Davis also talked about sophomore place kicker Casey Barth, who is four-for-seven on field goals through four games.
While Barth has been perfect on all three field goal attempts inside 29 yards and has made one conversion of 40 yards, he is 0-for-2 on the season within 30-39 yards, including a shanked 32-yard attempt in last Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech.
On kickoffs Barth is averaging 63.1 yards with no touchbacks.
"I don't know if his confidence has (been shaken). I know that he's mad at himself. I think any kicker would be," said Davis about Barth's recent performance. "Sometimes kickers are like quarterbacks---they're their own worst critics, you know. They nitpick. They want to be perfect."
"And I know that he wants to be perfect," Davis added about Barth. "He wants to make every kick. I know he practices to make every single one of him, and he wants to."
Davis has worked with plenty of kickers who have gone through cold spells, and his strategy is to speak with them in a way that a golf coach might mentor one of his pupils.
"When I talk to him a little bit about it, or any kicker that I've had, you talk to them in the context of like a golfer that's putting," Davis said. "You're sitting there and as much as you say, 'We don't expect you to make 50 footers in golf, but the ones inside 24 inches and the ones inside three feet you'd like to make them.' And yet still you see guys who do that stuff for a living and they still miss them."
"We don't expect you to make 55-yarders in games very often---you might make some," Davis added. "It boils down to you've got to block out all the previous kicks and it's fundamentals---it's your approach to the ball. It's trusting the snapper. It's trusting the holder. It's your plant foot, hitting the ball."
Davis reiterated that the coaches still have full confidence in Barth's ability to come through on Saturdays.
"Sure. Absolutely. Yeah (we still have faith in him)," said Davis.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
The fact that Virginia is entering into Saturday's contest coming off a bye week has done nothing to change Carolina's preparations this week.
While the Cavaliers had the advantage of extra time to focus specifically on what UNC does and tweaking some of the things they're doing, Coach Davis says that the Tar Heels are forging along as if UVa had played a game last week.
"We're in overdrive because we've got a shorter amount of time to get ready certainly than the opponent does," he said.
"Our approach is Tuesdays we've got a routine. This is what we do on Tuesdays---it's first-and-10, it's second and one to five---it's certain personnel groups that we work on. It's the running game. It's all those kinds of things. Certain phases of special teams."
"Tuesday is a whole different context. Everything that we did (Tuesday) there's almost virtually no carry-over to (Wednesday)," Davis added. "We're into phases, different downs and distances, different personnel groupings. (Thursday) will be a combination of all of it, and so we're kind of who we are, you know."