Three UNC football players---senior quarterback Bryn Renner, sophomore wide receiver T.J. Thorpe, and senior cornerback Jabari Price---spoke with reporters Monday afternoon in the Kenan Football Center.
The trio of Tar Heels tried to make some sense of Saturday's stunning 55-31 setback to East Carolina, which dropped UNC to 1-3 a quarter of the way through the season heading into a challenging stretch of ACC Coastal Division battles against Virginia Tech and Miami.
"I think going back and looking at the tape, we just didn't perform where we're capable of. Obviously we didn't convert enough first downs and honestly I think we just struggled in the first half maintaining drives. I threw a pick and they (East Carolina) went down and scored and went up 14 to nothing, so that kind of hurt us. We just really couldn't get the ball across our field, across the 50, we just struggled. We didn't score from the red zone the entire time, we settled for a field goal and that's frustrating. Just all across the board, we didn't perform offensively the way we're capable of."
"I think it was just everything. We couldn't run the ball effectively, passing game wasn't there in the first half. But I think second half we rallied and put some drives together and got it back within 14 which is positive, but we could never find a way back in the ball game so that's frustrating."
How much of a concern is your foot? (Renner's left foot was in a boot Monday)
"Not much, I'm going to let the trainers handle it. I'm not going to disclose what happened, just take it one practice at a time and I plan on playing Saturday."
How much of a challenge is staying positive?
"I think it reveals the character of this team. We made a choice yesterday that we're going to keep pressing forward, keep getting better and that's what our team is about. It's really going to show the character of our team coming up on Saturday that we can respond after a tough loss and that we can move forward and have a positive season."
Is this the lowest you've seen a team in a few years?
"I wouldn't think so, we've got a lot of season left to play, season's by no means over and I think we're going to keep pushing forward and just try to get better. I think Sunday's are a great opportunity to do that. I think we won yesterday. We're just going to try and win day by day right now and have a great day Saturday."
"The practice we had Thursday wasn't very good and we have to rally as a team and improve in practice and find that energy that we need to perform. Saturday we have a challenge in front of us and (hopefully) we can step up to the challenge."
"I couldn't tell you (what it was Saturday). We just didn't play the way we're capable of and it's been happening, that's 1-3 right now. We've got to find something that can click."
"As a leader, we rallied the guys on Friday and I though we had the mindset that we had good enough to win a ball game on Saturday but obviously we have to find something else that can be done in the week of practice and in the game, before the game, where we can get to level where we need to perform."
What was Fedora's message Sunday?
"Just going to reveal the character of our team, we're not where we thought we would be at this point and it's going to be (about) how we respond and we still have a lot of season to play and we can't hang our heads and we've got to keep pushing forward."
On Virginia Tech.....
"Coach (Bud) Foster does a great job, I think it's going to be one of the toughest defenses we've played all year - South Carolina, even, minus (Jadeveon) Clowney, I think it's going to be maybe that caliber defense - and we're going to need everybody to make plays on SAturday. They do a great job preparing. We can build off of what we did last year against them, I know that they're going to have their homecoming so they're going to be ready to play, it's going to be a tough challenge on the road for us."
"Every week in the ACC is tough and we have a tough stretch coming up with Virginia Tech and Miami back to back and that's always tough, both those teams are well coached and have great athletes. I think we're going to have our hands full both weeks, but Virginia Tech's our focus right now."
On A.J. Blue's comments to the team after the game.....
"AJ does a great job of leading this team, I think he said all the right things (Saturday after the game. We didn't play the way we're capable of and it's got to stop. Things have to stop and things have to change and players have to make changes and all across the board, the whole team needs to kind of look at their self in the mirror and see if they're doing everything they're supposed to be doing on and off the field that can help this team win. I think he was right on par with what we need to do and how we need to improve."
Do you think you underestimated how tough losing Gio Bernard, Jonathan Cooper, and Kevin Reddick would be?
"I think going into the season, we knew how tough it was going to be but I think we still have a great team around us. We're not playing the way we're capable of but I think this time last year we weren't where we needed to be at the end of the season so we have a lot of games to play and a fourth of the season is done and we know we're not playing the way we're capable of but I think we all know that we can turn it around and we have the athletes that can make up for losing guys like that and we understand that we're not the same team we were last year and we need to execute better on offense."
"My biggest take from the game was just the small details. We had a lack of focus at points, whether it was me and a miscommunication with Bryn, or whether it was the line not picking up the signal, or a receiver doesn't block, whatever the case may be. It's the finer things that we kind of just breezed over and thought we'd be able to slide by without doing. That's pretty much what it was all game, we were a block away from a few kick returns, we were a penalty away from Blue scoring when it probably would've swung the momentum, and then we also had a lot of plays called back and a lot of blown assignments. A lot of that just relies on us. Regardless of what happens on the other side of the ball, we've got to control what happens with the offense and what happens with special teams and we didn't really take care of business."
is part of the problem all the youth at wide receiver?
"I think that's part of it, part of it is because we're young. Our oldest receiver this year is a red shirt junior and last year we had guys who'd started since their freshman year. Right there, we're taking a big hit, losing Gio, we lose three guys on the O-line who've been playing for three, four years at a time, losing all them to me is not an excuse but guys are just now gaining experience now. You can kind of tell with some of the bonehead things we do, and like I said, missing the details that usually everybody knows instead to be punctual and do the right things all the time and that's just pretty much it, we just need to focus in more and make sure we lock in."
On his own performance and the performance of the WR's as a whole.....
"I felt like I played pretty good. There's always things I wish I could've done better, always things I can improve on but as a whole I felt that I had a pretty good day. The return game, we had a few big returns. Catching the ball, I don't think I dropped a pass this season yet. I know I dropped a punt but I don't think I dropped a pass and I feel like the second half of this game that we saw something out of the receivers that we have't seen in a long time. That was an attack the ball mentality and mak(ing) plays. We didn't sit around and wait for people to make plays."
"You see (fellow receiver) Nic Platt catch a pass, a real good catch, the guy broke on him in front of him, he remained focused, and went the extra mile and got in the end zone. Quinshad (Davis) with the pass interference did the same thing. Bug Howard - getting his toe down in the end zone - things that we haven't seen out of receivers...whether it was last year, or the year before. We're starting to see guys step up and take matters into their own hands."
On playing without Sean Tapley.....
"We knew pretty early in the week, but we weren't really sure, fully that he wasn't going to play. He dressed out, he had the orange jersey on which means that he didn't have any contact, but we didn't know that it was going to be he was not with us the whole game. Losing Tap was a big hit because he is a lot of the experience that we do need but like they said, the show must go on, and that's the same situation as last year when I wasn't playing. Guys knew it so they had to step up and fill in and we did our best (Saturday) as receivers, as a core, to fill that void."
On A.J. Blue's message to the team after the game.....
"Basically there were a lot of guys in the locker room, jumping around, shouting, saying that they were ready to play, make plays and blow this team out. For some of those guys, they had a lot of us fooled, a lot of us who went out there and gave it their all and kept pushing forward, and - not saying that they were scared or anything but - they weren't as ready as they thought they were. As far as knowing the game plan, doing the things that they do, Blue was just trying to make sure that we understood that we have to buy in, get outside of yourself, and do the things that coach asks us to do. As you could see last year, we did those things and we were plays away from being a ten-win team and had we not had issues in the past, we probably would've been playing in the ACC championship and possibly in the Orange Bowl. We feel like when guys learn to buy in and don't - what coach Williams would say when I was a freshman - 'Don't front the brother,' you're just being honest with yourself and honest with your teammates and that's what (AJ) was getting at."
Does that go back to the youth of this team?
"I think that it has a lot to do with it but we can't have that as an excuse. We've got to make sure that if you're young that you're going to have to grow up fast and if you're older and you don't have experience, well you have to find a way to get game experience and regardless I feel like at the end of the day, sometimes we hide behind that. But there are other teams who are going through the same things who are finding a way to win and that's really what it boils down to, is us finding ways to win."
On only having nine guys on the field in a particular play.....
"Would say that it's a lack of focus of guys on the sideline. If you're package is called, you have to go in the game. I mean, you can't win a game with nine people, I've never seen it done in my life. So that doesn't give us a good chance to win but it's inexcusable and we just have to focus more in the week and focus more on the game plan."
On the overall ineffectiveness of the UNC defense against ECU.....
"It surprised me because we go through this type of drilling in summer and in camp and in the spring and you would think a team like us would be prepared for it but obviously not and they caught us off guard and they punched us in the mouth and we didn't respond so that was the story of Saturday."
"Some instances in practice we create chaos on purpose by breaking the huddle late while the scout team's already set so trying to go faster in practice, that would obviously help us as far as these tempo teams - well, we handled Middle Tennessee simple, obviously through coach Vic's plan, we handled it well and ECU just kind of shocked us."
How many missed assignments were there?
"37. I think 37. How many plays were there on offense? (101) 37 out of 101? You can't win a game with 37 missed assignments. Coming from the number of seniors we have on defense, me, Tre (Boston) and a couple other guys - that can't happen - along with other emerging leaders such as Norkeithus Otis and a couple other guys, we can't have 37 missed assignments and expect to win a football game. Regardless of what the offense did, regardless of how fast they went, you can't miss 37 assignments or you'll lose the game."
"It's a lack of focus once again, you can't get up for this team because you're a favorite to lose and then (think) 'Oh, we're supposed to win this week,' so you take a step back. I kind of think that's what's been going on. Regardless of who we're playing, we have to come out with a tenacious attitude and be prepared to play dirty."
NOTE: Price was asked post-interview what was an acceptable/average or "OK" number of missed assignments for the defense, and while he said none is the ideal amount of course, six or so maybe would be more realistic.
On improving tackling.....
"Practicing the fundamentals. The way we tackle in practice is coming to balance and wrapping, thudding up the ball carrier and stopping his charge. When we miss those in practice or in scout team or in pregame, anything, when you miss those tackles that tends to reflect over in the game. We have to do a better job of that. Tackling's strictly fundamentals since elementary school. You come into balance, you square the ball carrier, you wrap him up. It's that simple. We have the athletes and it's something that has to start Tuesday in practice when we're preparing for the team."
"You've got to work on tackling in practice, seven on sevens, one on ones after the receiver catches the ball. It's in everything you do, tackling on defense happens every play so it's something we need to focus on more as a defense."