UNC head coach Everett Withers answered several reporters' questions Wednesday in the weekly ACC media teleconference. On Saturday evening the Tar Heels (3-1) take on East Carolina (1-2) in Greenville.
COACH WITHERS: I really believe after being on the road last week, will definitely help us this week. We learned a lot about our team last week. We learned that we can fight back and compete. Any time you get the ball back with a minute-plus left and you have a chance to drive down to tie the game or win the game, then you learn a lot about your football team.
Obviously that did not happen last week but it has helped us move forward in our preparation this week. We are looking forward to obviously an in-state rival game with ECU. We know their fans will be excited, their players will be excited and we're looking forward to the challenge.
Q. I know you were a mere freshman back in 1981 back at Appalachian State, but do you recall hearing about Kelvin Bryant's sixth touchdown game back then against ECU, and what interaction if any have you had with him since you've been at UNC?
COACH WITHERS: Kelvin has been a friend of the program, I do remember the six-touchdown day. He's, like I said, a friend to the program, and, in fact, he's planning on being in Greenville this weekend and we are looking forward to having him around. He's an inspiration to a lot of our kids. They get a chance to visit with him and see him and hopefully he can help us with a little bit of his magic this weekend.
Q. How difficult is it to spend an entire week last week working on the option and such a heavy run game, and then turning around the next week and having to prepare for an offense that is totally opposite of that and in a spread?
COACH WITHERS: You know what, people say it's totally different, but as you saw last week, if you watched our game last week, the run was probably the biggest deal. We felt like if we could stop the inside run, which I felt like we did an excellent job of last week, forcing them to run the ball on the perimeter; this team, East Carolina's team is a short passing game. To me, that's perimeter run game.
So there is some carryover about leveraging the football, tackling in space, staying on your feet. There's a lot of the same -- there's more similarities than people think. And I think that the carryover, that's just college football. College football is so much different than the NFL, because there is a different offense each week. I mean, you've got to prepare, and it's the team that's going to focus and prepare the best is the team that's going to have the most success. I think what we have done is taken some of the things that we have done last week and implemented them this week in practice.
Q. Any concerns about your defense coming off that game last week?
COACH WITHERS: Not at all. I think we accomplished some things last week that we needed to. I felt like we stopped the inside run well. I felt like we did some good things as we made some adjustments on the perimeter. That offense is a tough offense to give them 72 snaps. You know, we have got to keep the ball more on our side of the ball, but I think there's some things that obviously we want to keep getting better at, the passing game and that type deal. But I think we are on pace defensively to be a good defense.
Q. Eric Ebron, a kid here in Greensboro, he's developing an increased role in your offense. Can you tell me about him and what he means to your football team?
COACH WITHERS: Well, you know, we identified Eric awhile back, a few years ago. Him coming to camp here, we saw him and we felt like he was the perfect fit for what we wanted to do offensively and then obviously getting him here, you know, he's a young kid. He's still got a lot of growing to do, maturity-wise. We feel like that each week, he has continually -- he's gotten better each week and we feel like his progress is on schedule.
We feel like the ceiling is really high. We want to keep increasing his role, whether it be on the offensive side and in special teams. What we are trying to do with some of these young, talented kids that we have is they have got to understand that they have got to find a way on the field and the way to find a way on the field for us is special teams. I don't care what star you are or who recruited you and all that. We want to make sure that you learn to play on a special teams. That's something that Eric is doing a good job of and we want to keep seeing his improvement each week.
Q. This is an offense that in the past used tight ends a lot. With some veteran guys that have graduated and gone on, is it something where the tight end role is going to be increased as the season goes along?
COACH WITHERS: Well, it's the reason we have Jack Tabb, it's the reason we have Eric Ebron and Nelson Hurst and Christian Wilson. We have got four tight ends on our team that we feel like as a group may be better than that group that left. So especially athletically with Jack Tabb and Eric Ebron, we feel like that we are a better group. We may not be as experienced, but we are a better group athletically and production-wise, we feel like we'll be better in the long haul.
Yeah it is a focal point of our offense. We want to do more with those tight ends, because we feel like they create some mismatches on some linebackers and safeties.
Q. What kind of improvement have you seen out of East Carolina's defense?
COACH WITHERS: Well, I really believe the switch to the 3-4 probably fits their personnel better, and I'm guessing on that. What it looks like to me is they seem to be more in the right place. They seem to be sounder on defense. You know, any time you change schemes, there's an element of trying to get familiar with it, and I think the first two ballgames or first three ballgames they have had, they are just trying to get familiar with what they do.
I think that -- I feel like they are a little bit better in the secondary as far as adjusting in those type of things. You feel like there's a little bit more of a comfort level with them on defense, and that's a credit to their coaching staff.
Q. I wanted to ask you about emotion in this game. They play a lot of teams that consider themselves UNC's rival. East Carolina is one that's gotten on a good hate for the Tar Heels. Is it difficult to max the emotion that they will bring to the game?
COACH WITHERS: You know, I don't think it is. I think our kids want to win games and winning on the road to me is what defines good teams, teams that can go on the road in hostile environments and win, and get on the bus and get on the plane and come home. To me that's what defines a good football -- and that's what we are trying to do. Doesn't matter if they are wearing a purple helmet or whoever it is.
The emotion part of it is, can you go into a hostile environment and play well, and win a game. And that's what we are focusing on this week. It's a rival game. I'm sure there's some emotions, because kids know kids on each team; coaches know coaches, that type deal. But when you get out there on the grass and that ball is kicked off, all of that stuff has really got to go out the window. It's about doing what you do each Saturday.