Letterman's Roundtable

Letterman's Roundtable

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for the weekly 'State of the Heels' football roundtable discussion.

Buck Sanders – Ok guys, what we're going to do is, we're going to take the tape from the Georgia Tech game, we're going to put it in a trash can, we're going to dump about a half-gallon of gasoline on it, and throw a match in it. We are just going to talk about Virginia. I want to start with Mark. What does it mean to you, personally, in terms of playing and/or beating the Cavaliers?

Mark Paschal - Being a Carolina guy who has grown up bleeding Carolina blue, that has grown up following Carolina football, beating Virginia in Charlottesville has been a very tough task for a lot of Carolina football teams, going back to the ‘80s. So, this means a whole lot, not just to me, but for every letterman that went up there and for one reason or another couldn't get it done. It's been a streak that finally was broken in 2010 by a good football team. Both teams have had some bad teams in the past, but, for whatever reason, we have struggled going up there and playing. So, it means a whole lot to me beating the University of Virginia; I had the chance to beat them a couple of times in Chapel Hill. It's always going to be a battle. You can throw the records out the window. It's going to be a fight; it's going to be a war, especially up there on Thursday night.

Buck Sanders – You know, Brian, I was there in 2010; I had the opportunity to get down on the sidelines with about six minutes to go in that game. And, when the final whistle blew and North Carolina had won that game, I can't remember a road game where there were that many UNC fans who were that happy and pleased, and players and coaches as well.

Brian Chacos ¬ - I remember living down in Atlanta and watching that game with Scott Lenahan, actually, and just being so excited to finally break that streak of so many years of not having won there in Charlottesville. I'm so glad they did in 2010; it was such a great performance; our guys really came to play that day and what a win It was for Carolina.

It's sort of a mirror image of two programs, I think, over the last decade. We sort of hover in between the six to eight win column; we are both the state and flagship schools, I think, of those respective states; and, we sort of target the same kind of kids. I'm looking forward to a great atmosphere on Thursday night. Especially on Thursday nights, I think you can't have anything but a great college football atmosphere. Obviously, people have a long time to tailgate before the game. I think these kids need to realize that there's a lot on the line for these seniors; it's the last crack they get at Virginia. I've read there is going to be 19 NFL teams that have requested tickets for this game; I know Mark can hit on a little bit more about that. There's going to be a lot of excitement around this game on Thursday. And, again, you're playing one of the oldest rivalries in the south – this game. Obviously, we're leading the series against Virginia; let's continue on with that series.

Buck Sanders – There's a history there in Charlottesville that's not pretty and a lot of UNC fans, even though there are so many rivalries with North Carolina . . . I think that kind of distinguishes UNC football – NC State, Duke, Virginia, this team, that team – they have so many rivalries but playing Virginia in Charlottesville has a particular cachet that's tough to get away from.

Mark Paschal - ¬ The 1996 game is maybe one of the top games that Carolina fans would like to forget, I would agree with you. I'd say a close second might be the performance this past Saturday.

I was a part of that team in 2008 that went up to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and basically beat a football team on all three phases, except for the last minute and a half, and then one drive in overtime. And, it was absolutely devastating to lose that football game in the manner that we did. We went into prevent defense. We allowed them to throw the football all over us. They completed about six or seven passes and, bang, they're in the end zone before you know it; they ended up beating us in overtime. It was something that as a person that has grown up understanding the UNC – UVa rivalry, I wanted to be that team that broke that streak. I wanted that for my senior class. It absolutely devastated me. No matter what has been going on all year, they're going to get their best shot at us. They want to beat us. They feel like it's more of a rivalry than we feel like; it has that type of feeling about it. Our North Carolina guys, they play in the State of North Carolina. We used to try and recruit in the Tidewater area, and we've kind of gotten away from that. I remember watching Ronald Curry; I was a little kid watching Ronald Curry and I went to his first game back at the University of Virginia and they booed him like I never heard somebody get booed before.

Buck Sanders – Matt, we're talking about the whole Virginia scenario and what it's like to play there and what this game means, particularly when you play on the road at Virginia. Give us your best recollection of your experiences in Charlottesville.

Matt Baker - I think, in the couple times that I played there, and I wasn't a starter either year playing there, but played some significant time late, to me that was always the second, kind of my second rival, after NC State that I wanted to beat the most. However, playing up there we always seemed to start out pretty well and things sort of fell apart as the game went on. I heard Mark talking about the game a few years ago when we prevented our way into an overtime or maybe we just lost on a two-minute drive, but that seems to be the way a lot of these games go. We always come out and seem to play pretty well to start and then lose faith for whatever reason . . . You should be able to get up for a Thursday night game, that's for sure. These guys should be anxious to get back on the field.

They ought to come up and be excited to get back on the field. It can go one of two ways – you can pack it in and keep your tail between your legs or you can come out fired up and show everyone you're a better team than what you showed last week.

Buck Sanders –I'm going to go with the whole Georgia Tech thing and only because it relates a little bit to Virginia. North Carolina is coming off a humiliating loss in a short week. Virginia is coming off two feel-good wins. They've got to be feeling good about themselves. How did that dynamic play out? And, I will say this, I was in Utah in 2004 when the Utes rolled up 667 yards on North Carolina , then in the next game North Carolina knocks off No. 4 Miami in Chapel Hill. I mean, how does that play out? When you're coming off a really humiliating loss like that, is it a real motivator or does it get in your head? What is the psychology of all that? I'll start with Mark first and we'll go to Brian and then Matt.

Mark Paschal - Buck, the crazy thing about college football that everybody doesn't understand completely unless they've really been around it, or they played it, you're dealing with 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-, 22-year-olds who collectively, some weeks, can just have a bad week, that collectively, they weren't very focused. Collectively, they might just say . . .and throw in the towel and give up on the game, if they feel like they can't stop it.

But, this game is played each week, and there are so many different circumstances – there are highs, there are emotional lows, there are all different things, and the only real answer and explanation that I have for it is football is a game played with emotion, with intensity, with unwavering commitment to each other, to the coaching staff, and to yourself. You can beat or get beat by anybody week in, week out if you don't prepare, if you don't play, if you don't act like it's a big time event, because it is; you only get 12 of them, Buck, and that's it. And, if you take one of those weeks and say, oh, you know what, we're pretty damn good, I'm going to take this week off and go hang out with Suzie Q instead of getting in my playbook, I'm going to go do this, I'm going to go do that, you lose that opportunity and you can never recover it. I hope these guys in that locker room at the University of North Carolina step back and look at themselves and say, ‘how much am I really invested in this? How much do I really want us to beat the University of Virginia on Thursday night?' And the same thing goes for Virginia. They're saying, ‘hey, we must be pretty good, we just knocked off NC State by 20 something points; then turn around and beat Wake Forest; and then we just beat Miami. We must be pretty good because the University of North Carolina got beat by Wake Forest and they barely escaped NC State.' Heck, we should walk in there and just have a field day. But, that's football. You've got an opportunity with the guys on your football team. The sand in the hourglass is running out is all I can say. These guys have got to take this as a rallying cry and make everything they do count because time is running out.

Brian Chacos - You've got to love Mark's passion. That's the same way I always tried to play too. You've got to play football with passion, especially when you're playing in the trenches too. We don't get to throw the ball; or we don't get to make the fun tackles or anything along those lines. You're basically wrestling with a guy 70-plus times a game; that's basically our job as an offensive line. So, you've got to basically bring it every game and that's your job. You want to talk about if you don't show up with intensity, if you don't show up with passion, getting exposed, that's a real position where if you don't bring it every day and every game, you will get exposed and you'll get injured if you don't really do it. So, I 100 percent agree with Mark. Buck, you made a great example with the Utah 2004 game. I played in that game; that was a tough game. Utah beat our heads in, up and down the field. It didn't matter, special teams, offense, defense. We had a couple guys get concussions that game. Urban Myer was on that staff; Alex Smith was the quarterback. They just had a phenomenal roster of talent. We literally were licking our wounds back at the airport. I remember wheeling Kyle Ralph in a wheelchair back to our terminal to get our flight back to RDU. It was the walking wounded back to the airport to come back to Chapel Hill.

Buck Sanders – I'm going to ask Matt the same question. How did the North Carolina team turn it around so that they came back the next game? Connor Barth kicks a field goal and beats Miami? How did they do that?

Brian Chacos - I'll tell you, Buck, because literally we had an easy and simplistic game plan. I don't know if Matt remembers more of the game plan, but I think we had maybe about four runs and I don't remember as much necessarily about the passing game, but I know we literally had about four runs we had installed, we had one trick play that we ran, and we literally said, here's what we're going to do, we're just going to literally line up and we're going to run and we're just going to see who's going to be the bigger man that night. And they had a superior talent than we did, no question, across the board. We had a guy in Chad Scott, who just had a coming out party and ran the ball efficiently and was a one-cut kind of guy. That's what you have to do when you're playing against the speed and talent of Miami; you can't dance around or try and run to the sidelines because they have top-end speed. He just had a phenomenal day and Darian was just a great football player that night making plays. But as an offensive line, we just decided to go after and try and do something that was going to be special that night and it ended up working out for us.

Buck Sanders – Matt, you watched that entire game from the sideline, but I'm sure you were in on all the meetings and you knew what was going on. What happened between the Utah game where you guys were totally humiliated, I mean, 667 yards of total offense by Utah, to turning it around and beating No. 4 Miami? You saw it from the sidelines. What's your perspective on that?

Matt Baker - You know, that was a . . . and that was really more on the defensive side of the ball. We played great offensively, but the defense really kind of turned it on that game. It was a gut check for everybody. Everyone was pissed off and we responded the right way. I can't comment on something I . . . You know the next year, 2005, Louisville put 69 points on us.

Buck Sanders – Then the next game beat Virginia, how?

Matt Baker - it's just a gut check; people are pissed off. I can speak from experience, on our team, we had a bunch of good senior leaders and we weren't going to get humiliated like that again; that was for sure. As far as game plans go, you go back to the drawing board, you simplify a little bit and it's a chess match. Football is a chess match sometimes. You hope you put the right game plan together and in those two instances, it worked.

Buck Sanders – We're running a little bit long, but what I'm hearing every one of you say is that this game on Thursday is just a gut check game for North Carolina.

Mark Paschal - No question. I mean, if you watch that football team, they just took it. They were out of position and they just took it for 60 minutes. This game can't be played like that; it has to be played in an attacking way. Whether you're playing cover three or whether you're blitzing people, it's played with an attacking mindset. You fight; you claw; you scratch; you do everything you can to get off the fricking block and make the play, and we didn't have any of that against Georgia Tech. It's a gut check time. How big of a man do you want to be for 60 minutes and go out there and win your individual battle and whip the guy in front of you and make a play? Because I saw none of it on Saturday. I gosh darn hope to see some on Thursday, Buck, because it becomes: how big of a man are you? Are you just going to take it? Or, are you going to say enough is enough, let's take the fight to them and see how it feels? I'll tell you what. It feels a lot better striking somebody than getting struck in the face over and over and over and just getting pounded. It's a lot more fun in a game if you're the one delivering the blows.

I know everyone on this Roundtable loves Carolina football. I'm just sick of hearing about these streaks against Georgia Tech; we've only won two of the last 15 times we've played Georgia Tech. And, we lost five straight years we beat NC State. I mean, this past year and we won one time in how ever many years up in Charlottesville . . .

Buck Sanders – Once since 1981.

Brian Chacos - I mean, there's all these crazy streaks that we have against schools that I feel like we're much better than and that we shouldn't be dealing with and having these struggles against. It's time, and there's got to be a group of guys that puts an end to this. There's got to be a group of guys who step up and say, ‘it ends with us,' and that they're the ones to start a new streak. They're the ones that start a streak against Virginia and that they don't beat us for a decade, or whatever the case may be. It has got to end now and there's not a more perfect venue and there's not a more perfect night than Thursday night college football, primetime, to be able to start getting that going. You guys have been up there; you've seen the game there. Matt and I played there; Mark and I were on that 2006 Thursday night team and we played Virginia on a Thursday night up there. We lost. We lost pretty handily to that Virginia team.

And we're just as responsible as all the teams before us and the current team now; we're just as responsible. We lost just as many games. It just eats me alive.

Buck Sanders – What has happened, has happened, but, this coming Thursday night is really about the manhood of the guys that are on that team. As Mark said, are they just going to sit back and take it, or are they going to man up and do something about it?

Mark Paschal - Right, I couldn't have said that any better, Buck.

Brian Chacos - That's what this game is all about. And the fact that the game is on Thursday night, get away from those yawning noon games. Thursday night, under the lights, it's in Charlottesville, you hope that the men come out. Quickly, just to close, take a step off the ledge here, we got beat in every way last week. Fedora knows it; the coaches know it; the players know it. We got outcoached; we got outplayed. It's evident that we lack some talent; I think it's kind of hidden, maybe defensively, a lot during the year. But, take a quick step back off the ledge, this team has still been through a lot, not to give them any excuses.

This is a new coaching staff; be patient with them. Going through a game like that, it's important how the coaches respond. You've got to come back this week, refocus, keep teaching your players, keep teaching your young kids. We're building a program here. Fedora is building a program; this is his first year and we're still getting a lot of the same mistakes and same feelings as we had in years past. Everyone, take a step back off the ledge; let these coaches continue to teach and build and I think everything is going to be good in the long run – big picture.

Buck Sanders – Well said, guys, and I appreciate your time.

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