Tougher practices paying off for UNC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.--After the UNC football team underperformed in the first two games of the season, head coach John Bunting ratcheted things up in practice in week three with positive results.

In week one against William & Mary, the Tar Heels came out sluggish, missing tackles on defense and turning the ball over on offense for the first half of action. A second-half comeback netted a win, but it was much more difficult than it should have been.

In a trip to Charlottesville in week two, the Cavalier dominated UNC in a 56-24 loss that could have been even more lopsided. The defense yielded touchdowns on Virginia's first five offensive possessions on the way to 549 total yards of total offense--299 on the ground--and the offense could only muster 10 first-half points, so the game was out of hand by the break.

"Look at what Virginia did to us," fullback Madison Hedgecock said. "On [our] defense especially, they man-handled us physically. Offensively, it wasn't as much physically. On defense, they just ran it right down our throats. That comes from not being physical enough in practice, and that showed up in the Georgia Tech. game.

The week prior to Georgia Tech, Bunting altered practice. The first two weeks consisted of hitting in full pads only once each week on Wednesdays. Following the 56-24 loss to Virginia in Charlottesville he decided to go to twice a week in full pads with half-pads on Thursday.

"For the most part, we are going to be the same [this week]," Bunting said. "That's the way it should be, and the players are aware of that, and that's what we're doing. We are too young of a group not to go full pads twice in a week. Coming out of [training] camp, I always try to pull back a little bit right before we start--when we end camp and start the season. We were too soft the first two weeks, and we got it back to where it needs to be. And, like I said, I take all the blame for it."

"That's what football is about," Hedgecock said. "When you get to practicing that, it becomes the norm. When you go out in the game, it just carries right over. The more physical you are in practice, the more physical you are in the game."

"It gives you a better feel for things when you go full pads because it's live up front as far as striking and using your hands," explained defensive tackle Jonas Seawright. "Doing it two days in a row with full pads and half-pads on Thursday, getting that feel of another person's shoulder pads and shrugging off and everything else carries over to Saturday. I think it helps a lot with technique and everything like that."

Following the loss to Virginia, center Jason Brown said that he saw guys who were very passive, not active. That didn't happen against the Yellow Jackets.

"In the Georgia Tech game what I saw were guys who were fearless, especially on defense," Brown said. "Our defense stepped it up so much this past week. They--wow! Most everybody was in disbelief, even some of our own teammates. We knew that some of what we did last week was going to [carry] over, but we didn't expect such a huge response so quickly. You tell yourselves that a team can't change overnight or in one week, but the response we saw and the reaction that we saw from our efforts and last week's practice came through 100 percent."

Last week's practice yielded a number of fights with the increase in intensity, and more of that took place on Tuesday of this week. By all accounts, the improvement against Georgia Tech makes the extra hitting worth it. It gets players more prepared for "game speed" and gives them more confidence in what they are doing.

"It gives us a lot better preparation," Brown said. "It's a big difference from half-pads. You are still hitting about the same with the upper shells, but it's a larger difference. Everyone has to come to the realization that we have to make a sacrifice. That sacrifice is physically with our bodies and it is definitely a mental thing that you have to overcome.

"It its helping us out, and we are realizing that what we do during the week will help us the most on Saturdays. That was proven in last week's preparation, and the guys this week--we have more faith in our preparation. Instead of coming out and working hard and wondering if it is going to pass over to Saturdays or not, we were able to see the fruits of our hard work That is special and it gives us so much confidence in our abilities and so much faith in our preparation."

J.B. Cissell is a staff writer at

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