Looking forward to being a part of a rivalry that's been around for over 100 years, 103rd meeting. Both teams are battling hard. I know it means a lot to our fan base, former players, current players and coaches. It will be a hard-fought game. I'm really excited to be a part of it.
I know it was against a lot of their second-teamers, but how important was the second half to your team in terms of bouncing back from that horrific first quarter?
It was important. We don't ever want to quit in a game. We came in there to execute and felt like we could run the football. We showed we could do that.
We're playing a lot of our second-teamers, unfortunately, too, with all our injuries. It is what it is. The first quarter was as bad as it could be. I challenged our players. I said, Look, we lost the first half miserably, let's go out and try to win the second half. Let's execute the game plan, get better on offense and defense, turnovers. We executed a surprise on-side kick. A lot better half of football.
I don't care who it was against, the way we played in the first quarter, we needed to go do that. I was proud of the guys for finishing the way they did.
Does the momentum of that carry over to this week?
Well, all year our guys have played hard. We need to execute better. Then I think that was a pretty solid showing of what a difference in execution can be. Everything we talked about was taking care of the ball, running the football, keeping our defense off the field against their offense. We did the opposite in the first quarter. Once we started to do what we needed to do, we did a good job for the most part of staying within what we tried to have from a game plan standpoint.
As a player, you've got to make plays when you're in the right position. You've got to execute the calls. As a coach, we always try to do the best we can to put our players in that position. I know playing like that in the third and fourth quarter will help. But playing our rival helps more. These guys are excited, energized by playing in a game like this against your cross-town rival.
You've watched tape of North Carolina this year. Have you put on the tape of last year's game?
Sure, I've watched it.
Wild game in terms of emotional swings.
Yeah, a lot of big plays.
Does that give you a sense of this rivalry at all?
Yeah. I think obviously the punt return kind of makes it one of those games that real memorable for a lot of reasons. I've been in a lot of good rivalry games. I knew when I moved here that being in a rivalry game that is only 30 minutes apart is unique. I remember when I was at USC, UCLA was right down the street, that was a really unique rivalry. This is similar to that. You run into their coaches all the time. Our players run into their players.
You can't go to a grocery store without seeing fans from both schools. It's very unique from that standpoint.
Excited and honored to be a part of it.
Carolina's two-quarterback rotation, what makes them difficult to account for to defend?
Well, starting with last week's game, they both played very efficient within what they asked them to do. Renner is an accurate passer, he's an experienced player. Has good timing with his receivers. He understands where guys are. Then Marquise, think settled in with some of the runs that he can do. He's reading it well. He understands how long to ride it, when to pull it, when to give it.
You just got to be prepared for multiple systems based on who's in there and be able to execute within the framework of your defense.
So it does give you a few more things to probably have to practice from that standpoint.
You had a really nice game from Shadrach Thornton. How would you assess the way he's come along for you this year?
Shad's really improved, not just as a player, but as a person. His demeanor, the day-to-day way he approaches what he has to do as a running back, the way he studies film, the way he's handling himself in the classroom. I'm really proud of the progress he's made.
He made some mistakes. He paid for them. He learned from them. Now he's reaping the benefits of maturing, growing up, taking responsibility.
How would you evaluate Brandon Mitchell's return. He got thrown into an inferno.
He did. Like I said, it's kind of a recipe for disaster for the kid. He played in two series against Louisiana Tech, who is really struggling as a team, returns against Florida State on Bobby Bowden, throws a pick on play two.
He pressed. Brandon wants to win so bad. I think it's a great learning experience for him being in a game like this that. He just needs to distribute the ball, give it to the right people, let his arm strength and mobility do the rest. He tried to do too much.
Their leading receiver's a tight end. Is that difficult or different when you know their prime target is a tight end and not a wide receiver?
Well, they're playing like a wide receiver a lot, too. He's like a lot like many tight ends you see these guys. He's a hybrid guy. He can put his hand down and block people.
He does a good job of that. They can split him out and put him on the backside of a three-by-one, or on the front side of a formation. They do a nice job of using him on the crossing routes.
Whether you're man or zone, you have to play with attention to him, understand how they use him. That's easier said than done because he's a very good football player and he's a big part of their play selection.