Getting into a short week here. An opportunity to play a very good UNC team, our in-state rival and the guys are excited about that opportunity. Obviously a chance to get Bowl eligible and a lot to play for. Looking forward to getting the guys back and moving forward.
Like you said, one step away from being Bowl eligible, just what can you say about the adversity of this season, some of those close moments and obviously get to go this point and how important this game is?
Yeah, you bet. It's definitely been a year of roller coaster finishes, and we haven't felt very good at the end of most of them. I'm proud of our players and staff for sticking together and finding a way to get back up and fight week-in and week-out.
Just a matter of finishing the game the right way, and we're a lot happier. And being college football, you've got a another opportunity, and for us it's a great opportunity against a really good football team and a long-standing rivalry game.
Being Bowl eligible would be a great reward for these players, and obviously a great opportunity for our staff to develop our young guys that are either red-shirted or not getting a lot of reps and building on that before spring ball.
When you look at your seniors, you look at some of these guys that won't be here next year; how important is it for be some like Matt Dayes and the rest of the group going forward to make sure you get these extra practices and moments and an opportunity at a Bowl game?
Well, it meant a lot to our program. It meant a lot to our families, as coaches, the kids that have fought hard and helped us; to go to back-to-back Bowl games, develop a culture and create an accountability system within our team where the guys are working hard on each other.
Because of that, you'd love to see them go out in a Bowl game and have another opportunity to be around them for however long it is. You hate to see them finish their career without that opportunity.
As a follow-up to that, regarding Matt Dayes, how big was it just to see him get to the thousand-yard mark? I know that with the injury last year prevented him from getting there, but to finally see him get there this year, what did that mean for you and for the program?
Well, it's been a long time. I think it's 2001, so programmatically, it's a step obviously in the direction we want to be. And for it to be a guy like Matt that's such a good person and that's invested so much and dealt with, you know, return from injury, which is hard to do, and re-injuring it in the spring.
There was a time in the spring we were not sure he would be able to play, and just for him to have the success that he did and bounce back the way he has, it's really exciting. Couldn't have happened to a better guy.
At what point did you think he might not be able to play?
Well, we just didn't know. His toe, had surgery on it in the off-season and he tweaked it in spring ball. Doctors said we've just got to let it heal and hope it will be fine, and it was. But there's always a chance when you reinjure something that it's not.
Everything from that point on was positive moving forward, but it took time to get back to where we wanted it and we were very cautious along the way.
He said he felt almost relieved to get the thousand yards for his offensive linemen.
I think that speaks to who he is.
Not a relief for himself but for the offensive line. Is that just the kind of guy he is?
Yeah, he's such a humble and giving person. You know, I think that's why it's so cool that he's the one that did it, because he's all about his teammates. He's all about the guys that work with him.
And we're walking on the field Sunday night by each other, and I said, "Matt, I haven't had a chance to officially congratulate you, because it happened in the middle of the game. I just want to tell you how happy I am."
He said, "Coach, we all did it." I mean, that's just the kind of kid he is.
And I said, "Matt, more than half those yards were after contact." And he just started laughing. Those were his yards. Obviously the linemen get him to first contact, and after that it's on him. He did a lot of the work.
What's your assessment of your pass defense as you get ready for this Carolina passing game?
Yeah, they are really good. Trubisky is playing as good as any quarterback in college football, 25 touchdowns and four interceptions, and obviously the weapons he has around him and out of the backfield, as well.
So it's going to be a challenge. Our corners are going to have to do a great job, our safeties, our nickels, and our backs. Every week in the ACC, you face a bunch of really good receivers, and there's weeks where you face NFL quarterbacks. So it's always a challenge.
You just have to choose what kind of defense you want to be, and we want to stop the run first. So there are times where our corners are on their own and they have done really well at times and they have struggled at times. But we have always felt like stopping the run first is what we want to be about and our corners understand that.
You just talked about the passing game Carolina has and their passing game has been there every game. Their running game has been in and out. When it's in, they have been pretty difficult to stop. Can you talk about stopping the run, and that's something you've had some success with with your defensive front.
Yeah, our front's playing well. Our backers are fielding the runs well. Our safeties have tackled well. It's just a matter of everyone doing their job and take pride in that.
And then obviously when you have different pictures, especially in college football today, where there's runs being blocked and passes being thrown behind them, RPOs, it's going to put your secondary in some stressful places, and so those guys have to make their share of plays.
The biggest thing we talk about against a team like UNC, because you know they have such great players at receiver, is if they catch it, we've got to tackle them. We've just got to be able to line up and play again and not allow any of those passes to become big plays.
On the other side of the ball, they have been vulnerable to the running game at times this year. Is that an area where you think you can exploit?
Well, I mean, for us to be a good offense, we need to be able to run the football and be balanced. I think if you look at the series, the last 25 years, the winner I think out of 21 of them has won the rushing battle.
So I think both teams are probably talking the same way when it comes to balance, but I think it is an important part for any good quarterback to not just be a drop-back guy and have a target. He needs to have the ability to fake the run or run the football and create difference coverage issues for the defense because they have to stop the run.