Letterman's Roundtable

Inside Carolina's weekly 'State of the Heels' discussion with former Tar Heels Scott Lenahan, Deems May and Mark Paschal ...

What about the play of the UNC team against Georgia Tech game did you find surprising or unexpected?

Deems: I was surprised that we were in the game at the end just as much as I was surprised in the LSU game. I still don't think people realize how depleted we actually are. I articulated this last week when you asked if we had momentum. Momentum?

We have to be realistic! Let's go back to June and look at our depth chart (pre-Paul Dees' enforcers dropping in). Let's look at who we thought we would have available to play then and who we didn't have available Saturday. My count: 12 suspended, 4 injured, 1 quit to play baseball, 1 transferred. 18 scholarship guys that would have played some snaps Saturday.

Take 18 scholarship players off any team (mainly on one side of the ball), throw in a noon kickoff, 100 degree field temperature, against an atypical offense and defense who happen to be defending ACC champs; we still had an opportunity to win the game! There aren't many teams in the country that could do as well as we have so far. The preseason ACC favorites (and some had as national title contenders) lost to Boise and James Madison full strength, to match our 0-2 start. I'm proud of our coaches and players again this week.

Mark: Honestly, I was very surprised by our inability to shut down their offense coming off a bye week. Being a defensive minded guy, that was the most frustrating aspect of the game for me.

Their interior offensive linemen were getting a significant push upfront, their offensive tackles and wing backs were able to get to our second level and cut our linebackers and safeties and our corners were getting stalk blocked and cut by their receivers. We had very few opportunities to make clean hits on the ball carrier which led to Tech runners breaking more tackles than usual and always seeming to fall forward.

I'm glad to get back to regular football this week.

Scott: There wasn't anything too surprising about how the team played collectively against Georgia Tech, but I was in fact surprised by a few players' roles and individual efforts in the game. The first to note was the amount of playing time and how well I thought that Greg Elleby did switching over to fill a void on the defensive line.

It's not an easy feat to switch from one side of the ball to the other, especially as an OL to DL. There's a whole different mentality and mindset and I applaud his willingness to do whatever the coaches ask him for the betterment of the team.

I was also happy to see how well Johnny White ran the ball against a usually stingy Georgia Tech defense. He was exciting to watch and you could tell that he was running with an attitude and purpose.

Obviously the defense has been the hardest hit by suspensions. As the players on that side of the ball gain more experience, how much can they improve as a unit unless they get some of the seven starters back they are missing?

Mark: The transition from high school defense to college defense is astronomical. These young guys will improve each practice and every game. I honestly feel that playing Georgia Tech is not a fair measuring stick on how a defense will fair the entire year.

It takes an "old school, smash mouth" player on defense to excel versus the triple option. We have a ton of speed and skill on defense and will be better suited for "normal" football. This unit will grow up in front of our eyes.

Scott: Defensively as the season progresses and the younger players gain more experience they will certainly improve in making game time decisions and adjustments, at the same time increasing their football IQ.

As Coach Davis said before, many of these players are learning to play by "baptism by fire" which I think will help our team over the duration of the season but at the same time this will make us susceptible to making rookie mistakes in the beginning and potentially giving up a few big plays.

All in all I think our defense has played great over the last two games and I have really enjoyed watching our linebackers hammer opposing teams and pleased with the progress Matt Merletti has made at safety. I think that Quinton Coples could have a great showing this Saturday against Rutgers and look forward to seeing some big things from him.

Deems: The actions of the players who made terrible choices, coupled with either the muscle flexing or painful rumination exhibited by those in charge of punishing these kids, have deemed this a rebuilding year on defense.

We as fans have got to realize this and be patient. I was really impressed on how we adjusted to the triple option in the second half. We were hurt by the dive, but that is just lack of depth at defensive tackle. The rookie corners (who by the way were never chop blocked in high school) got better as the game went on. There is no way to simulate chop blocking in practice; so they were learning on the fly. I think we thought we were going to get Deunta Williams back and that would've made a huge difference.

We should learn to expect to have nothing given to us or to get our hopes up (this is the UNC Football fan's real ‘Carolina Way'). Nobody has been right about any of this who's cleared and who's not yet; so expect everyone gone and if they return, be pleasantly surprised. These young defensive players will get better and better each week.

North Carolina's offense, at least through two games, appears improved, other than just being more experienced. What do you think accounts for the improvement you've seen so far?

Scott: Well, I'm going to be a bit biased in answering this question, however I believe there are a few things that have helped this season and one being that the offensive linemen have done a great job with holding their water in the passing game and creating holes for the back to run in.

Also, being able to have two talented tight ends in Pianalto and Taylor on the field is an advantage; it adds a wrinkle to our offense schematically and helps open up play-action which in turn helps improve our passing game. More importantly I couldn't be more proud of the way T.J. Yates has played this year despite all the heat that he has taken. I've never seen him more poised and comfortable than I have this year and he's been making smart decisions with the football and has been showing real growth as a player.

Deems: I would also have to attribute it to the play of the offensive line. We have nine guys who can play various positions. This looks to have given T.J. confidence in the pocket. T.J. has been more comfortable and subsequently more accurate.

We improved drastically in the run game this week and I look for it to continue to improve as we go. Johnny White ran hard Saturday - what a great story. Jhay Boyd can't get frustrated, when you emerge as a star, you're going to get coverage rolled to you and double teamed. It's a good learning process. Al Groh decided to take him out of the game and it opened up the middle for Pianalto and the other side for Erik Highsmith.

I am waiting on Dwight Jones to break out, he's close. Josh Adams had a great LSU game. The two second half turnovers cost us a victory and we have to eliminate those, but overall it's been vast improvement on offense this year.

We also have to remember that the teams we are playing are good, and sometimes they win a possession. It's a constant chess match between coordinators. If we aren't productive every series or every half its not always the coordinator's fault. We have to be pragmatic in our criticism and sometimes give the other team credit for making plays. That's football.

Mark: I think we have seen improved play in four facets on the offensive side of the ball.

First, T.J. looks like a fifth-year senior who has something to prove - for any of you saying he isn't the guy, you are only kidding yourself. He was 18-for-24 with a score. In my book that's a solid day at the office.

Second, the play of Pianalto has been outstanding. The guy is impressive in the run game and understands finding the soft spot in the zone and settling down better than anyone I have seen. No wonder he is always open and we go to him so much.

Third, offensive line play has been improved. This group has grown up and allowed us to establish a running game in week two. Also their pass protection has gotten better.

Last, the young guys playing receiver are running better routes, catching the ball more consistently and making big plays. The coaching staff has done a great job of bringing these guys up to speed over spring ball and camp.

The Tar Heels travel to Piscataway, N.J. to play Rutgers. What areas need the most focus this week in practice?

Mark: If it is me, I find the old TV copy of the game we played against them in 2008 on Thursday night, call a team meeting and show them that game. What you will see are a group of - at that time - no-name guys having fun, flying around the football field, making plays, high fiving each other, physically dominating, and playing passionate, balls-to-the-wall football.

That game was our turning point. That game was a turning point in Carolina football. That game we proved to ourselves that we could line up and beat the hell out of any team we faced. We played that night for each other, for Carolina.

So to answer your question Buck, the area of focus is not a new scheme, a position group or side of the ball - the area of focus, for me, is each individual on that team looking each other in the eyes and vowing to leave it all on the field with no regrets.

We have to get away from the mindset of "poor us" and tighten up that chinstrap a little tighter, bite that mouthpiece a little harder and go out there and leave no doubt that we are here to stay. That no matter how many times we get knocked down we will get up and come even harder the next play, because we know it is not about our individual successes or accolades that are achieved, but it is for the brother next to you, it is for the people who support us, and it is for the University that we represent. For that is Carolina football.

Scott: I'll say this just about every week, but one of the most important things going into any game is the ability to control the ball. We need to work on ball security offensively and win the turnover margin against Rutgers, being that we had a few hiccups against Georgia Tech that were pretty costly.

Our defense should prepare this week the same way we did against LSU and come out swinging, I think without having to worry so much about assignment football like we had to against Georgia Tech we should be able to fly around and create some turnovers defensively.

Deems: Math. Count the guys who are active and put out of your mind the others. Let's focus on the consummate teammate like Johnny White, who has played multiple positions plus special teams and never complained. Coples, who moved inside and didn't complain and played almost every snap Saturday. Elleby, who moved over to D-line from O-line. Zach Brown running down on kicks and punts. Elzy, our fullbacks, our young corners, our offensive line, our depleted defensive line, linebackers, quarterbacks, tight ends and wide receivers - all of whom have done the right thing. Our current coaching staff, who have gotten these kids ready to play and are guilty of no more than probably putting too much trust in the guys that made mistakes to do the right thing. These guys are who we have to go to war with, let's get behind them.

And for the guys who aren't cleared, their mistakes could not have come at worse time. The people or organizations that are to assign punishment have tipped their hand without saying a word. Their silence is making it excruciatingly painful. There are many theories to why it is that way, but the facts are that these kids who made the mistakes have cracked a door and it is being kicked in.

The anti-football establishment coupled with the media, opposing teams and their fans are reveling in this right now. They want this team to fall apart, they want dissension between administrators, coaches and fans. Outsiders can't stomach us being dominant at everything. We are dominant at everything but football right now, but we're coming and it's scaring them.

The more they frustrate us with their silence, sensationalistic reporting, and their rumor and speculation, the more they hope we capitulate and come to their side. Their side: that a good, successful football program is just not in the cards nor is it good for our beloved university.

How are we as fans going to respond? Are we going to let them succeed? I'll take us, Johnny White and the others that deserve it, against them.


Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.
Deems May excelled at tight end for UNC and was drafted in 1992, playing eight seasons in the NFL. He's since become a fan favorite for his candid commentary on the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Mark Paschal was a team captain for the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his career up until that point.

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