Letterman's Roundtable

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

T.J. Yates has had three solid games to start the season at quarterback, yet the UNC offense still seems like it is struggling – particularly in putting points on the board. The players missing on that side of the ball are part of the equation, to be sure, but is that the entire explanation? Is it the defenses that UNC has played? The fumbles?

Mark: Turnovers will kill you, but I am not ready to hit the panic button quite yet offensively. T.J. has played great so far this season, our running game is getting better, our pass protection has been solid for the most part, our young receivers are making plays, and we have gotten a ton of production from the tight end position. This offense is successful when we control the ball and sustain drives for 8, 10, 12 plays. When it comes down to it, having to punt and winning the field position battle – the conservative approach - are not the worse case scenarios when it is a tight game like we had this past Saturday.

Deems: T.J. has kept us in every game this year with his arm but he will be the first to tell you that he poses zero threat with his legs. (Ryan) Houston and (Gio) Bernard are out. Johnny White has been hurt in two out of three games. (Shaun) Draughn missed the opening game. These factors make it difficult to call plays.

Couple that with all of the turnovers, fumbles, botched snaps and you have an offense that hasn't been as productive as could be. The two second half turnovers cost us the Tech game. Period. Our three turnovers against Rutgers almost cost us that game. Conversely, the same offense brought us all the way back from the dead against LSU to a play away from a win. Production hasn't been nearly what we need, but the aforementioned deficiencies have given us very little room for error.

Scott: Each defense we face every week will be a little different, and in saying that there will be certain players/schemes that will be more successful than others against the opposition.

Not having Houston against Rutgers definitely hurt our run game being that he is a bruiser and great at running the ball against a defense that likes to stack the box and play heavy against the run. No doubt the biggest problem in question has been the amount of fumbles we've had in the past three games. Obviously anytime you fumble the ball it's a big deal, but for some reason or another the majority of the fumbles have happened at critical points in the game which in turn have caused a huge swing in momentum.

Don't get me wrong, I think that our offense has done a great job this year passing the ball and has shown flashes of brilliance in the running game, especially Johnny White against Georgia Tech, very impressive. Yet, it makes it extremely difficult to get in any sort of rhythm offensively when you're averaging three or more fumbles a game. I'm sure these guys don't like fumbling the ball anymore than we like seeing it but each person who touches the ball needs to take on some accountability and really work this week in practice on ball security.

Coach Davis and the coaching staff have done a great job and I'm sure it's a concern of theirs as well and I know ball security will be a point of emphasis this week leading up to ECU. Maybe they should take a page from the movie, The Program, and have the guys carry around a football everywhere they go. Hey, it might help and at the very least would be entertaining for the rest of the team - I know I'd be trying to take the ball in between classes.

The Rutgers offense isn't the most potent offense UNC will face this season, but it did appear that the UNC defense took a step forward on Saturday. How important to UNC's season was it that these players had some success on the field?

Deems: No matter how well you play, a loss zaps confidence. This win was the direct result of a defense that could've mailed it in being down 10-0. Our playmaker - Bruce Carter - stepped up and everyone else started making plays from then on. Everyone on the defense contributed and bailed our season out. Going 0-3 would've been devastating, no two ways around it. Carter started it all and our young corner knocked the last ball down. In between, lots of players made great plays.

Scott: Being as young as these guys are and playing in big time situations is all a learning experience and the more confidence they gain going forward the better they'll be down the road. I saw some young players make some real strides in this game, especially the phenomenal play the young defensive back, Jabari Price, made along the sideline. I don't care how much playing experience you have or how old you are, that was a big time play at a key point in the game. Many of the young players I think feed off of the older guys' tempo as was seen in the way that the rest of the defense responded to the play of Carter. The interception he had was incredible and the athleticism when he was returning it was unbelievable - that kid is special.

Although Rutgers was not an offensive powerhouse, anytime you gain confidence and can play with a little swag is a good thing. I was very pleased with the way that our defense made a stand at the end of the game and hope to only watch them get better and better, especially as we start gaining players back and adding depth.

Mark: You cannot say enough how well Quan (Sturdivant), Bruce and (Quinton) Coples played. They took this game upon themselves, led the younger guys and went out there and won the game for us. I could not have been prouder of the way the whole defense seemed to come up with big plays when we needed them. This is huge for a defense from a mental standpoint. They can now turn on the film and see themselves playing at a high level with passion and intensity and make that the standard for the rest of the year.

This Saturday the Tar Heels face a different challenge: they are going to have to outscore East Carolina's offense, and the Pirates are averaging 441 yards a game, which is pretty good no matter what the level of competition is. We can expect East Carolina to score some points, will the UNC offense be able to answer?

Mark: Our offense will be fine. ECU's defense has holes that John Shoop and Yates will be able to exploit. We should be able to run the ball effectively this game. Field position, sustaining drives and limiting turnovers will be the focus this week. If ECU's offense is sitting on the sideline watching, they can't score points. This also allows the defense, which is pretty thin depth wise, to catch their breath and rest.

Deems: If our offense can get the QB center exchange down, hold on to the ball after the catch, and T.J. continues his good decision making in the passing game, then yes. We really need Johnny White back from the ankle injury and we have to get a good push up front.

I truly believe that Rutgers's defense was better than Georgia Tech's, but not as good as LSU's. We need to get five guys coming off the ball and create some openings up front. I like the fact that we have nine guys that can play multiple positions on the offensive line. It is great for depth, however, we need continuity with five guys on the same page at the same position and see if that gets us some momentum in the running game.

I like our tight ends and fullbacks in the three-tight package as well. Let's come off the ball and see if we can pound the running game, which limits their offense's time on the field and creates separation in the passing game.

Scott: We've always been successful against ECU and Coach Shoop does a great job game planning against teams to put us in the best position. I can't predict how many points we'll score but no doubt points will be put on the board one way or the other. In the past T.J. has done great with throwing the ball down field against ECU and creating big plays for huge gains.

I'm excited to watch this game because we have playmakers in Jhay Boyd and Erik Highsmith that have proven they can in fact make the big time catches and reel in the long ball which T.J. has excelled at. The question is how good our ball security will be. If we can improve on keeping the ball off the ground and capitalize on the momentum in drives, our offense will have no problem scoring enough points for us to win the game.

Butch Davis said following the game that the Rutgers offense was targeting the UNC secondary all game long, looking to exploit certain players. If UNC doesn't get any secondary players back this week, how can the UNC defense try to limit the ECU passing game?

Mark: This will be the biggest challenge for our young secondary to date. I'm glad we face this offense in the fourth game of the season as opposed to the first or second. ECU will sling it around the yard. They have a wide out by the name of Dwayne Harris who is an elite talent. This will be a big test for us defensively, but if we can get pressure on the quarterback and tackle the one-on-one matchups that their offense thrives on we will be fine. Making ECU go 80 yards each possession will be vital for our success as a team because of how difficult it is to complete enough passes in a row to move the ball effectively.

Deems: When it comes to coordinators, wveryone gets a break from me this year given our circumstances. I know you're talking about dialing up more blitzes. So for all the armchair coordinators that are out there I pose these questions to you.

Do you dial up blitzes that put your third team safeties and your second and third string corners on an island with an offense that's averaging 441 yards per game and scored 51, 49, and 27 points so far this season?

Do you want a true freshman corner one-on-one with the 6-8 wide receiver that caught the Hail Mary against Tulsa?

Do you want your third string safeties covering one-on-one against the team that scored 27 points against the best defensive coordinator in the world and his vaunted "lunch box" defense in Virginia Tech's Bud Foster (and his defense was not missing six starters and four backups).

I'm not berating our current players at all. I'm damn proud of them and their effort and they will be great players very soon. However, they aren't there yet and zone is probably the best way to protect them. The question the coaches have to ask themselves is, do we expose them to that and risk them getting beaten badly and losing confidence? We have to go to war with these guys every week from now on. I've seen kids go in the tank after having been beaten very badly on multiple one-on-one situations and the replays being shown for five straight hours on SportsCenter the next morning. Some handle it okay, some don't. It doesn't matter in the pros, you just cut them and bring in someone else.

We need to face the facts. We are going to struggle every game this year, regardless if it's fair or not. Criticism is fine and some of it is warranted. Most of the criticism comes from fans that give their money, time, heart and soul hoping we succeed; they have earned the right to criticize. The others we don't have a lot of time for.

Scott: There are a few ways in which we can help with taking some added pressure off the secondary and that is by getting to the quarterback quicker. If we can pressure the quarterback into making quick throws and forced passes we can definitely help our secondary. On the same note, this might create more one-on-one matchups which could essentially give up a big play if a blitz isn't executed right.

Another solution might be to drop more players into coverage to help assist those players which are being singled out most. Either way we are going to need to create turnovers on defense and get some sacks against ECU and with the recent play of Coples and Carter I have no doubt that we will do just that.

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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