Letterman's Roundtable

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

Against East Carolina, the Tar Heel offense played against a defense that wasn't nearly of the caliber it had faced earlier this year and put up big numbers and a lot of points. The Tar Heels won't play another team with a defense that poor the rest of the season. Should UNC fans throw out Saturday's results on offense, or did that side of the ball take a step forward?

Mark: They were pretty bad defensively. Should Carolina fans dismiss the results? Absolutely not. Offensively, we needed that game. Playing a game like this allows you to run plays full speed and see things happen in real time and on film that a coach cannot simulate in practice. The experience that the running backs and offensive line gained from this type of game is invaluable. The running backs saw the holes open and finished their runs by breaking tackles and running with authority. This type of game gives the running backs confidence in the offensive line and the offensive line confidence in the backs to find the holes. Chalk it up as a good day of work.

Deems: Throw it out when it comes to gauging how well we will be able to run the ball going forward. ECU's defense was seriously under-sized and over-matched against us. We will not see any defense come close to being that poor going forward and while we can be happy we dominated them in the second half, we have to be realistic and also expect it. When we run for 150 yards or more on a Clemson-caliber defense, I'll say we took a big step forward, but not yet. I was pleased with how hard Johnny White and Shaun Draughn ran, though. They hit the holes really hard and didn't dance. We need White's ankle to get better. I'd go to war any day with that guy.

Scott: In no way should the results from Saturday be thrown out. We haven't had two players rush over 100 yards since 2004 and it's not like every team we've played from then to now have had championship-caliber defenses. I believe that success breeds success and now that our guys have had a taste of what it feels like to dominate the other side and run the ball at will translates into a more confident offense.

This past Saturday will be a spring board for the season, especially now that we are seeing a line that is solidifying the five main starters and with them beginning to gel together as a unit will only breed more success as the season progresses.

Sometimes when one side of the ball is outperforming the other consistently, it can promote a sour atmosphere in the locker room. With both sides of the ball playing with a lot of heart and experiencing some success, would you judge the morale of the team to be high, despite what they've obviously gone through this year? From what you've seen on the field, how would you judge how this team has held together, from a morale perspective?

Scott: If I had to describe this team with one word it would be resilient. With all the different distractions and news media hoopla that they've had to endure I applaud how well they've done thus far. These guys have banded together as a team and it doesn't matter whether you're on offense, defense, special teams, or the bench. All these guys want to win games and if that means picking up some slack for the other side of the ball, then so be it. In no way considering the circumstances would I think there is any low morale, if anything I bet it's even higher.

Deems: I don't see in these circumstances how our morale can be high. There is absolutely no way that the coaches and players that have done things the right way cannot be affected by this mess. Given that, we all should be so very proud of how they've fought. It would've been easy to go in to the tank. It hurts when some of your teammates and a certain coach let you down.

It has to hurt when the media keep hammering your head coach day-in and day-out. It also has to hurt that your own peers from your student newspaper pile on and rub some salt in the wounds. Morale cannot be high. Period. But we haven't quit, nor are we going to. The only support these players and coaches have are from each other, our administration, and the majority of our fans. We have to stick together!

If we continue to pack Kenan week-in and week-out, if we support and buy tickets to the Blue Zone, if we continue to support our administration, coaching staff and players, and say 'to hell with everyone else,' we will emerge unified and strong. This is what all those out there filled with hate fear the most.

Mark: Confidence and team morale can never be underestimated in college football. People have to realize that all of these guys were stars on their high school teams and the majority of these players played on winning football teams. When they jump to college, and they lose a couple games, or one side of the ball outperforms the other side, a locker room can become divided. With both sides seeing success so far this season, that is huge for morale. Every player and side of the ball believes they can be successful - but when you have a team that believes in each other and believes in the other side of the ball it allows everyone to play with a distinctive confidence and poise.

The fact that I have not seen either side look panicked, no matter the score, proves to me that this Carolina team believes in each other and never feels like, 'If we don't score 40, we can't win' or 'If we don't hold them to 10, we can't win.' It has been a collective effort from each side. Now, we just need to get special teams on board.

The Tar Heels got back senior safety Da'Norris Searcy on Saturday. His return seemed to provide both an emotional and substantive boost for the defense, and the unit responded by holding East Carolina to its lowest offensive numbers on the season in total yards and scoring. Deunta Williams returns this week, and UNC has the advantage of knowing he is going to play. Are we at the point where UNC fans can begin to feel optimistic about the defense, despite the players still sitting out games on that side of the ball?

Deems: The last two weeks have been huge for our defense. I think we out-hit Rutgers and of course made big plays with Bruce Carter. Against ECU, I think we out-coached them. They really didn't adjust well to our scheme changes and it was evident by our 28-3 margin in the 2nd half. A lot of credit has to go to Everett Withers and our defensive coaches, for holding down an offense that had two weeks to prepare and was averaging a lot of points and yards.

Of course Searcy's presence was a huge factor in our being able to go to this new scheme and allowed us to overcome Quan Sturdivant's absence. Knowing we get Williams back this week will really be a bonus for our defense and special teams by allowing Matt Merletti to play on all four special teams. I feel so very bad for Greg Elleby, a fifth-year, selfless player, who changed positions mid-year and contributed strongly to our defensive line. You have to feel really bad that he suffered a season-ending injury. He is the consummate team player and I wish the wonderful media would do a story on him, but feel-good stories about good kids aren't what the local media is about.

Mark: Call me crazy, but I have been pretty optimistic all season after watching the first game. Yes, getting Searcy back was huge, and getting Williams back will be big as well. However, the guys who have stepped in when their number was called and performed at a high level are something that every Tar Heel fan should be proud of. The most exciting thing from here on out is this: we will only improve each week. We will gain depth. We will gain experience from both the new additions and the guys who have stepped up. The guys who have stepped in and played are no longer inexperienced, they have four games under their belt. This will be exciting to watch the rest of the year.

Scott: I agree with Mark - since the first game against LSU I've been pretty optimistic about this defense. The young players like Tre Boston and Jabari Price have done a heck of a job filling the big shoes that were in front of them. With Deunta coming back that's definitely going to be a spark of energy and certainly adds to the confidence and production we've seen the weeks building to this point. Not only that, but we've found a heck of a player in Matt Merletti and know he can certainly make some plays for us.

This week the Tar Heels face Clemson, a team that was just beaten decisively at home by Miami, and coming off back-to-back losses. What are the dangers involved here? Would your rather see UNC play a team coming off a victory or a defeat?

Mark: Let's be very clear here. Clemson is very talented all over the football field. On offense, Andre Ellington is one of the best running backs I have seen this season. Marcus Gilchrist is a very explosive corner and return man. Jenkins and Bowers on the defensive line are premier players. They have the personnel to be very successful this year. They played Auburn, a darn good football team, incredibly tough, on the road, and got beaten in overtime by a missed field goal. I honestly do not care if they have won or lost the past couple games, I know they are a huge challenge for the Tar Heels this week. Expect Clemson to come out swinging early, it should be a fun one to watch in Kenan.

Scott: It's not about Clemson it's about us. We can't worry about what the other team's record is and all we can do is make sure we're prepared going into this game. It doesn't matter if Clemson has won every game this season or lost every game, Coach Davis is going to get the team ready as if the whole season rides on this game, because it does.

Every game does, and if you go in thinking different you're doing a disservice to yourself. Look for these guys to come out on Saturday against Clemson hungrier than ever and looking not only for a win but to send a message to the rest of the ACC. A message that Carolina is a team to be reckoned with and despite having all our starters or not, you better bring your lunch pail, because it's going to be a war.

Deems: The pressure is on Clemson this week. Doesn't matter whether they've won or lost prior to coming in. Their fans can put up with losses to "football" schools like Auburn and Miami. They cannot stomach a defeat to a "basketball" school missing 9-10 guys. This would be devastating to their season and I'm sure the players are hearing it constantly from students/fans and coaches this week. They simply cannot return to Clemson with a loss.

How they play will depend on how they handle this pressure. They will come out fired up with their proverbial "backs to the wall" playing hard, but if they turn it over like they did against Miami, panic will set it in…I cannot reiterate this enough, I know these fans, this team CANNOT lose to the boys in Baby Blue. Period. On the other hand, our kids put up with so much vitriol and hate from outside sources on a weekly basis, that Saturday's are a welcome reprieve. They actually experience support for three and a half hours. It has to feel good. Let's give them a lot of support again Saturday.

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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