Letterman's Roundtable

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for the weekly 'State of the Heels' football roundtable discussion.

Buck Sanders – From my point of view, I think even though there were things for the Tar Heels to worry about on the offensive side of the ball, and they are probably going to have a hiccup between now and the end of the year against better defenses, that's not the side of the ball that I think is most concerning. I think we saw some encouraging signs this past weekend, although East Carolina may not be the strongest offensive team they are going to face this year. How much did the East Carolina game show us about the UNC defense? Scott, lead us off.

Scott Lenahan - If you ask me, I guess it showed our weakness. I think that if ECU had a better quarterback and better wide receivers it would have been a different score. I think our linebackers played a better game. I still feel we need to get more on the quarterback. There were times that the quarterback for ECU had all day to throw the ball. I think, if anything, it just showed ... I know they didn't put up a lot of points, but I didn't think it really reflected how our defense played.

Buck Sanders – Wow, Scott, before I move on the Mark, seven sacks are not enough for pressuring the quarterback?

Scott Lenahan - I guess from watching the game, I didn't look at the stats; I'm just going from what I saw.

Mark Paschal - East Carolina is not a team that is on the level with a lot of the teams that we're going to play the rest of the year. There were some positives to take away from this game. That defense, the 4-2-5 that we run, it is a gimmick-type defense; it is something different for each team each week. The strength should be defending the pass. I think we got better defending the pass, but I still don't think we played with enough of a physical presence. Thank God we don't have to play at Florida State or at Clemson this year; they might have scored 80 points on us.

Buck Sanders – Wow, that's pretty harsh Mark.

Mark Paschal - Did you watch that Clemson v. Florida State game?

Buck Sanders – I did and both offenses were very impressive.

Mark Paschal - Yeah, those two teams run at a different level than anyone in the ACC right now. The way they score points, how physical Florida State is running the football; I don't know if we would hold up. Right now we're not a physical enough defense, in my opinion.

Brian Chacos - The big thing that stood out to me is how poor we tackle in the secondary. A big culprit of that is Tre Boston. We talked in the preseason about how he's the guy who needs to step up and he just hasn't done it yet. There was a (video piece) on the Jumbotron where he was the guy that was saying to get the crowd up, trying to fire up everyone, and then he misses a wide-open tackle where ECU gained 15 yards on the ground. There were a couple of rumblings in the stands that were joking about it. This guy is supposed to be our leader in the secondary and he hasn't really stepped up. Some of the other guys playing on the boundaries haven't stepped up. When your guys in the secondary can't come up and fill the hole, maybe your linebackers get caught up in traffic and you can't fill up and stop someone, that's an issue. That's really the biggest concern that I really took away from Saturday. You saw the seven sacks, but tackling in the secondary is my biggest concern.

Quincy Monk - What I would like to see more is us attack the run. I think ECU took advantage of some of the schemes we were running and they were able to run. We've got a guy over at ECU that played at Carolina, Hunter Furr, and on a couple plays we made him look like he was a gladiator. I would like for us to be more aggressive on the run – not give up over 100 yards. I know ECU is a decent team, but they're not a team that should be breaking those kinds of runs off. What I want to do is for our defense to keep working on this 4-2-5 scheme. If everybody is not taking care of their gap responsibility, it can really create some problems. As we get further in the ACC, there are teams that are going to be able to run the ball on us unless we get that corrected.

Matt Baker - On a positive note, I give these coaches and players a lot of credit. I think they've made some good second half adjustments. They've gotten their feet under them in the second half of these games and played much better. You have to commend them for going into the locker room and making some adjustments. From a scheme standpoint, I know Mark says it's a gimmicky 4-2-5, and this and that, I see nothing gimmicky about it. It's a nickel defense; they're just playing with an extra defensive back and he's just coming down in the nickel position playing the slot receiver. I see some type of combo, cover four, cover two combo coverage. There's really nothing gimmicky to it; it's pretty vanilla. I think the biggest issue is our secondary has not, like Quincy just said, were not filling in the gaps. I see linebackers spilling lead blockers to nobody. When you run that quarters coverage, that read defense, a lot of times your linebacker spills it to the safety and that safety is supposed to be there at linebacker depth. I'm not seeing that out of our secondary. Like I said, back to positive, I will give them a lot of credit – they gained some confidence this week and they played differently – they started coming downhill a little faster. You could see they had their chins up and they were excited to be out there. It was the first time I had seen that from this defense this year.

Buck Sanders – Well, no doubt they've played six quarters of fairly decent football, at least from a production standpoint. This Idaho team, they're going to throw the ball a lot more than they're going to run it. I think they're averaging only 84 yards a game on the ground and 250 through the air. So, they're going to throw it up quite a bit. But, looking past even Idaho a little bit, when North Carolina gets into ACC play, Scott, what do you think they're going to have to do differently on the defensive side of the ball to give the offense a chance to score enough points to win games?

Scott Lenahan - I think Mark was the one who touched on this - actually, it was Quincy - it's just holding your water better. It looks like we're getting pushed back. It just didn't look like we were bowing up. I think when you run against good teams, just from watching the Clemson game – watching the talent on those teams – it's a totally different game than it is with the ECU talent you're going against. If we're going to be facing talent like that, talent like Virginia Tech has, our guys are going to have to be stronger at the point, tighter on coverage, and play with a mean streak.

Buck Sanders – Okay, Mark, I haven't yet heard you get fired up this week and it's about time. So, what do you think they need to do differently defensively?

Mark Paschal - Well, there are a couple things. When I say gimmicky, I'm saying that what they're doing is using a nickel-style personnel. So, I think we've got guys that we want from a speed standpoint. But, when we go up against these teams like Virginia Tech, that are going to run the football right at us, I don't think the 4-2-5 is the answer. I think we've got to match personnel to personnel and bring guys on the field that can hold up against the run. We keep talking about the passing game and how the secondary is getting abused. But, we've got to find a way to control the line of scrimmage, control the running games, and to stop the run first and foremost. I think we did make a lot of strides this week. I don't want to be overly critical of this defense because they only gave up six points. That's a good Saturday in my book. The one thing that I'm going to continue to watch for and take a look at is, where do we make the substitution – when you say, 'okay, we're going to take this extra defensive back off the field and we're going to bring in a bigger body to help stop the run.' I don't know if that is two bigger bodies instead of an extra linebacker playing the line of scrimmage. Maybe we bring a bigger defensive end style. I don't know the answer. I don't get paid the big bucks like the coaching staff does to make those adjustments. I just think we need to get a little bit more physical at the point of attack and from our linebackers and safety position as well.

Buck Sanders – Brian, What does the defense need to concentrate on? They've got one week before they start ACC play. What have they got to get done in this next week to get prepared to play a game against a different level of competition?

Brian Chacos - To me I think it's really simple, Buck. I don't think it's X's and O's. I think some young guys are going to have to mature a lot quicker. I think when Carolina fans looked at the schedule, I know myself, going into this Virginia Tech week, I thought, at worse, we'd be 4-1. So, I think it just comes down to a lot of these young players needing to mature quickly. I think a guy like Tommy Heffernan has. I don't know if Tommy necessarily took a step back with his play this past Saturday, but he was a bright spot against Louisville. He showed that now he can be a contributor on defense full time. A couple of those younger guys stepped up and had a sack. A lot of these young guys have got to step up when their number is called. When they get an opportunity, they've got to come up and they've got to play like a veteran – you're not a true freshman anymore. They've had their four to five weeks now in playing big-time college football and it's time to really strap it on when you're playing against big-time ACC competition like Virginia Tech. I think it's really just maturing faster than they thought they would.

Buck Sanders – Quincy, same question. What does the UNC defense have to get done between now and two weeks from now to get ready for the ACC season?

Quincy Monk - I think they should continue to keep getting better and learn their assignments. I think some of the plays that ECU was able to capitalize on were probably missed assignments or poor reads. I think, as a unit, we will continue to keep getting adjusted to our defensive schemes. But, also, like I said earlier, we've got to have people take care of the gap responsibilities. When you get deep in the ACC, there's going to be teams that are going to run right down our throat unless we can take care of our gap responsibilities. That means everybody doing their own job and not worrying about the next man's job. That's one thing. We also need ... We did better this week, but we gave up some third down situations, third down and long for first downs. I would like for them to keep that number low because third down is the money down. There's a psychological confidence builder we can get off of third downs. When a team is able to break a long run or pass for third and long, that can kind of be a little demoralizing. I think what we need to do is to make sure we hone in on defensive responsibilities and take pride in third and long situations and try to get off the field.

Buck Sanders – You know that third and 30 that ECU converted ... I think it surprised even them that they converted it because I really think what they were doing was to try and at least get some yardage so that they would have a little bit more room behind them for the punt and wouldn't be backed up so far. I think they were more shocked than anybody else that they converted that third and 30. But, I will say, I think on probably five of the seven sacks that North Carolina had, I think five of the seven, thereabouts, came on third down. So, they were bowing up a little bit and making some big plays on third downs during that East Carolina game.

Matt Baker - Buck, that's first about making the right plays and the right fits on the first and second down opportunities. That's when you have the opportunity to pin their ears back and make plays, when you have them in third and long. Along the lines with your question, I think I kind of touched on it in my first response that we need to see a lot more out of the secondary, particularly the safeties. I think for us to be effective against the run, they're going to have to come down and fill a lot -- a lot -- quicker than they have been lately. In the passing game, some of this week I saw the same issues with passing off, crossing routes and deep over routes when people are running from one defender zone to another. Our linebackers and secondary have to do a better job of passing those off. I thought we got better this week but there's still room for improvement.

Buck Sanders - To several of the points that people have made, I get a boat-load of photos that we take from the photo deck and I go through them early in the week and look at plays as they develop in sequence. And, on that sack that Jabari Price made, it looked to me that Tre Boston was supposed to come down from his strong safety position and cover the guy in the slot that Jabari left to make the sack and Boston didn't come down and pick up that slot guy. If the quarterback had just happened to be looking at his left and focusing on that guy, it would have been a different play outcome. So, there is certainly some communication and some assignment issues that have yet to be worked out with the defense.

Well, guys, we're four games into the season and, in fact Chake touched on this a little bit, that he thought North Carolina would be 4-1 at worst, they've got eight games left, what do you think the prognosis is for this UNC team the rest of the way? How do you see the rest of the season playing out? Give me a number you think North Carolina will go – four and four, five and three, six and two, over the remaining eight games, and a brief statement why.

Scott Lenahan - I can sum it up easily. We will win when we have Gio play. That's pretty short and simple. Games he doesn't play, it's going to be tough sledding. Games he is playing, we have a heck of a chance to win the game as long as our defense doesn't get hammered too hard.

Mark Paschal - I'm very optimistic looking at the rest of the year. I think we've got a good quarterback in Bryn Renner. Gio is a heck of a player also. The offensive line is outstanding. We will continue to get better on defense. I'm not ready to get too worked up about the defense yet because, like we talked about, this has only been the fourth game that we played under this new defense. These guys will continue to grow and get better. I think we will continue to score a lot of points and the defense will get better – I think we win five games the rest of the year – six games, maybe.

Buck Sanders – You know, to Mark's point, every team remaining on UNC's schedule has shown at least as much inconsistency as North Carolina has in four games.

Mark Paschal - Yeah, and we'll continue to grow.

Buck Sanders – You go down the line, that competition that North Carolina is going to play from this point forward, they've been Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde teams all through the first four games.

Mark Paschal - I agree. This season, we've got a lot of opportunities to win a lot more football games. Look at the ACC, we don't play Florida State; we don't play Clemson. There's nobody on our schedule that's really a killer. We should win a lot of football games the rest of the year and I believe that we will.

Buck Sanders – Chake, do you agree with that?

Brian Chacos - Buck, I'm the eternal Carolina football optimist. I think we can win the rest of our games out. Obviously, a lot of things hinge on injuries and, I think everyone knows how thin we are at a bunch of positions, so that's obviously a main contributing factor. But, I think Scott hit it right on the head, if Gio plays the rest of the games, I think that gives us a huge advantage. Obviously, I would love to see how this defense progresses, if they can build off this seven-sack game they had last week. Maybe they can turn out another performance like they had last week this week as well. We're going into the ACC play, that's going to be the real tale of the tape. There's no reason that we can't win out as well. I'd also like to see how Bryn continue to develop. He's had two terrific games, obviously breaking another UNC record this past game. I think there's no reason why we can't continue to win consecutively each week.

Buck Sanders – Eleven touchdowns is not too shabby in four games.

Brian Chacos - Not too shabby

Buck Sanders – He's on pace to throw 33 touchdowns, which would break his own record by seven. But, again, North Carolina is going into a different level of play. So, I don't know if he'll continue that pace, but he's certainly on a good one.

Quincy, what's your prognosis? Eight games left, how do you think the Tar Heels do?

Quincy Monk - I think, realistically, I'm looking at the schedule now, if all the chips play out, we can, realistically, we can win every single game if we play like we're capable of playing. I think, optimistically, we should win no less than six games. I think Fedora is going to keep working on this defense. It's early in the defensive scheme, so I know the guys are going to keep learning, get better, and learn their schemes. I don't really see a team on the schedule that is like a world-beater. We aren't going to play Clemson or Florida State. So six games should be at least the minimum for the remainder of the season.

Buck Sanders – Okay, Matt, it's up to you to put the icing on the cake here. How do you see the rest of the season going?

Matt Baker - I won't put a number on it but I think offensively ...

Buck Sanders – You're going to bail on the rest of your comrades? Everybody else is going on record.

Matt Baker - We've been so up and down as a team it's hard to say where we'll be. Like Quincy just said, we have to opportunity to beat every team left on our schedule. That's the schedule we knew we had going into the season and it hasn't changed at this point. To your point, the performances of the teams left on our schedule are even further proof of that. I think this offense is going to continue to progress. We should be able to outscore just about everybody. I think if this defense just gets a little bit of confidence that will allow this offense to play a little faster. I think they've ratcheted it back a little, maybe because if the defense, with Gio being out, they weren't quite as comfortable doing some things. I think this offense is really going to get rolling. I think with Gio in there and Ebron starting to kind of be that playmaker on the offense, I think they could really get going and score a lot of points. I hope they do and it's going to be some exciting football coming down the stretch. I'm looking forward to it.

Buck Sanders – Thanks guys, enjoyed it, talk to you next week.

    Featured Lettermen in Today's Roundtable

  • Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 7th-highest season passing yardage total in school history. Following his UNC career, he was a member of six different NFL teams.

  • Brian Chacos's UNC career (2001-06) included 35 starts at offensive tackle, a selection to the Lombardi Watch List, and All-ACC Academic honors.

  • 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.

  • Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.

  • Mark Paschal captained 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 four-year career up until that point.

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