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 – This is going to be all about Georgia Tech since we had the bye week. We may talk a little bit about the other ACC games, but mostly about Georgia Tech.

Guys, a big game coming up this weekend against an opponent that has really given North Carolina a lot of trouble over the years. We've talked about the NC State five-game win streak; we talked about the win streak in Charlottesville since 1981. But since 1997, North Carolina has only beaten Georgia Tech twice. It has actually been a pretty abysmal streak over the last 14 games, North Carolina has only won two of those ball games – they both came in Chapel Hill. So, what do you think, and I'll start with Quincy, what do you think Georgia Tech has when it comes to North Carolina? Why is it that North Carolina just hasn't had a lot of success against Georgia Tech?

Quincy Monk - I think it's because of the offensive scheme they've run over for the past few years. They came with more of an option-style format when I was playing. Now they use some kind of scheme where you have to be very disciplined on defense or they can create a lot of open plays – a lot of big plays. That's what has kind of affected us the last few years. They'll rock you to sleep. Then you've got a Calvin Johnson or Stephen Hill when they do it consistently and eventually want to pass the ball and these guys are wide open because you're not really disciplined. I think that's what been our biggest factor of not winning against Georgia Tech because they have this offensive style where you have to be disciplined. And, if you're not, they can really take advantage of that. That's why we really have struggled the past few years.

Buck Sanders – Mark do you kind of see things the same way? I mean, they were having success against North Carolina before Paul Johnson even got there and back when Chan Gailey was running things. But, two wins, 14 years, how do you account for it?

Mark Paschal - Well, Buck, I had the chance to play against a Chan Gailey-coached team and that was a pro-style approach. I also had the chance of beating them in 2008 with Paul Johnson as the head coach. I could touch on how we beat them. I can't really touch on a lot of the other games that we haven't been able to win. The way that we beat these guys is we made them try and come from behind. We jumped on them early. Everybody played with the type of physical, attacking, very, very film-intensive studied . . . everybody knew their read, everybody knew what their responsibility was and we executed for four quarters. They only scored on one really long play at the very end of the game, if I remember correctly. We physically dominated them up from on the defensive side of the football and made them try and come from behind, which they don't do very well. Over the past 10, 15 years, we haven't had a lot of great football teams. We've had a couple of seasons where we've had good teams, but Georgia Tech has played at a consistently high level; they've competed for ACC Championships. So, I think this year we have an opportunity to jump on a Georgia Tech team that really has been struggling. So, it should be interesting to see this team, with the bye week, going into this Saturday, with a whole 10 days to prepare. I believe that we have a superior team to Georgia Tech. But, you never know when you're playing a triple-option type offense how your defense and how your team is going to respond to that, and making sure that everybody's playing their right responsibilities.

Buck Sanders – Matt, I noticed back in 2008, if I'm not mistaken, Mark, you guys had a bye week ahead of the Georgia Tech game. And, Matt, they've had a bye week to prepare this year. How much of an advantage does that really give North Carolina in terms of preparing for the triple option?

Matt Baker - That's a huge advantage for the triple option. And, Mark can attest probably more the me, but, and Quincy touched on it, but it's all about discipline when you're playing a team like this, finding your keys and being disciplined with what your coaches teach you in the game plan that's put in place. When you get two weeks to put that game plan in place, preparing for a team that you have to rely heavily on your keys and your discipline, that's huge; it's a really big deal.

Buck Sanders – How do they prepare for it in practice, Matt? You're probably familiar with how North Carolina might approach it from the scout team perspective. They've got Marquise Williams, who, I assume, I don't know if he ran the scout team, I haven't been able to get that information yet. But, how important is it to be able to simulate what they're doing, as far as your scout team goes?

Matt Baker - It's very important. These are the type of games that you need. . . every player on the team matters – every guy down to the last one on the field, what he does matters. You hope you have a team full of individuals that take pride in that – they take pride in their role as the scout team. I'm a big believer that no one should settle on a role, but sometimes when you're in a position, you have to do the best you possibly can in that position. In these games, specifically, when the offense runs something unique, you hope that your scout team takes pride in the work that they do. I don't know if they use a guy like Marquise Williams, or maybe they use a receiver on the scout team to run this offense. They probably had a lot of scout team meetings early in the week to discuss exactly how they wanted to beat Georgia Tech in practice. I'm sure Fedora has done a good job at getting them ready this week. Hopefully the scout team did a good job.

Buck Sanders – Scott, from your perspective, what are the keys for North Carolina to beat this particular Georgia Tech team? They don't seem to necessarily have that Stephen Hill, Demaryius Thomas kind of guy this year – at least they haven't had one that has been quite as successful as those two guys were. What are your keys to how North Carolina needs to approach the Georgia Tech game?

Scott Lenahan - I think that one of the most important things, which we've been practicing all year, is having a fast offense -- the no-huddle offense. And, utilizing that new Fedora system, which I think that we need to really crank up and get it going high in the beginning. Georgia Tech, they're not an offense that's built to come from behind. They're the type of team that they're going to, like Quincy said, they're going to lull you to sleep and then hit you for a big play. So, as far as getting up two touchdowns, if you get up on them quickly, that will really hamper their game scheme, as far as coming back. That will make them pass, which they're not comfortable doing unless it's off of a play action. Another thing that I think that we need to do, as the stats show so far this year, every game that they won they were able to rush over 300, 350 yards. If we can keep them below 250 yards rushing, I think that if we keep them below that, we'll definitely win this game.

Buck Sanders – That seems to be easier said than done against Georgia Tech. My opinion is, Georgia Tech is who they are and that North Carolina better be prepared to outscore them. I see it as, it's probably going to be a track meet. Quincy, what about you? I see a high scoring game.

Quincy Monk - Yeah, I totally agree with you Buck on that high scoring. Our offense, I'm not too worried about our offense putting up points because, as Georgia Tech as shown this year, they really don't have a good defensive secondary or front seven that's been able to stop too many people this year. I don't have a problem with our offense; I think we're going to put up a lot of points. But, they do create a massive problem if we're not consistent on defense – not taking care of our responsibilities, filling up the gaps, making sure that we're not leaving guys wide open in the back field like we did with NC State, where they were able to get behind our coverage and make those big plays. If we're not disciplined, I see their offense putting up a lot of points. But, I do think it's going to be a high scoring game, but I think if we are disciplined, we can actually shut some of that stuff down early in the game and create some good momentum for our offense.

Buck Sanders – Mark, I referred to this a little bit earlier, but in the past they have had that guy like Demaryius Thomas or Stephen Hill. For example, last year, Stephen Hill, even though he only had 28 receptions for the year, he averaged 63 yards a game receiving and averaged 30 yards per catch, 29 yards per catch. This year, they don't seem to have that guy. Their leading receiver is a sophomore named Jeff Greene and he's only averaging 26 yards per game. How much does that cut into what Georgia Tech likes to do in terms of lulling you to sleep? They just don't seem to have that kind of receiver this year.

Mark Paschal - I think it comes back to Georgia Tech and what they're going to try to do. If I'm Paul Johnson and I'm looking at Larry Fedora's football team, I'm saying ‘we're going to have to have 10-, 12-, 14-, 18-play drives, as many as we can muster up, and try and take it 90, 80 yards, and keep Larry's offense on the sideline.' I don't see them trying to throw the ball because they've struggled so much on defense. That goes back to your question about the wide receiver position, is that they don't trust their defense at Georgia Tech right now. I just believe they don't trust their defense to stop a lot of people and keep the opposing team out of the end zone. Georgia Tech, right now, they're going to try and run long, extended drives to keep the other team on the sideline and from going out and try to score points on their defense. The longer they can stay on the offensive side of the football, Larry can't score any points – no other team in the country can score points. Basically, what I'm trying to say is, I think they lack a confidence in their defense and that's why you don't see them throwing the ball as much; they want to keep the clock moving; they want to shorten the game as much as possible and hope that they can win a 35-28 game instead of 55-45 game. Georgia Tech has always been successful when they can shorten the game, control the time of possession and run the ball on you. When they don't have a wide receiver to take deep shots with, and I don't know if they trust their quarterback to make a lot of throws. Like I saw in a couple of games, the quarterback has not been as accurate. I think a lot of those factors play into what we'll see this week.

Buck Sanders – Matt, in terms of North Carolina's offense, the little zone read that they do and some of the offensive wrinkles that they have in their offense that they practice against all year long, does that help them also prepare for what Georgia Tech does? It's not the same pro-style offense that you ran or that dominated under Butch Davis. They have a little bit of option football built into what they do. Does that also help the defense prepare?

Matt Baker - I don't really think so. The triple option in Paul Johnson's offense is unique. It's not the read-option out of the shotgun – it's a different animal altogether. So, maybe a little bit for the defense in reading the handoff. But still, in that offense, the first read happens right up in the line of scrimmage and it's quite a bit different than the spread option we show a little bit every now and then. These kids have seen all this spread option in high school that's so prevalent now around the country. Not too many teams are running the triple option any more. So, I don't think it helps that much.

Buck Sanders – Well, Scott, everybody else has, or at least it has been mentioned, that getting out to a quick start is going to be important against Georgia Tech, to make them play from behind. North Carolina hasn't had that much trouble with that lately, in particularly at home. When they play in Chapel Hill, they seem to get off to a fast start. Number one, do you think they can do that against Georgia Tech? And, number two, how important do you think that is?

Scott Lenahan - I think there's no reason why we shouldn't get off to a fast start. We've been doing it at home pretty consistently. With having a lot of our guys healthy, Gio's healthy and all those guys, at least as far as I know they're healthy, when that happens, that usually equates to us being pretty potent on offense. The only thing that really concerns me, I guess, is just defensively – can we play sound, fundamental football? That's the most important thing. You see when these guys score, a lot of times, it's the same dive or the same option play that they've run that same game 13 times. But let's say that one guy misses his assignment on this particular play and all of the sudden he's gone for 67, 75 yards. So I think that's obviously the main key – just not giving up the long pass in this game and playing phenomenal football. And, like I said earlier, getting up on them quickly because their offense, it's just not built around being able to score quickly; that's not their thing, Their cup of tea is pounding all day, three yards and a cloud of dust, that's what they do. You get up on them quick, that makes them deviate from their game plan, that makes them throw the ball down field more, which as you and I both know, they're not comfortable doing that and there's no way they'll be successful doing that. So, if we can do that, there's no way that we shouldn't win this game. And, they have a lot to play for; they could potentially be up for Coastal Division champions. So, they're fighting for a lot. I think that, obviously, we can't win the ACC Championship this year, so this kind of sets us up to be a great spoiler too. I think that everything is in our favor going into this game as well.

Buck Sanders – Ok, last question. North Carolina . . .

Matt Baker - Buck, can I hop in on something real quick?

Buck Sanders – Sure.

Matt Baker - The key to the game here, I think we kind of get lost in these scores, that our offense has disappeared a lot of times during the year. Our last few games, third down conversions, it is not very good. We need to get better offensively and we need to convert more third downs. Fortunately the league is down this year. We're sitting around on some of these games at 25 percent third down conversions; that's not going to win you a lot of games. When you've got an offense like Georgia Tech's that can jump on you quickly with big plays, you better convert on those third downs; you better stay on the field as an offense. I know we've been relying on some big plays, but we've got to get more consistent and be better offensively to control the ball in these games. I don't want to . . . We've said, ‘oh the offense will be fine . . . oh the offense will be fine.' But, Wake Forest, we sort of laid an egg; Louisville, for most of the game, the offense was dormant; Duke the offense didn't play great. So, our scores really haven't been painting the whole picture that everything isn't all merry there. We need to keep executing, especially on third down offensively in a game like this.

Buck Sanders – That's a good point – the offense has disappeared for stretches at a time – a couple of quarters at a time – they disappeared the second half against Miami, and stretches of the Duke game, and stretches of the NC State game. So, you're right, there is a lack of consistency there.

I do want to end with this question, though – given the big win that they had against NC State before the bye week, do you think they've had time to get that game out of their system? Quincy, I'll start with you.

Quincy Monk - Yeah, I think they did. I'm sure there's still going to be some hangover because you did beat your in-state rival, a team that's really had our number for the past five years. So, I think there's still going to be a little bit of that emotional high. But, I think having a bye week helped alleviate some of that. I know Fedora is probably going to address some of his concerns with having an emotional letdown, especially this being Homecoming. So, he's going to have these guys ready to play. I think the bye week definitely helped out. There will still be guys that are still excited about that win, but being that we had a bye week and it's a Homecoming game, I know Fedora is going to have these guys mentally prepared to come out and play fired up football.

Mark Paschal - You know, it's hard for me to even guess at that because that is such an emotional win and it came at the last minute and they've had a whole two weeks to read their press clippings about how well they played and all these great things that everybody is saying about the football team right now. This team has been a roller coaster for us from a mental, emotional, from a physical playing style – I mean, we don't know what we're going to get each week. Until the team really starts to develop an identity where they know what we're going to get, and we consistently play with that type of passion the whole game, it's hard to tell. I would hate for us to come out and lay an egg like NC State did. NC State looked so bad this past weekend against the University of Virginia. I just hope that our guys saw that and said, ‘we aren't going to have that same issue that NC State had,' because it can happen real easily in college football. So, I hope that that NC State game woke a lot of these guys up and they're ready and prepared to play on Saturday.

Buck Sanders – You know, Matt, I looked it up and over the last six years, following the UNC-NC State game, the Wolfpack has only won one game in six years. The game following the UNC game, they have only won one of those. Now, granted, I think that one year it was the last game of the season, so they didn't have the opportunity, but they only have one win in six years following the North Carolina game. So, do you see that as, you get up so high for an emotional game like that, granted, they've had a bye week, but can they put it behind them?

Matt Baker - This is why you pay the head coach the big bucks – to manage his team, to manage the personalities for situations like this. I understand that maybe their mentality is that was their bowl game; that was the rival we haven't beaten in a very emotional game we went out and won. Now we're kind of in that no-man's part of our season that we want to play – we can still technically win the Coastal, but we can't go to the ACC Championship and we can't go to a bowl game. Coming off that emotional win, which was probably our players' bowl game in their minds, now you're playing for pride. I can see a letdown coming from the players. That's why Coach Fedora and his staff's role is to keep these guys focused and angry to go out there and continue to compete and win games; it's very important.

Buck Sanders – Scott, you get the last word here. Do you think North Carolina will have any trouble putting the NC State game in the rearview mirror when they face Georgia Tech?

Scott Lenahan - During the season, you always have a short memory, I feel. After you play a game, there's always a day or two where you're thinking about it, you're going over plays, correcting things that were any missed cues you might have had, but you have a short memory as far as going and getting ready for the next game. So, I think having that mentality, I'm sure they were probably able to enjoy last week, but drilling Georgia Tech, and especially the offense that they have, getting overly prepared for that is a good thing. I think that having a bye week gave them a good chance to come down off of that emotional high. Now I know going into the rest of season, I can see where there could be a lull in excitement. We're playing Georgia Tech; then after that, we have Virginia; then we have Maryland. Those aren't teams that we notoriously, other than Virginia, that we've had rivalries. Our huge rivalries were Duke and NC State, which we've already had. I think this, again to touch on what Baker said before, this is what Coach Fedora gets paid the big bucks for – to see if he can get his guys up. Let them realize that this could be a spoiler game for Georgia Tech – that we could definitely ruin the rest of their season. I mean, we're not going to go to a bowl game and we can't win the ACC Championship, but we can certainly ruin it for somebody else. And, I think that any kind of motivation that you can have, even if it's negative for the other team, not a whole lot of positives for you than just pride, I think is a motivational factor to use to get you up and get ready for this game.

Buck Sanders – Ok guys, that's going to do it for this week, thanks a lot.

    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.

  • 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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