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 – One of the things we know about Middle Tennessee State is that Larry Fedora got his start there and sort of developed his entire offense as offensive coordinator when he was at Middle Tennessee State. One of the questions that I have is, I really think that the incubator for spread offenses began at schools like Middle Tennessee State, Louisiana Tech, lower-division and not traditional powers in college football. I'm going to start with Matt. Why do you think that happened the way it did?

Matt Baker -- Well, I think it's … it's offenses like this, they gain their advantage by spreading the field out. They make defenders cover more ground to defend them. When you're at these smaller schools, you don't have the pick of the litter for recruiting so you need to find a way to spread these defenses out and create mismatches. For these schools that couldn't recruit to the level of, say North Carolina, they had to do this to even the playing field. I think they found a lot of success in it. If you spread the field out, it makes a more physically-gifted and better football player a little less effective when he has to run sideline to sideline to cover your plays.

Buck – You know, Brian, one of the criticisms that North Carolina has received is their inability to punch it in in the end zone. I think they had first and goal several times against South Carolina and they weren't able to punch it in. Do you think that's some stubbornness on the part of Larry Fedora and his belief in how he runs his offense or do you think there was something else going on?

Brian Chacos – No, Buck, I don't think so at all. We had some issues with the red zone last year. I think a lot of it just is, with the offense that we're running, with running with the spread, the up-tempo offense, it's harder when you get into a condensed area like the red zone. You don't have the entire field to work; you don't have the entire field to spread people out as much and those eleven defenders are packed into a smaller zone. With regards to that, I think Larry is going to have to try and incorporate some different plans. I think we have some really good personnel that we could revert back to a pro style or throw in some pro style looks when we get to the red zone. I think under-utilized guys are guys like Jack Tabb, just line him up in fullback position or H-back position and try and do some things where you don't necessarily have to be spread all the time in the red zone. Just give them an "I" look and do some different things; it makes the defense honest. Honestly, it's a different look for them.

Buck – Quincy, one of the things that happened that Larry Fedora commented on was the number of big plays that were given up on the secondary, or just given up in the running game – Mike Davis running for 75 yards. How do you view those big plays that North Carolina gave up?

Quincy Monk – What I saw of the big plays, they can be very demoralizing on the defense – like the long pass they give up and the long run to Davis – it's something that can be deflating to the defense. When you're on the field and you want to make sure you get the guys on the field that have a deep play, a deep pass or a deep run like they did, it can be a gut check. I think it's a good way to say, ‘Okay, it's the first game out of the way, we opened up the season on national TV against the No. 6 team in the country. There are some growing pains but I know we'll get better from it.' It's good to have a game like that as the first game, something to build on, because they're going to watch tape and go back to the drawing board. Some of those lapses in coverage, we'll probably correct those this coming weekend and throughout the season.

Buck – Mark, do you have any comments to add to Quincy as far as the defense goes? You know, they were a little short-handed at linebacker, a little bit. What did you think of the play of the linebackers?

Mark Paschal – Well, Buck, again thanks for having us all again for another season. It's always fun to talk UNC football with these guys. I also want to say congratulations to Brian and his wife on their first baby. I know how excited he is.

It's hard to win football games when you surrender the plan of attack. We were man-handled; we were outplayed; we were out-physical'ed, out-everything.That being said, injuries are part of football and a part of college football especially because you only have so many guys can really come in and be effective. But, we struggled mightily.

I know that Coach Fedora and the defensive staff are trying to get these guys to rally around. They only gave up those big plays and for most of the game they hung in there. I saw a lot of grabbing; I didn't see a lot of helmet and shoulder pad hits. I saw soft defense at the point of attack. To get better, to improve, we're going to have to get more physical on defense; we're going to have to bring the attack to them. The epitome of that defense right now is fourth and two; the guy drags eight guys for a gain of eight and a first down. I think right now we've got a group of guys who, coming in from last year, their confidence is at an all-time low. They can say what they want to the media, but there's a lot of guys in that locker room that are questioning whether they are worth a darn on that defense right now, and if they can play at a consistently high level.

We've got to continue to make strides; we've got to get tougher; we got to get more physical and really more dominant at the point of attack or else we'll surrender a lot of yards on the ground and then in the air because we can't get a push on the pass from a pass-rush perspective. There are a lot of different things that caught my eye. Obviously, to wrap it up, we've got issues but I think these guys will continue to work to try and correct those. I think we're just lacking physical presence and we're really just a group that's not really sure of themselves and not really confident. We just have no confidence, I feel.

Buck – Let's switch gears a little bit and I want to talk about Middle Tennessee State. After a game like South Carolina, obviously North Carolina wants to get that losing taste out of their mouth; they want to get the fanbase energized; they want to get people excited about coming to Kenan Stadium. Matt, what do you think that we should look for against Middle Tennessee State from the Tar Heels?

Matt – I thought this roundtable was going to be over after Mark's answer. (laughter) As far as getting the fans back involved, this is probably about the worst game we could have – a noon game against a non-ACC or big-time opponent. You know how those noon games go, especially when you're not playing a team that can draw fans. But, there's nothing we can do about that; it's what we have on the schedule. Regardless of who shows up, we're going to have to show up as a team with a lot more excitement. I think Mark mentioned it, I felt a lack of intensity, almost a group that was a little bit scared going into that first game – that's how it looked. We're going to have to show up with some intensity this week and get some energy back into their play. I think they'll do that. Let me put it like this, they shouldn't be the same caliber as you, you should be able to come out and execute your game plan and build some energy by your play.

Buck – Quincy, what are you looking for out of the defense when they play Middle Tennessee State? Middle Tennessee State is a better offensive team. Looks like Logan Kilgore, their injured three-year starter at quarterback, is still going to be playing. What do you think the challenges are for this defense on Saturday?

Quincy – Well, what I'm looking for is less mental errors from the defense as a collective unit. Going back to the last game, we gave up some big plays because guys weren't in the right position. There were a lot of open coverage zones that were being left open where the quarterback could throw it to anybody.

So, what I'm looking for in this game is these guys to definitely come out aggressive but come out with a sense of urgency that they're going to be flying around the ball. The defense is a collective unit, so once one person gets a big hit, it's contagious. So, I'm looking for them to really come out like gang-busters from the opening snap. I want to see these guys get excited about playing football; I want to see them going around hitting guys aggressively and hard and pretty much setting the tone because you've got to set the tone early. If they come out and get confident, they can build later on through the later quarters. What I'm looking for is guys stepping it up in the gaps and not leaving a wide open lane for the running backs to run through. I'm looking for the secondary to make sure they are aware of their zone coverage and not leave open areas where the quarterback will have an area to throw. I'm also looking for the D-linemen to aggressively challenge the quarterback. I'm looking for these guys to really turn it around this game. As the first game back, you want to get that monkey off your back. I'm looking for these guys to have a good turnaround against Middle Tennessee State. They're a challenge offensively so I'm looking for these guys to really step it up this game.

Buck – Brian, there are two red-shirt freshmen and a sophomore on the offensive line. How would you grade their performance so far, against South Carolina? And, what are the positives that you've seen from them moving forward against a team like Middle Tennessee State?

Brian – That's a great question. I think that was the biggest concern, especially from our resident Debbie-downer, Tommy Ashley, who is down on the offensive line. I thought they looked great against South Carolina.

Buck – Just so you know, anything you say bad about Tommy Ashley will be duly forwarded. (laughter).

Brian – You can put my name on it. But, really Buck, I thought they did a great job. I think they went against one of the best defensive line units in the country, I think. It was one of those things where you have a guy like Jon Heck, who's getting his first start; Caleb Peterson, who's getting his first start. That's a tough environment to get your first game experience. I didn't think that South Carolina, personnel-wise, is a top 10 team in the country. But, that environment was a top 10 environment. I think that factored into a lot of the game more than anything. With the offensive line play, I think they did a great job. I think at times there were huge holes for A.J. to run through or Romar to run through. For the most part, I think . . . until the end of the game, I think they did a pretty good job of keeping Bryn petty clean; there were a couple of cheap sacks at the end of the game, but that just happens in any sort of game like this when a team is up close to 20 points and they know you're in a passing situation. But, I think those young guys did a really good job, especially Jon Heck. I was really impressed with him, especially when you're knowing you're going against a guy like Jadeveon Clowney, even though he wasn't playing at full speed the entire game – that mystique and just knowing what kind of player he is – it's really promising for the rest of the season.

Buck – Mark, even though there has been some criticism of the defense, and some of it justified, there were definitely some bright spots. I thought Norkeithus Otis and Darius Lipford showed some good things; I thought Travis Hughes showed some good things at linebacker. He probably needs to step up more. But, for you, what were the highlights, as far as positives, that you drew out of the defense and how do you think that is going to translate moving forward against a team like Middle Tennessee State?

Mark – There's a lot of good things to take away from that game. That is a good football team; South Carolina is a good football team. It was hotter than all get-out down there; it was a rough crowd. Everything was going against the visiting team. I don't care which way you slice it, that was a hard place to play. They're a capable, good football team on offense. Obviously, they made a point of it to try and establish a running game to keep our offense on the sideline which, that makes sense, we're trying to run a lot of plays; we're trying to score a lot of points. If our offense is on the sideline, they can't score points. So, our defense was stuck with a challenge that, we've got to get off the field. I think, I can't remember the exact number, but I think our defense was good on third down.

Buck – It was 5-for-14, which is not bad.

Mark – That's winning on third down and that's huge. We didn't create any turnovers, which bothers me. We're talking about creating opportunities for your offense, creating opportunities your football team. We didn't create any turnovers and that hurt. It's hard to win a ball game without creating some turnovers. But, we were good on third down.

We've got to bow up in the running game because we're going to face teams that are going to try and keep our offense on the sideline. We've got some guys that can play; we're not back in 2005 where we couldn't stop anybody or 2006 where we couldn't stop anybody; we're not back there. We just have got to continue to grow. We've got some players; we've got to get healthy. We need to establish depth. I think we got caught up in … they were running the football on us and that just physically wears you down. It was hot; it was a tough crowd. I think we've got a lot of improvement left in us; I think we've got enough talent to be successful on defense this year. We've got some bodies that can play.

You need more from your defensive line; you need more from your linebackers and the secondary. If we can get some pass rush going, that will help our secondary out a little bit more because if you give a quarterback all day to throw, any secondary is going to look weak at times. Overall, I think there's room for improvement but, like I said, they won on third downs. That's got to be an emphasis from here on out; we've got to create turnovers. I think they did a great job on third downs. I think we've got some players that made some strides and gained valuable experience – the whole crew – they stepped up and made plays when they needed to. It kept this game within reach for a long period of time. It was still a game in the third quarter. It's not like we were blown out. I think we've still got some room to grow, but we've got some guys that can play. I'm excited to see how we play against Middle Tennessee State this weekend.

Buck – Matt, I want you to talk about the speed of the offense against South Carolina and how that plays out for the rest of the season. The defensive coordinator for South Carolina said that North Carolina was the fastest team he had ever seen in terms of tempo.

Matt – I certainly thought our tempo pace was very good in South Carolina. I don't recall looking at the numbers. Do you recall how many plays we ran?

Buck – 79.

Matt – That's a lot of football plays in a game. I think our tempo and pace of play was as it should be and as Coach Fedora wants it. The unfortunate part is that we didn't go anywhere. I think against Middle Tennessee State, we're obviously going to try to get down field a little bit more. I know they said as much; they devised a game plan for Clowney for that defense to try to get the ball out of Renner's hands and hit the bubble screen and outside. I think they'll try to establish a down-the-field game a little bit more – get Ebron involved. I think a little less pressure and not seeing the big No. 7 lining up against you should make Bryn Renner feel comfortable. I think our pace is fine and I think we'll continue to play fast, maybe even faster. I just think we'll do a better job of pushing it down field and going somewhere with that tempo this week.

Featured Lettermen

  • Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 9th-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.

  • 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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