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 – The subject is going to be: how does North Carolina beat Georgia Tech? I hope you guys have some answers. I'm going to start out with Quincy Monk because he's had some experience in this line of work. How do you stop that Georgia Tech triple option? And, get specific. I know it's about assignment football, we've always heard that. But, what are your keys when you're trying to stop that Georgia Tech offense?

QUINCY MONK – What Georgia Tech runs is the triple option. As a defense, these guys have got to understand what that means. Paul Johnson is always trying to maximize his offense by manipulating different plays as far as if there's going to be fake dive or fake pitch – plays that get you off balance are potential issues of a big play. That really killed us in previous years. So, I think from our standpoint, we've got to play assignment football. I always talk about assignment football, but it's very important when you play a scheme like a triple option. If everybody is not on the same page – if you've got one guy that over-corrects on a run play, the quarterback can actually throw it over their heads. For example, if you're a middle linebacker, you have different, specific run responsibilities – you take the fullback dive or you've got to play an A or B gap. A lot of times these guys stay really true to form of what the coach is calling on the defensive side because one play where they say, he's going run this play this play this time, and one time where you mess up and don't really do your assignment, that can really kill you. That can really build momentum from a Georgia Tech standpoint because you're starting to play "guess" football and not being reactive, not playing smart football. When you're guessing out there, that's how a lot of teams get taken advantage of.

Coach Fedora, he was able to work a little bit on Georgia Tech over the summer. They have really been putting a lot of time and a lot of effort in trying to understand the best way to try and stop the Georgia Tech offense. So, I'm hoping that everything they've done over the summer and on the bye week that everybody is committed to playing their assignment football and not trying to be the hero. Everybody has got to do their job.

BUCK – So, Mark, what Quincy is saying is that you do your job and not try to do anybody else's. Is that what Quincy is trying to tell us?

MARK PASCHAL – Yeah, it's what the defense has got to do. We talk about assignment football playing against Georgia Tech. This game is going to be very, very physically demanding for our defensive football team. But, I think that this is also a mental challenge because it's hard to find the football. If you just play your responsibility and you tackle the dive every single time, if that's your responsibility; if you tackle the quarterback every single time that it's your responsibility; if you tackle the pitch every single time that it's your responsibility, and you get off blocks, you'll have a good chance of shutting them down. You've got to play really sound football.

So, this game is going to be very physical but it's also going to be very mental. Another thing that comes to mind – the thing about this football game, Buck – is we've got to score a lot of points. This is what our offense does; we've got to score a lot of points. We've got to put the pressure on them. We've got to get them behind. If we can put the pressure on them, and not let them just chew up the clock and keep our offense on the sideline, we've got a great chance to win this game. I like our chances playing from ahead against a Georgia Tech team that likes to ground it out. Yes, they've put in some new wrinkles; yes, they've done some different things. But, I think we've got an opportunity to jump out on these guys if we execute on offense and slow them down on defense and get up on these guys, we've got a great chance to win on Saturday.

BUCK – I want to take a second to welcome Jeb Terry to the roundtable – welcome Jeb.

JEB TERRY – Thanks. I've got to get my mind right now after that blazing commentary from my counterparts. I'm honored to be at the roundtable; I'm glad I'm here.

BUCK – I appreciate it. Mark has kind of shifted the weight a little bit there and has put it on the offense. North Carolina scored 50 points last year against Georgia Tech and it wasn't enough. Are they going to have to score 50 this coming Saturday?

JEB – Every time we step on the field, Buck; every time we step on the field; we need to have the mentality that we're going to score 50 points. That should be a personal goal of every offensive player on our team. We clearly have the weapons. But at the skill positions, at the offensive line, across the board, that should be our goal – 50 points, none less.

We can't open with three and out on the road. We have an incredible offense, but if we go three-and-out, that gives Georgia Tech the option to start chewing the clock. As Mark mentioned, when they consistently run that triple option, and hand it off or hand it inside or keep it, whatever it is, that just keeps our defense on its heels. But it we get up by 7, by 14 points, they're going to have to open it up and take a few more chances and can't do this ground and pound and guess-who's-got-the-ball-type of game. So, yeah, 50 points is important, but I think one thing that is even more important – taking advantage of those early drives, really putting the pedal to the metal early, taking shots down field, not being conservative, not running double reverses into the sidelines on second and ten. We've got to do these plays where we know we can leverage our speed and our athletic ability from the tight end position on out and really open up the field and capitalize early and often.

BUCK – Quincy, you know my experience in going to Atlanta has never really been a pleasant one for UNC. I wasn't there for the 1997 game when North Carolina won, but I've been there every year since and it hasn't been very pleasant for the Tar Heels. I don't think there's anything in particular special about the Georgia Tech environment that leads to North Carolina losses down there. Speak to the environment down there at Georgia Tech.

QUINCY – Like you said, the environment is not particularly different from other teams that we play. There's definitely more hostile environments. I'm not sure, I think it's been 16 years since we won down there. I'm not sure how that's been relevant; I know we've had great teams, but I think it's been some of the bad bounces over the previous years that cost us not to come out with a win.

From their standpoint, you're going to have the rowdy fans; their seats are not too far from the sidelines – so you've got fans that are close to the sidelines. But, if you're dialed in and you're focused on the play, focused on what's going on on the field, that shouldn't bother you. From their standpoint, from their fans, they really get into it, especially when they're up. So from Mark's standpoint, that's why we need to go out there and get up early – put the pressure back on their offense because when they're down, it's a little bit more of a slower process for them to get points on the board.

We've just got to go out there and treat it like any other game. I know it's been quite some time since we've won down there, but you can't have that mindset – oh, we haven't won here since 1997 – we've got to go out there and handle our job. We've got to go out there and play like it's a normal away game – come out and be aggressive from the beginning and try to get up early on the scoreboard and make them play from behind.

BUCK – You know, Mark, the times I've been there for noon kickoffs the environment wasn't all that special. The fans were kind of late arriving; the band is there. The students are there, but the rest of the stadium is not really there. It's not really that much of an intimidating environment. But, I remember that game well. I remember interviewing T.J. Yates, who is from Marietta, Georgia, after the game in 2009. He was about as low as I ever saw him. What does North Carolina have to do to go into that situation and motivate themselves to get up on Georgia Tech?

MARK – Well, Buck, I think this is not just a Georgia Tech issue, this is kind of … it's the weird thing about college football . . . trying to get on a plane, fly, and go get up 8 o'clock in the morning, 7 o'clock in the morning, and get ready to go play a football game at noon. There are a lot of things that go into playing on the road that the average fan, the casual fan, doesn't quite understand. There are a lot of different things that aren't as cut and dry as it always appears.

We've struggled on the road not just at Georgia Tech, but a lot of different places when we've had to get on a plane. At least, when I was there, we struggled on the road and we … what we have to do is we have to put all the distractions behind us. if you're going to that stadium to get fired up, you're going to the wrong stadium. It's not going to be one of those stadiums that gets you charged, gets you energized.

That's going to be one of the biggest things – can we motivate ourselves? Can we count on each other to lift each other up and get each other prepared to play that football game? It's not going to be one of these elite atmospheres. That shouldn't matter, it shouldn't. It should be about the 11 guys on offense, the eleven guys on defense, the eleven guys on special teams to look around and say, ‘you know what, we're going to go out here and we're going to give everything we've got to each other, to the coaching staff, to this university to give us a win here at Georgia Tech and get this season started on the right note.'

The first two games, the way I view it, the first two games are pre-season; that gets us ready for the ACC play. We're getting ready for ACC play and make Georgia Tech our first opponent and we're going to take it to them. If I was in that locker room, I'd say, ‘guys, this is our season starting right now. Our goal is to win the ACC Championship and get a BCS Bowl. That's what we're going to do; it starts today, now let's go do it.' That's the only way to approach this game. You have to be personally and mentally and all the things, yeah, to go play fantastic. It has to be that want-to drive and desire to get it done. I think that we'll be ready to play on Saturday. I just believe that we will.

BUCK – You know, Jeb, North Carolina has already played at South Carolina. I do know that having the experience of having played in a big game on the road early on might set the table for you in later games. I know you were part of the team that went to Oklahoma and to Texas in 2001. Talk about how playing some of those games on a big stage might set the table for you later on. You guys came back and took care of business against Florida State. So, talk about that a little bit. How much does it help the Tar Heels to have played at South Carolina?

JEB – It helps because you get all the nerves out in game one. If you've got a nervous stomach, it's inevitable. Come on, everybody gets it no matter what stage in your career you are; you get some butterflies every once in a while. When you get to step on the stage at a team like South Carolina and literally hold your own, you know, if the ball bounces a few ways and we have a few other breaks, we're in that game 60 minutes long and have a chance to win that game in the end.

So, our athletes should have a strong boost of confidence that, ‘look we hung with a supposed top ten team in the country; we locked down the supposed best defensive lineman in the past decade. We've done these things in front of the most raucous SEC crowd, the scary SEC crowd.' So, that should give them a level of confidence and a sort of swagger going in that says, look this is no big deal; this is a day at the office. We're going to come; we're going to get amped up; we're going to come out here and win.

That's the whole thing – playing with the confidence and building on that momentum emotionally player by player. We're going to see it with Norkeithus Otis and how he's coming on strong. Every time he has a little bit of success, he gets better and better and better. That happens with everybody on that field. Every time each person notches a little win, whether it's in a crazy environment or whether it's a dull environment, whatever it is, it gives them that ability to handle difficult situations. We've proven to ourselves, from my opinion, the team has proven to themselves that they can perform and handle a lot of adversity in a crazy environment. So, that gives them a leg up going forward. That was the big thing that we were able to latch on to when we played at Oklahoma, at Maryland, at Texas. All three were top ten teams at the time we opened up on the road. That just made all the rest of those games easy. So, it's a big value driver that we have on our side now that we can latch on to and hopefully leverage going forward.

BUCK – Quincy, I want to ask you and Mark the same question – how much does it help to have played South Carolina on the road going into this game at Georgia Tech?

QUINCY – It's a tremendous help. Like Jeb was talking about, I was part of that team that went to Oklahoma. Three road games make everything else a lot easier. Jeb was talking about the atmosphere . . . the SEC environment, you know how rowdy those fans can get. So, for us to go out there, you know, we had a couple of bad bounces, but I like to progression that we did throughout the remainder of that game – we just didn't fall down and lay down and not compete. We competed for the remainder of the game.

I think that's really going to help bode well because that was in a spotlight-type of roll. Now we're back on the road against a good Georgia Tech team, but not the type of quality of opponent as South Carolina. I really think that bodes well for us. What you want to do is go in the game with confidence. That game at South Carolina didn't start out the way we wanted, but I felt like we ended up on a pretty decent note, as far as getting some of the reads down and making progression in the pass coverage and also throwing their defense off. I think that was a really good game to build on and learn from. As Mark mentioned earlier, the game starts here. Our goal is to win the ACC title; our goal is to go to a BCS bowl and that all starts this Saturday. So, everything else, Middle Tennessee State and South Carolina, that was a pre-season for us. This is where is becomes real – our goal of getting to those pinnacle peaks – it starts this Saturday.

BUCK – Mark, you started the conversation out about how the casual fan doesn't know about how difficult it is to go on the road and all that goes into it. But, how much do you think that South Carolina game may help North Carolina going to Atlanta this weekend?

MARK – It's something that I really hold on to; it's something that football taught me. Every experience gives you a chance to learn. When you have a chance to learn from your experiences, you grow as a player and as a person. And that goes to South Carolina because there's a lot of experiences that those guys have got to go through. That's a long trip down to Columbia; that's a hard place to play. There are all these experiences to give you a chance to learn and when you learn from your experiences, you grow as a player.

I think as we continue to move throughout this season, all these experiences these young guys are getting, that these players that have never had these experiences before, from the walk-ons to the guys that are injured to the guys that are starting to the guys that are fifth-year starters, every single experience gives you a chance to learn. When you learn from your experiences, you grow as a player and as a person. That's the last thing I want to leave you with and that's something that I truly believe is the heart and soul of a football player and a person. I fell like that's a good way for us to handle each week – did you get better this week? If you can answer ‘yes,' you're doing things the right way.

Featured Lettermen

  • 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.

  • Jeb Terry was a three-year starter on the offensive line, earning Second Team All-ACC honors in 2003. He was a fifth round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft by Tampa Bay and played four seasons with the Buccaneers.

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