Bowl Game Serving as Building Block

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s been nearly three weeks since the N.C. State debacle at Kenan Stadium. The embarrassment is still fresh for the Tar Heels as the players approach the Quick Lane Bowl as a springboard for better days in 2015.

A win over N.C. State, no matter how small the margin, would have generated a significant amount of optimism heading into the bowl season after what was a dominant performance over rival Duke the week before. Instead, the Tar Heels came out listless against their rivals from West Raleigh and were handed their third blowout loss of the season.

On Monday, quarterback Marquise Williams vowed to never let that type of outing occur again during his time at UNC.

“I was devastated,” Williams said. “It took a lot of pride out of me. As a quarterback, you’ve got to bounce back strong. We came back to practice this week and things have been flowing so good. I’ve been getting after it and showing a lot of emotion because I really didn’t show much emotion in the State game and they got the best of me.”

UNC finished the regular season with a 6-6 (4-4 ACC) record. The .500 mark suggests the Tar Heels are an average team, although their 4-1 record in games decided by seven points or less helped secure a postseason bowl bid.

UNC’s defense currently ranks 115th nationally in total defense (495.7 ypg) and 116th in scoring defense (38.9 ppg). The offense ranks 48th nationally in total offense, (425.4 ypg), 33rd in scoring offense (34.3) and 64th in yards per play (5.55), which accounts for tempo.

Williams took offense to the notion that UNC is a middle of the road team.

“We’re not an average team,” the junior signal caller said. “Things didn’t work out the way they should have this year. We had some tough games and we had some games that we should have won that we let slip away. We just went through a lot of adversity. I feel like if we play every game the way we played Duke, we would have been in better shape. We came out on top, we came out excited and we’ve got to keep that the whole year.”

As the season progressed, UNC’s consistent inconsistency made pregame prognostications pointless. Despite UNC head coach Larry Fedora telling reporters week after week that his team was practicing with the same level of effort and intensity each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, it was impossible to predict which Tar Heel team would show up on Saturday.
“That’s the leaders on this team’s fault,” sophomore wide receiver Ryan Switzer said. “Me personally, I have to do a better job of stepping up. Regardless of how old I am, I need to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We’ve got to do a better job as leaders to make sure that doesn’t and that starts in the offseason.

“My class came here to change the culture of Carolina football. We haven’t done that yet. It’s kind of disappointing that we’re in Year 2 and it hasn’t happened yet, so something has to change.”

Switzer said team leaders would sit down as a group after the bowl game and collectively pinpoint the issues related to effort and execution and make the necessary changes, whether that includes shifts in leadership or more minor details such as the team’s approach to weight room workouts.

“We underachieved this year as a team, no doubt,” Switzer said. “We underachieved, so we’ve got to make sure that come next year and the next couple of years that it doesn’t happen. It’s not Coach Fedora’s fault. It’s not any of the coaches’ fault. They’re here 24/7 making sure that we have a great game plan going into Saturday. They’re here to make sure that we play our best and when we don’t, it’s the players’ fault.”

Williams emphasized the need for all of the players to work together toward a common goal, using the analogy of the Tar Heels boarding the same ship for a lengthy mission.

UNC’s bowl matchup with Rutgers next week will close the 2014 season, but will also serve as starting point for a critical offseason for a UNC program currently drifting. Better results are expected from the Tar Heels.

“7-6 and 6-6 is not acceptable,” Switzer said. “We have too much talent to be doing that.”

Williams agreed, while adding a prediction for 2015: “I’m tired of going 6-6, 7-6. I’m trying to win 10 games or more and that’s what is going to happen next year.”

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