CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – After a game where the negatives of his team’s performance were the subject of many questions, North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora finally got a chance to accentuate the positives.
Fedora held his second radio show of the season on Tuesday, giving high praise to his defense after a solid performance against South Carolina.
“As you go back and look, there were a lot of really good things in the game from the defensive standpoint,” Fedora said at the Top of the Hill Restaurant.
Fedora spoke highly of his team’s ability to put itself in the position to make plays, something the defense struggled with in 2014.
“Throughout the night, we had guys where they were supposed to be,” Fedora said. “So that was good to see.”
The defense played well, but not perfectly, getting burned for what the North Carolina coaching staff considers a “catastrophic” play on Shon Carson’s 48-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Fedora also detailed Pharoh Cooper’s 9-yard touchdown reception, noting that nickelback Brian Walker was not aligned properly.
The defense missed 12 tackles in the game, three of which led to explosive plays for the Gamecocks.
While those plays hurt the team during the game, Fedora expressed hope that the players will learn from what happens when they are out of position.
“The good teaching moment in all of that is that out of all of those things that were good throughout the game, it only takes one or two plays where you’re not aligned where you’re supposed to be, and you can give up a big play, and that’s what happened,” Fedora said.
You had five true freshmen that played on Thursday. How beneficial is that experience for the younger guys?
“In that type of game, where it’s a close game all of the way through, it’s really big. In all of these years of doing it, sometimes I overlook the thought that’s the first time that kid has ever been on the field in a college game. That’s a big deal when you’re 17-, 18-years-old. I was proud of the way those five guys, those true freshmen, really played. And we anticipated playing more of them, actually, in the game. We just didn’t get to it. But there will be more that will play this week because we’ve got other freshmen that aren’t going to redshirt that are going to play for us this year. And it’s important that they get as many meaningful reps as possible because they’re going to end up helping us as the year goes on.”
On Elijah Hood’s availability at end of game:
“As far as I know, he was available. I didn’t tell him he couldn’t go in. [Running backs] coach [Larry] Porter is the one who substitutes the running backs, and he came out after the long run, and I don’t know what Coach Porter or what their decision was. I don’t know the play that he should have been on or would have been on. Everything that we do, all the calls, whether it’s in the red zone, score zone, anywhere on the field, are all worked extensively in practice against certain looks and certain things. We have certain guys that run some plays better than others, we have some guys that run better routes than others, and so we try to get them in on those situations. He wasn’t in. We had a route on third down that we thought was going to be good, and didn’t anticipate taking a sack on it, and we did, and then you’re in 4th-and-long and you’ve got to throw the football again. It didn’t work out the way we wanted, but I can tell you I’ve called plays for many, many years, and one thing I’ve learned is that you can’t sit there and second guess every call that you make. You guys can, but I can’t, so it just doesn’t do me any good.”
On Nick Weiler’s field goals against South Carolina:
“Really, he had a great camp. We didn’t really talk about it during camp, because you don’t want to say anything, but he was money all the way through camp, and in every situation we put him in, whether it was at the end of a 2-minute situation where we needed a field goal. I know he kicked a 54-yarder one day in camp to win the game at the end of two minutes, so he had a lot of confidence going into the game. It was good to see all of that pay off. It was good to see him hit those, especially the one that was a (47-yard field goal), so that was big, and his kickoffs were solid just like they have been all of last year. He feels good about where he’s at right now, and we hope that continues.”
It was an odd game for the offensive line. You thought they blocked well, particularly in the run game, but they also had some mistakes that you would like to have back.
“We had six pre-snap penalties, and some of that was communication between the quarterback and the center, and the others were just, nobody knows what the reason was. It was kind of bizarre during camp, because we had very few of those situations come up in camp. That was one thing that [offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic] and I talked about after the game, that we had no idea going into the game that we were going to have those because we had probably the fewest we’ve ever had in camp. You could probably count them on one hand for the 29 practices. So I was really surprised that that would happen in a game.”
Do you have a desired workload for your running backs? Is there a magic number for the number of carries?
“I don’t really have a ‘magic number.’ Whatever it takes for them to be productive. Hood was obviously very productive the other night, and he carried it 12 times, well okay, let’s carry it 20, then. I don’t know if there’s a magic number out there, just whatever it takes for him to be successful… In the last few years, it’s been more by committee, so (a large number of carries for a back) hasn’t happened. This year, since Hood has emerged as the guy, I’m sure there are going to be plenty of games where he carries the ball 20-25 times.”