CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s no secret that North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora likes to play his freshmen early and often to build a more experienced team.
The problem with this method is burning through redshirts of players who could make a greater impact in the coming years.
At Monday’s weekly press conference, Fedora proposed a solution.
“I wish these guys had five years of eligibility,” Fedora said. “I think that’s the only fair way to do it for all of these kids.”
Fedora played 18 freshmen, including seven true freshmen, in Saturday’s victory over N.C. A&T. True freshman middle linebacker Andre Smith made the most of his playing time, tying for the team lead with six tackles.
“Andre played really well; he really did,” Fedora said. “He was one of the guys the defense pointed out as playing well. We wanted to put him in a situation early enough to get him meaningful reps where he didn’t know where he was going to see how he was going to respond and what he was going to do. I thought he did really well.”
The fourth-year UNC head coach said it’s always a difficult decision to put in freshmen for their first snaps in a blowout victory, especially considering the unpredictability of injuries occurring in the future.
“You talk about it, you try to think it through, you talk about the things that might happen in the future at a position, and players that might get hurt,” Fedora said. “It’s all ‘what if?’”
North Carolina’s next game, a home contest against Big Ten opponent Illinois, will likely not be as lopsided as the win over the Aggies. While it’s not certain that these freshmen get the same amount of playing time, if any, against the Fighting Illini, the early season experience that the first-year players have already gotten will be valuable as the season progresses.
“We put the last game to bed as we always do, and moved onto Illinois this week. Again, we’ve got probably, in our opinion, from looking at the film, the best team we have played this season coming in. We’ve got a lot of work to do to get prepared for Illinois. Offensively they’ve scored a lot of points in the two games they’ve played this year. The quarterback has played really well. Defensively, they haven’t given up a touchdown this year. They’ve given up three points. They’re going to come in here sky high and feeling good about themselves, as they should. They’ve got a lot of confidence right now, and we’ve got to make sure we have a great week of practice and preparation.”
What offensive improvement did you see against N.C. A&T?
“We took care of the football, number one. The quarterbacks did a great job all night, decision-making. We cut down our pre-snap penalties and our post-snap penalties, so we cut those way down. We were much better in the critical situations as far as the red zone and score zone, and our third downs.”
Have you seen defensive improvement in regards to assignment football?
“In the past two weeks we’ve done really well in our missed assignments, or our lack thereof. Our kids have done a really good job of understanding what’s been asked of them, and then doing their job.”
Did you plan on inserting Mitch Trubisky into the game ahead of time?
“I had decided right before the game that I was going to play him early in the game, and for whatever reason I usually pick the third series. The ball happened to be on the 2. If the ball would have been on the minus-2, he still would have been out there. Nobody knew… It’s not something I dwell on a whole lot. You guys think about it a lot more than I do, I promise you. Last year was definitely a situation I wanted to do to be able -- again, any rep he gets… any meaningful reps they get is really good for us going down the road.”