CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In football, it’s hard to forget the past. Previous games, prior seasons and series histories all serve as talking points over the course of a season.
UNC head coach Larry Fedora is making a point to his roster that the past is irrelevant to this year’s team.
“I’m trying to distance everything from the past and just take the mistakes and learn from them,” Fedora told reporters at his weekly press conference on Monday. “And make sure that this team understands who they are.”
UNC is 1-0 in the ACC for just the third time this millennium. That recent history hasn’t changed how Fedora’s team perceives the next challenge.
“I’m going to go back to the ’15 team,” Fedora said. “They’re 1-0 and we want to win one more, we want to win the next one.”
Fedora spoke the same way about North Carolina’s losing streak in Atlanta. The Tar Heels rallied past the Yellow Jackets, 38-31, to snap a drought that dated back to 1997.
“Everybody made a big deal about we haven’t won in Atlanta for 15 years,” Fedora said. “So what? This team hadn’t played in Atlanta until that Saturday. So I really am trying to get away from all of these things. That’s why I keep answering these questions the same way, because I really want this team to be unique and be different.”
Fedora knows this team is better than his 2014 edition. He also knows that it isn’t because they magically overcame history.
“It didn’t just happen,” Fedora said. “A lot of hard work, sweat, all of those things, so let’s focus on those things. Again, we’re trying to focus on the goals, and not all the obstacles that are out there.”
“We had a very productive open week. I think we got a lot accomplished. We were able to tweak some things offensively, defensively, and on special teams that we think will help us the rest of the way. We got some work with some young guys that we think that will continue to prosper and continue to come along and help us as we go. So now we’re anxious to get into game week preparation for Wake Forest and excited to be playing them here at home.”
How did the bye week schedule play out?
“We came back and put the game to bed on Sunday and then the guys had their Monday off. Then we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and then we gave them Friday and Saturday off, and then we came back and had a real practice yesterday. Tuesday and Wednesday were all about us. We didn’t even start looking at Wake Forest. Thursday we started introducing some of the base things against Wake Forest, but again, the majority of it was really based on us. And then Sunday we started implementing the game plan.”
What’s been the key for being more efficient offensively?
“Well we’re doing a nice job on third downs. I think we’re somewhere around 50 percent on third downs, so we’re moving the chains, and when you do that, you give yourself a chance, you stay on the field. I know that our numbers of plays that we’re playing offensively is way down, but some of that is the nature of the beast of some of the games we’ve been in where we running the clock from the third quarter on after a series or two in the third quarter. So, you’re not going to have many plays. And again, that’s not something that we really concern ourselves with is the number of plays as long as our tempo is good when we want it to be. We’re in good shape there. I think one, we’ve got experience on offense. I think that’s helped, I think these guys understand what’s expected and they know what has to be done, and they’ve done a good job of doing.”
Do you think you fixed anything on special teams?
“I hope so. I hope we fixed things on special teams, I hope we fixed things offensively, and I hope we fixed things defensively. Because there were all things in all three phases that I said last week that needed to be adjusted and needed to be fixed, so time will tell, but we think we were able to address some of those issues and hopefully we were able to make some needed changes there.”
What do you attribute to the team having fewer penalties this year?
“Well, I would say we’re playing smarter; that’s one thing, we’re playing smarter. Everyone else out there will say we’re a much more disciplined team. I think some of it is our guys, they’re a little bit older, they’re a little bit more mature, they understand what needs to be done, and they’re making better decisions, so we’re still doing things the way we’ve done them. The same emphasis has been on it since the first year, and having the officials there at practice every day like we do, we’ve been doing that for the last two years, so I hope it’s a combination of all of it that’s making us play smarter.”
What was the broad emphasis of practice?
“It’s cleaning up mistakes. Cleaning up mistakes, making corrections, making sure we don’t make those same mistakes. And then adjusting some things. Maybe scheme-wise, we’ve tinkered with some things to help in some situations. Maybe in some situations, there’s a guy in there that maybe can’t do what we’ve asked him to do, and we have to adjust it.”
Has the identity of the team changed from what you thought it would be?
“I’ll tell you what, going into the season we were hopeful that we were going to have the identity that we have right now. I really was. I attribute it to the leadership we have on this football team, the chemistry we have on this football team, and the way they handle the locker room. Because all of the other things, the tweaking, the offense, the defense, the special teams, those things can be corrected. It’s hard to correct those other things. The locker room, the chemistry, the leadership. So I’m really proud of what those guys have accomplished in that matter, and that’s kind of really what’s identified this football team. That’s a good thing.”