CHAPEL HILL, NC – Normally, leading the nation in an offensive statistic is a thing to celebrate. For UNC, though, leading the nation in safeties has not been a point of pride.
The Tar Heels gave up their third safety in four games in Saturday’s 37-36 win over Pittsburgh. The safety came off of a jet sweep to Ryan Switzer that resulted in negative five-yard rush and two points for the Panthers.
The Tar Heels’ three safeties this season have come off a screen pass in the end zone against Georgia, a run out of the shotgun against Illinois, and the sweep against Pitt. On Monday, Fedora told reporters he would rather run these types of plays than just running the ball up the middle when backed up inside the five-yard line like other teams do.
“Sure, we could run the quarterback sneak,” Fedora said. “I know teams that do that. To me, I really don’t like running a quarterback sneak because it’s a wasted play. Okay now it's 2nd-and-long in this situation, so I’m almost guaranteeing that I’m going to be punting out of my end zone. I don’t like that.”
For Fedora, this onslaught of safeties is not something that he’s been forced to deal with in his previous years at UNC.
“If you look at the past and look at what we’ve done, we’ve made big plays when we’re backed up,” he said. “For some reason, we’re working the other way right now.”
Fedora doesn’t see play calling as the problem, but rather how the play is run that’s been stunting the Tar Heels from inside the five.
“You can execute the play as called,” he said. “All we need to do is execute them. Also, just stay out of those situations.”
Is an intangible like grit more important than mistakes after a game like this?
“Oh, I think so. We’re going to have mistakes in every game we play, so we’re going to learn from those things. But to know that we have the key element to success, that tells me a lot more about who we are as a football team. We can keep working on a lot of things, we can work on the fundamentals and get those corrected, but if you don’t have (grit) it’s going to be difficult for you.”
At what point does time of possession become a danger zone type thing?
“Anytime your defense is playing too many plays, whatever that time is, they get warn down. I’ll still take points over time of possession. As long as we’re scoring points, we’re outscoring the opponent, then we’re okay.”
You’ve faced Nick Chubb, James Conner, and this week you’ve got Dalvin Cook. Those are some pretty talented backs. How much does that factor into how many rushing yards your defense is giving up?
“It’s a big factor. We’re facing some really good running backs, but we’re facing them, we’ve got to get it done. You can’t just sit there and say we’re going to give it up. We’ve got to find a way to limit Dalvin, he’s a great player. There’s some that will tell you he’s the best in our country this year at running back. There’s a lot to that kid, he can do it all.”
The yardage stats from last year to this year on defense aren’t significantly different, but what is a big difference is scoring defense. What’s changed with how last year's team was able to keep things out of the end zone versus what’s going on now?
“I would say early on we tackled better, which we didn’t do early. We’ve gotten better as the seasons gone. There were a couple the other day that were right out in the open field and you’ve got to make the play. Guys made those plays last year and right now we’re not making them. We’ve got to get back to doing that…. We’ve got to be better in the red zone, last year we were actually pretty good in the red zone defensively. It’s not that we’re doing anything different, we’ve just got some different guys out there.”
Are you missing (Jeff) Schoettmer and (Shakeel) Rashad more than you thought?
“I knew we were going to miss their leadership. I’ve said it that Andre (Smith) is probably more talented but he’s not as experienced. There are things that happen where he’s not sure what to do in those situations where Schoett was. It’ll come. I still would like for him to be more vocal than he is because he’s running the defense.”
What was the locker room like after this game compared to the Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech games from last year?
“I think they were the same way. Now if you say what was the locker room between this game and JMU, there was a huge difference. We try to enjoy wins because they’re hard to come by. You win in that fashion, you’re only ahead for two seconds of the whole game. They were excited, they were ecstatic. They realize the lessons to because they’re bring it up in the locker about what this can do for the football team going forward.”
When you watched Mitch (Trubisky)’s last drive on film, were there things that you saw from a birds-eye view that you didn’t see when you were watching the game live?
“It just re-emphasized to me what I thought on the field, that he was very poised. He wasn’t rattled at all. If you watched him and noticed him, he’s kind of business-like.”