CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – On Sunday afternoon, while Tar Heel fans were still celebrating and sportswriter were still speculating on the national impact of North Carolina’s 37-35 upset over Florida State, UNC’s coaching staff was hunkered down in a meeting room that Larry Fedora described as “pretty gloom.”
The miscues at Doak Campbell Stadium were plentiful in a game that the Seminoles rallied from a 21-point deficit to take the lead in the final seconds before Nick Weiler’s career-long 54-yard field goal secured the UNC victory. That’s two weeks in a row now the Tar Heels have pulled out improbable victories just before the final horn.
“The thing I’m most concerned about is getting the mistakes corrected that we are continuing to make in all three phases,” Fedora said on Monday. “If we can ever get that accomplished, you would see some fireworks out there. It would be pretty dang good.”
UNC’s schemes, in all three phases, are built upon simplicity. Do your job, not anybody else’s job. Fit your run gap and wrap up. Make your block, run your route and take care of the ball. All basic, routine football plays that the Tar Heels are making just enough of to claim victory, but not enough to avoid the ledge separating the win and loss columns.
Fedora referenced the 17-play, 63-yard game-winning touchdown drive against Pittsburgh two Saturdays ago to make his point.
“How many of those plays were extraordinary?”
There were no acrobatics, no highlight reel heroics other than a two-yard fade route from Mitch Trubisky to Bug Howard with two seconds left.
“It was just throwing and catching. It’s what they do,” Fedora said.
As usual, Fedora had more complaints about his offense’s play at FSU than the other two phases.
"It was 3rd-and-short and then 4th-and-short and we don’t convert,” Fedora said. “That’s unacceptable. There were some plays in the third quarter that we left out on the board that could have been six points for us if we just execute. There were quite a few things, actually on offense, that we could have been much better at, much more efficient.”
There was also Elijah Hood’s fumble at the five-yard-line before halftime that prevented UNC from taking a 21-point lead into the locker room.
The discipline to make routine plays while avoiding the temptation of making splash plays is an ever-looming challenge, although the Tar Heels have accomplished that goal well enough to win 15 of their last 19 ball games.
“That’s what it’s about,” Trubisky said. “That’s something we say: be brilliant in the basics. That’s all you have to do. You don’t have to make any spectacular plays. Just be brilliant in the basics. If you do that consistently over a long period of time, then great plays will happen.”
“We got a chance to evaluate the film and were able to get some of the things corrected with some of the mistakes we made. I think our team realized that we were happy to get a win but that we’re leaving a lot of things out on that football field. If we could get those things corrected and just make the ordinary plays, we could be a really, really good football team.”
Does the sales pitch get tougher to correct those mistakes when players see that they can win despite the miscues?
“It doesn’t get tougher. We’ve been saying the same thing every single week. I would much rather do it with a win than I would with a loss. There are some simple things that we can get corrected that would make us a much better football team.”
What were some of the mistakes you saw on film for the defense?
“We held them to 14 points for the first three quarters of the game, which nobody else had done up to that point. Then we go back to just making some simple mistakes that we hadn’t been making all game. We understood they were going to make some plays. They’ve got some talented guys over there. But we felt like if we just kept playing and not making our mistakes, we’d be okay. And then in the fourth quarter, we made plenty of mistakes.”
Was that a punt block that you had called when Corey Bell was flagged for roughing the punter?
"Yes. It was a punt block that we thought we could get it off the edge. We didn't execute it. That’s my responsibility because I coach that group."
What are some of things that you’ve seen that’s allowing Mitch to have the season that he’s having?
“I think if you would ask any of our players or any of the coaches, they’re telling you that Mitch is doing what he’s done since he’s been here. I mean, he has. If you think back to the times that he went out on the field and played, he was pretty dang good in every one of those situations.”
Wil Elijah Hood be full-go on Saturday?
"I expect him to, yes."
Do you have enough tape on Virginia Tech to not have to watch last year’s Memphis tape to pick up Justin Fuente’s tendencies?
“Yeah, I think so. I'd be lying to you if I told you we're not watching Memphis and we're not watching last year's game. We do. We are worried about leaving a stone unturned. We probably overdo it. But yes, we've got enough tape this year that we are focusing in on that."
Is there something more to beating a team in a marquee game for the program?
"I think you get more national recognition. No doubt about it. And I think anytime you go on the road and win, and throw on top of it the 22-game home winning streak, the No. 12 ranking, yeah, that makes it that much sweeter."
What is it about Virginia Tech that impresses you?
"Justin (Fuente) has done a good job with them. First of all, Bud Foster's defense is like it always is every single year. They are sting; it's tough. They do a tremendous job. And Justin has brought in a more wide open offense with a quarterback who can beat you with his legs or his arm. I am going to compare it to some of the things we do on offense. They’ve got a really good football team."