Inside Carolina/Jim Hawkins

Tar Heels Need November Help

UNC enters the final month of the regular season needing wins and help from some Coastal Division rivals.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels morphed into fans last Thursday evening in cheering for Pittsburgh to upset Virginia Tech and shake up the ACC Coastal Division race entering the final month of the regular season.

“We were all Pitt fans on Thursday night,” senior corner back Des Lawrence said on Monday.

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Junior defensive tackle Naz Jones said he did not turn the channel, making sure to watch the entire game and tweeting while he did. Even Fedora admitted to pulling for the Panthers.

Pitt took its first lead at 21-16 early in the third quarter, but the Hokies scored 23 of the next 31 points and held on for a 39-36 victory.

Virginia Tech improved to 6-2 (4-1 ACC), thereby pulling even with UNC in the Coastal standings. With their 34-3 win over the Tar Heels on Oct. 8, the Hokies own the tiebreaker and the inside track to the ACC Championship Game in Orlando on Dec. 3.

“Unfortunately, they couldn’t help us out,” Lawrence said of Pitt. “Every week, whoever plays [Virginia Tech], we’re their biggest fan.”

The toughest stretches of the schedule are past both Coastal leaders, setting up a final month of games to see which team can avoid a letdown. UNC has a 68.4 percent chance or higher of beating each of its remaining ACC opponents (Georgia Tech, Duke, N.C. State), according to Brian Fremeau’s projections, while ESPN’s FPI gives the Tar Heels a 75.1 percent chance or higher of winning each individual remaining ACC game.

Virginia Tech’s odds are similar against its remaining ACC opponents (Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia). Fremeau’s data set indicates the Hokies' chances of winning each individual game at 77.7 percent or higher, while ESPN’s FPI gives the Hokies a 72.6 percent chance or higher of winning in each remaining ACC game.

None of the stats or schedules or tiebreaker scenarios matter if UNC slips up in November.

“As much as you want to worry about what they have going on and who they’re playing, you know you can’t let up on whoever you are playing against because one more loss for us and we’re out of the hunt, no matter what happens to them,” Lawrence said. “As bad as we want them to take a loss, we have to be able to prepare and focus on what we have to do in order for us to stay in the hunt.”

UNC was in control of the Coastal Division this time a year ago. Not being in a similar situation right now has prompted a clearer focus on the pertinent details, especially with the tricky dynamic of Georgia Tech’s multidimensional rushing attack on tap for Saturday.

“There is no room for error,” Jones said. “We’re already behind the eight ball because we’re not in control anymore. It’s just a matter of everybody having complete focus because we need somebody else to handle business and then we’ve got to handle business of our own, too.”

It wasn’t long ago that UNC often fell out of contention of the Coastal Division race before the calendar turned to October. That’s no longer the case.

“All that matters is that we’re in a position going into the month of November of reaching our goals,” Fedora said. “There’s a lot of teams out there that don’t have that opportunity, and because of all of the hard work and all of the preparation these guys have put in since January, they’re in a position right now where we can still reach all of our goals.

“That’s pretty good, especially when there’s 14 practices left in our regular season.”

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