CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Eight straight games to open the season is both a physically and mentally draining endeavor, and North Carolina’s bye week served as a reward of sorts for demanding slate that started with a loss to Georgia and ended with a win at Virginia.
UNC’s practice reps last week went primarily to the twos, threes and players redshirting, according to Larry Fedora.
“We really tried to rest some of the guys that have played quite a bit for us,” the fifth-year UNC head coach said on Monday.
While the starters worked through individual and fundamental drills, their main objective once team drills began was to serve as secondary coaches on the sidelines for their younger and less experienced teammates.
“We still popped our pads a little bit, but it was more just to get us warmed up,” senior cornerback Des Lawrence said. “It wasn’t too much of a regular week.”
This was UNC’s latest bye week since 2012, when the Tar Heels played nine consecutive games to open Fedora’s first season in Chapel Hill. This one may have been more valuable, given the various injuries across the lineup, especially in the trenches.
“That rest period was just amazing for us and it came at the perfect time in the season, right before our last home run stretch,” junior defensive tackle Naz Jones said.
Bye weeks ahead of the Georgia Tech game are common requests by ACC coaches, although Fedora is 0-2 against the Yellow Jackets following bye weeks and 2-0 without a bye week. Even so, he reiterated the primary gain of this bye week was not extra prep for Paul Johnson’s offense, but the opportunity to get healthy.
“I think the biggest thing for us this year going into this game was the physical and mental rest that our guys needed,” Fedora said.
After five years, are you used to playing and preparing for Paul Johnson’s offense?
“It doesn’t matter what I know. The players see it once a year. It’s like reintroducing it to them each and every year. Now, we try to do things throughout the year to keep it fresh for them, but it’s something that’s totally different. That’s one of the advantages that they have. Your kids never see it except for that one week. Our guys have to do a great job of preparing.”
With a bye week before Georgia Tech, did you spend an extra practice on the Yellow Jackets that maybe you normally wouldn’t?
“Well, actually, we probably spent two practices that we wouldn’t have gotten. Like yesterday – yesterday was a real practice instead of a normal Sunday for us, which is really flushing all of the lactic acid out of those guys and running them and just getting them moving around and introducing things to them. But we were able to have a real practice yesterday.”
Why is Justin Thomas so good at executing in that offense?
“The guy is so explosive. He just proved last week – I think it was his career best – that he can beat you with his arm or his legs. He’s electric when he’s got the ball. I think I saw one where it was 3rd-and-17 and they were backed up in their end zone and he outflanks them and takes off and goes 50. He can make everything happen within their offense. It seems like he’s been there forever.”
Is Jon Heck back at practice yet?
Do you expect him to be full go?
Mitch Trubisky is starting to get some national attention with his stock rising on the mock draft boards. How do you like to handle that during the season?
“During the season? We don’t handle it. I’m going to expect the kid to be mature enough to handle it just like he was after the Georgia game when nobody said he could play. If he pays attention to that… So you didn’t pay attention to it then and you don’t pay attention to it now. Then we’ll see what happens at the end of the season and we’ll address it at that point.”
If it comes down to the loss to Virginia Tech in those conditions -
“Can’t control what happened in the past. It’s all about this week. That’s really where all of our focus is. It won’t be about what happened. It’s about what are we going to do. We have to take care of our business. The focus will be on Georgia Tech, and we know how difficult a team they are to play and prepare for, so we’ve got to do a great job.”
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