Heels move on, focus on N.C. State

UNC secondary faces a tough challenge on Saturday. Rivers has a knack for avoiding sacks and his quick release is becoming legendary. That puts the pressure on the UNC defensive backs to have a big game.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are ready to move on.  The college football season does not permit teams to dwell on a loss, or to savor a win even one as surprising and historic last Saturday's.


"They have stopped thinking about Florida State, I can tell you that" said Carolina coach John Bunting after Wednesday's practice.


It must be tough.  In recent years, the players had to try to explain why the team had just lost a game they were expected to win.  This week, they have instead had to provide explanations for how they pulled off perhaps the biggest, and certainly the most unexpected, win in UNC history. 


"We knew this wasn't the same Florida State team," says nickel back and kickoff returner Kevin Knight, "We knew we could win." 


The win over Florida State had to release a lot of pent up frustration for the players.   Saturday's contest, and the celebration afterwards, was a highly emotional one.  Can the Tar Heels get up emotionally for this week's contest?


"I'd like to think so," Bunting says matter of factly.  That the Tar Heels are playing their biggest rival, a school just twenty-five mile east on I-40, should make it a little easier to get back up emotionally for this contest.  N.C. State is also undefeated, and this is their first ACC game. 


And the ACC race, since Saturday's contests, is wide open.  Not only did UNC upset Florida State, but Virginia won on the road at Clemson.


The Tar Heels seemed have turned their thoughts of their next game.  In particular, the defense knows they face a tough task in defending against N.C. State's quarterback, Phillip Rivers. 


"We are going to have to disguise coverages," says Knight, " We have to try and confuse him and get him to make mistakes." 


They are well aware of how difficult that might be.  Rivers is a highly accurate passer, and has tossed only one interception in his first two games.  He also has some great targets such as senior Willie Wright, who lines up at tight end, but plays more like a wide receiver.


Strong safety Dexter Reid will often draw the assignment on Wright.  "We have respect for his game," Reid said of Wright.  Containing Wright will be a challenge for a secondary that has met many challenges this year.


Reid may be getting some respect around the league himself.  He is gaining a reputation as the hardest hitter in the UNC secondary.  "I like hitting the best," says Reid with a wry grin, " But the coaches are trying to get me to make more plays on the ball."


Making more plays on the ball is high on the secondary's agenda -- for more reasons than one. They are already getting heat from senior defensive tackle Ryan Sims because Julius Peppers has more interceptions (2) that the entire UNC secondary, who have yet to have their first pick. 


Peppers says he doesn't have to kid the defensive backs about leading the team in interceptions, "I let Ryan take care of that, Ryan is all over them," laughs Peppers. 


It is no laughing matter for Reid, who takes the lack of an interception by a defensive back hard. Reid says, "We are in position to make plays, and it will come." 


The outcome of the game may depend on how much the UNC defense, and in particular, the secondary, can limit the productivity of Rivers and the NC State offense.  The success of the N.C. State team, last year and this, depends to a great extent on the ability of the poised sophomore to make plays. 


The UNC defensive line will have to do their part and pressure Rivers.  They are averaging three sacks a game against some tough defenses, and had five last week against Florida State. The N.C. State offensive line, though not considered a team strength, has only allowed two sacks in two games thus far this year. 


They get some help from Rivers himself, who is a smart quarterback with good instincts, a quick release, and the ability to avoid sacks.  "He knows where to go with the ball and where to get it right now," says Coach Bunting, "Not only does he have this uncanny quick release, but he has the anticipation."


To limit the effectiveness of Rivers, the Tar Heel secondary will have to limit his ability to move the chains with quick passes to the backs and tight end, and short passes to his receivers.  Limiting yards after the catch and being in position to make plays will be critical for the secondary.


The rivalry, the noisy home crowd in Carter-Finley, and the importance of winning a game on the road in the suddenly-tight ACC race will likely help re-focus the attention of the Tar Heels after last Saturday's big win. 


But to win the game, the secondary may have finally be able to get Ryan Sims off their back – and come up with a pick or two. 




Coach Bunting confirmed that there were 62-to-63 high school players visiting this past Saturday.  When asked if he enjoyed that part of his job, he said, "I enjoy the hell out of it."


Running back Willie Parker will play this Saturday if he is healthy, and Coach Bunting says he is "real close" to being healthy.


Reserve quarterback Aaron Leak has continued to get some snaps at wide receiver.  "He could play a lot of positions," says Bunting. 


Kitwana Jones, who was switched from linebacker to fullback this spring, has moved back to linebacker. 


Clinton High School will be well represented in this contest, as their entire 1999 backfield will be on the field on Saturday. N.C. State wide receiver Bryan Peterson played quarterback, and UNC's Willie Parker and James Faison were the tailback and fullback respectively.


Will Chapman was held out of practice Wednesday with a bruised calf muscle, but is expected to play on Saturday.





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