Tar Heels Sense Better Days Ahead

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina has taken its punches, both on the field and via media coverage. Now, the Tar Heels return home to familiar surroundings, cooler temperatures and a more accommodating stretch of opponents. Could Saturday's game versus South Florida mark a desperately needed change for the better?

"This has got to turn around sometime," said Durrell Mapp, who had five tackles with one for loss last Saturday. "What better time than to do it than this week – home crowd, cool weather, our environment."

Mapp, along with fellow starting linebackers Larry Edwards (10 tackles vs. Miami) and Victor Worsley (5 tackles, TFL), led an improved defensive effort in the 27-7 loss to the Hurricanes – though UNC (1-4, 0-3 ACC) has a long ways to go to be considered competitive at this point.

"It's just good to get back home after two tough road games like that – especially Clemson," Worsley said. "Now is the time – at home and in front of our crowd. So far we've had three good practices."

On their most recent southern excursion, the Tar Heels lost to Clemson and Miami by a combined score of 79-14, surrendering over twice as many yards as gained (828-394).

The players can't sugarcoat what has transpired on the field this year, neither can they totally avoid the criticisms seen, heard and read on television, radio, the Internet and in newsprint.

Carolina's four losses have been to teams that are or have been ranked in the Top 25 this season, but it's the magnitude of the defeats that also has egged on a unhappy fan base.

"You try to ignore it, but you have to use it as a fuel," Mapp said. "You've got to take it and run with it."

Worsley said, "It makes us stronger. We play for ourselves, not anybody else. We have to believe in ourselves, because we know nobody else will."

With an unranked trio of opponents to close out October (Sat. vs. USF, Oct. 19 at Virginia, Oct. 28 vs. Wake Forest), the Tar Heels must find a winning formula before the schedule once again turns cruel (Nov. 4 at Notre Dame, Nov. 11 vs. Ga. Tech, Nov. 18 vs. N.C. State).

UNC's schedule is the 30th toughest in the country this week according to the Sagarin Rating, with its opponents a combined 21-6.

Saturday's match-up with the Bulls (4-2, 1-1 Big East) begins a stretch of games which will determine if Carolina can perhaps still challenge for a bowl, although it will take more than just a temporary reduction in schedule strength to right the Tar Heels' ship.

"This team is dying for a ‘W,'" John Bunting said. "They know what it's going to take – better execution and making more plays. Those are the things they're focusing on. South Florida is a program that represents a great challenge. They'll play hard-nosed football, and we've got to meet that energy level and execute."

The Bulls' scouting report says in order to win Carolina will have to stop red-hot freshman quarterback Matt Grothe, who can run and pass with equal effectiveness. After taking over the starting job in the second quarter of the Bulls' season-opener, Grothe has accounted for 15 touchdowns – seven rushing, eight passing – and 1,652 yards of total offense.

"We're going to have to go out and stop the quarterback point blank," said Worsley, who may give way some of his snaps in lieu of a quicker package to slow down USF's option attack.

UNC may get a break with Grothe missing valuable practice time due to an ankle sprain suffered last week. Still, the Tar Heels remain certain the key to their success lies within.

"We're just going to be playing our assignments like always," Mapp said. "That's all we have to do."

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