Heels Learning To Handle Adversity

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- North Carolina travels to Tampa, Fla. on Saturday to face the first top-25 opponent of the 2007 season – No. 23 South Florida. But while the Tar Heels game plan for the Bulls, head coach Butch Davis will continue to focus on the growth of this young program.

"It's my perception that no one likes not to win," Davis said during his weekly Monday press conference. "But, we've tried to not focus the entire season and the growth and the development and the evaluations about winning and losing.

"Ultimately, it is about winning and losing, but it's also about getting better, it's about laying a foundation [and] it's about developing the habits that are going to allow you to win not only next week, but next month and next year."

South Florida jumped into the national rankings following an impressive 26-23 victory at No. 17 Auburn two weeks ago.

"They're very fast [and] they're very athletic," Davis said. "All of their skill players – running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs, linebackers – are all guys that can absolutely fly. This will be a big challenge."

That challenge begins with correcting mistakes that have led to two consecutive losses for the Tar Heels. In both games, North Carolina lost the turnover and time of possession battles in a lop-sided fashion, and the running game has continued to be non-existent this season.

Poor tackling has also been a concern, as close to 100 of Virginia's 197 rushing yards came after contact.

"For us to become a better football team, we've got to make some strides and improve in some of the areas that have been issues for us," Davis said.

North Carolina fielded 56 players against Virginia, and the coaching staff studied those participants during film study on Sunday and Monday morning.

"One of the things that we'll always do here... is taking a long look at yourself," Davis said. "Are we utilizing each player to the very best of his ability? Are we giving him the best opportunity to contribute to help us?

"Whether it's three plays, five plays [or] ten plays, is there something that player on our football team – whether it's on special teams, offense or defense – does he have a unique skill or talent?"

In order for the Tar Heels to be a serious ACC contender in the years to come, recruiting is a crucial element in that transformation. But it's not the only avenue for the squad to post better results on the field of play.

"There's a certain element of expectation that the kids that are here should get better every week," Davis said. "As coaches, we have an expectation that they're going to get a little bit more fundamentally sound [and] a little bit more game experience."

Davis admitted that coaches, players and fans alike get frustrated when their respective program doesn't claim victory on Saturday afternoons in the fall, but learning from those tough situations can determine the potential for future success.

"That's something that football teams go through," Davis said. "People go through it in their daily lives. Until you learn how to handle adversity, getting fired from your job [or] having somebody in your family die – and football not by any stretch of the imagination is as serious as either of those two things – but you learn a little bit about it when you do actually go through it."

Davis indicated that part of that educational process needs to come from within the team. It's one thing to show videos of NFL greats Jerry Rice and Brett Favre as examples of hard work and dedication, but when you can show a player something that his teammate did well instead, it tends to make more believers out of the group.

Sophomore wide receiver Hakeem Nicks' hard-fought 53-yard touchdown reception on Saturday afternoon is one of those examples.

"That kind of passion and that kind of effort has to be the benchmark," Davis said. "That will be a great play that our staff can use and hold up and say ‘Is this how you're playing? Whether you're the left guard, whether you're the safety [or] whether you're covering kickoffs, are you playing with this kind of passion and intensity?'"

Junior offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds is another player performing up to the coaches' high standards.

"[He's] playing really, really well on the offensive line," Davis said. "I love his attitude, I love his work ethic, his toughness, his competitiveness and stuff. He will be such an enormous role model and that's one of the things when you have a young football team, you don't have 15 seniors that you can hold up on a pedestal and tell all the incoming freshmen and all the red-shirt freshmen, ‘Watch how he does it. This is what we want you to do.'"

The on-field lessons will only become more difficult for North Carolina over the next four weeks, as the Tar Heels will face three top-25 opponents with Virginia Tech and South Carolina joining South Florida in the polls.

Saturday's contest will mark only the second meeting between these two programs. South Florida beat the Tar Heels 37-20 last October in Kenan Stadium.

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