The Whole Nine Yards

In this weekly feature, IC's football guru Buck Sanders conducts an in-depth discussion on the state of the Tar Heels with former UNC quarterback Jason Stanicek.

Buck: Were you as surprised as everyone else by Cameron Sexton's performance at Miami? You commented last week about play-calling and the role it plays in the success of a quarterback. John Shoop certainly did some different things with both Mike Paulus and Sexton – rolling them out, putting them in the shotgun. They also stayed away from reverses and outside runs against Miami's speed. Does the play-calling help explain Sexton's success? What other factors could be involved, other than the fact that Sexton really has matured as a quarterback?

Jason: No, it isn't the complete answer, but play-calling does have a lot to do with a quarterback's success. John Shoop understands their strengths and weaknesses and sets game plans and plays around them. Cam has always had the skills. He's very athletic, mobile, and has a good arm. The biggest factor for Cam is that he's emotional and mentally matured and has much more confidence now in his ability. That's a tribute to him, the coaches, and his family.

Buck: Remarks that Cam has made and comments from his teammates seem to bear out the whole emotional and mental maturity you're talking about. On another subject, at the time we talked about the Rutgers win in terms of the importance of winning on the road. Since the Miami game was an ACC win, that makes it even more important, especially considering the Tar Heels already have a home ACC loss. From a former quarterback's perspective, what is the toughest part of playing on the road? Communication? The emotional support of the other team by their fans?

Jason: Communication is the toughest part. Being able to effectively make changes at the line of scrimmage is the hardest part. Young teams' play can sometimes be impacted just by the confusion/chaos caused by the lack of communication. Everything begins to speed up and you have to settle yourself down or your play could be impacted.

Buck: Sexton looked like he did pretty well with that at Miami and though the crowd wasn't huge, it was vocal. In 1992, you were a part of the teams that beat ranked teams, Virginia and Georgia Tech, on back-to-back weekends in Chapel Hill. UNC faces a ranked Connecticut team this weekend, and Notre Dame could well be ranked when they come to Chapel Hill on Oct. 11. Similar questions existed then about UNC football as they do today. Do you see a parallel there?

Jason: That was Coach Brown's 5th year, my 2nd year. We are in Coach Davis' 2nd year. Those games back in 1992 were really about us trying to contend in the ACC. These next two upcoming games are non-conference; we are in Coach Davis' 2nd year. This team is a lot younger than we were in 1992. No doubt these games are important, but a little different situation.

Buck: A different situation to be sure, but it sure looks like Davis has the program moving ahead of schedule. Do the players – as a group – tend to look at the ranking of the team they are playing, or does preparing to play that team consume their thoughts for the week? In other words, is this something fans focus on more so than the players?

Jason: Players are human, they know who is ranked and where they are ranked, but you still have to go about preparing the same way regardless of where the team you are playing is ranked. Our guys realize that it is irrelevant where you are ranked week to week. The only ranking that counts is the one at the end of the season.

Buck: In the last two weeks, the Tar Heels have lost a double digit lead and lost, and overcome a double digit deficit and won. Which experience will be the most important to them going forward?

Jason: Both are important. They're two different situations. I think they have played well when behind over the last two years and almost won some of those games - last week they finally got over the hump. Playing with a lead is different. You cannot relax, because good teams will come back. Since the two are somewhat different, I think both are good experiences to learn from and build on.

Buck: No doubt UNC has had more experience playing from behind in recent years. Personally, I think coming from behind 10 points in the fourth quarter on the road will be a huge boost to the confidence of these players. Turning to Connecticut again, against ACC teams, there is some level of familiarity with the coaches and the players of the opponent, at least in many cases. Receivers, for example, may have played against the defensive back covering him in a prior game, or even in high school or in camps. Butch Davis and his staff now know more about the capabilities and tendencies of the teams they played against last year. Are games played out-of-conference more indicative of the relative coaching skills of the two teams?

Jason: Good coaching is very important in college football today. Limited scholarships have evened the playing field and those coaches who can motivate, coach, have great staffs, and can make game-time adjustments will have a better chance for success. When you play non-conference opponents that you are not as familiar with, game time adjustments become critical.

Buck: So your answer there would be "yes," I take it? I agree. I think that with the lack of familiarity, the X's and O's will be very important this Saturday. With all the attention Sexton received for his performance this past weekend, expectations are sky high for him against UConn. How much pressure is on him to live up to those expectations, and can that affect his performance?

Jason: Cam is going to put more pressure on himself than anyone else. I expect Cam to do the same thing he did last week- get the ball to his playmakers, play within himself, and play within the game plan. Cam did a good job on getting the ball to his playmakers and making good decisions throughout the game. I think he can build off that and continue to improve on his leadership and confidence.

Buck: The Tar Heels are a third of the way through the regular season and are 3-1. What, if anything, has surprised you about the team so far this year, or has the season played out about as you had expected?

Jason: It has played out as I expected offensively, and with win and losses. I am surprised by our defense, especially our linebackers. Those guys have played well the first four games and overall our defense is better than I thought it would be.

Specific players that have surprised me by their play:
Mark Paschal
Brandon Tate
Tydreke Powell
Robert Quinn

Buck: That's a solid list. I agree that going into the season, linebacker and defensive end were the two major question marks on the defense, and question marks that have been answered positively for the most part early on. Paschal's play at linebacker has shored up a very solid starting linebacker corps with Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant, though depth is still an issue there. Quinn, and to a lesser extent both Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo, have become real contributors and have answered the call as true freshmen at a difficult position for younger players to contribute early.

I would add that the loss of T.J. Yates during the Virginia Tech game was a loss I didn't believe the Tar Heels would be able to effectively address. Sexton did a great job last week and if he (or Paulus) can fill that gap as effectively the rest of the way, the offense can live up to preseason expectations.

Thanks again Jason for joining us weekly at IC; your insights as a former UNC quarterback are invaluable.

Got a topic or question you want discussed in next week's "The Whole Nine Yards"? Email us.

Jason Stanicek ('91-94) wore the #9 uniform for the Tar Heels. He broke a number of UNC records during his career and now stands No. 3 in school history for total offense (5,497) and passing yards (4,683), and No. 2 for career completions (372). Jason, who resides in Raleigh with his family, is the Vice President and Financial Advisor at CAPTRUST and can be found in the stands at Kenan Stadium on gamedays.

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