The Whole Nine Yards

In this InsideCarolina.com 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: North Carolina had a big win this past weekend over a ranked Connecticut team, but follows it up with another big game this weekend versus Notre Dame. How difficult is it to "get up" to play back-to-back games of this importance, even if they are out-of-conference games? Is there the risk of a letdown?

Jason: I don't think it will be difficult at all to "get up" to play Notre Dame. I would be shocked if the team is not mentally or emotionally ready to play Notre Dame this weekend. I would expect them to be even more focused and emotionally ready to play Notre Dame than UConn. I do not see any risk of a letdown.

Buck: True, it is tough to see a letdown against a name opponent like Notre Dame, I just worry about a young team having to recharge their batteries every week. Reviewing a little of the UConn game, what about Cameron Sexton's play last week? I don't think Cameron Sexton had as solid a performance against Connecticut as he did against Miami – he didn't have a bad game, but not necessarily a performance equal to his start at Miami. Can you account for that by Connecticut having some recent film on Sexton, while Miami did not? How important is it to have relevant film on a player or a team for that matter?

Jason: It's important to have relevant film, but I just don't think the UConn game lent itself for Cam to have the same type of game. We had a lot of short field situations, blocked punts, interceptions, and a long run by Draughn. So Cam did what the game dictated, which was make some plays when they were needed, don't commit many turnovers, and just play within the game plan.

Buck: It was tough for the offense to find a rhythm last week, the defense and special teams play were great, but prevented UNC from finding a rhythm offensively. Turning back to Notre Dame, how much does the "name," or reputation of a program affect players on a college team? Certainly they have to be aware of the Irish football tradition, but is there a risk of being intimidated by it?

Jason: I think we all appreciate their football tradition, just being college football fans. With that said I don't think there is a risk of the team being intimidated. We went out to USC in '93 and weren't intimated at all by them. Both teams were in the top 20 at the time. We realized we weren't playing against Marcus Allen and/or Rodney Pete. I think it helps that the game will be played in Kenan Stadium, but I don't see that being a factor this weekend. Rocket Ismail and/or Tim Brown are not running out of the tunnel.

Buck: That's an interesting way to look at it. But even without Ismail or Brown, Notre Dame is still 4-1. All of its wins came at home, however, and its only loss came on the road at Michigan State on September 20th. This is their first road game in a while. Is it difficult to make that transition between playing home and away?

Jason: I would say more so for a young team. Notre Dame is a young team and (Notre Dame quarterback, Jimmy) Clausen is young. He has been playing well as of late, but if the fans can create noise Saturday to cause some confusion/chaos for Notre Dame, it would be very beneficial to UNC. The Irish have not had a lot of success on the road, so if UNC can jump on them early, maybe some doubt will creep in for them.

Buck: That makes UNC's two road wins this year even more impressive to me, because North Carolina is playing a lot of younger players, too, as we both know. At what point during a year do those players begin to almost progress to the next class level? In other words, at what point does Robert Quinn, for example, become more of a sophomore than a freshman? Or does he?

Jason: I think it's hard for those freshmen who come in August to really make that transition during the season. Robert got here in August and he had to get situated to college life, classes, professors, football, etc., so I'm sure his head is spinning at times. He hasn't even been through an off-season workout yet. I think he will be scary good, once he actually gets to go through an off-season workout program and spring practice to really improve his skills.

Buck: For perhaps the first time this season, the Tar Heels' running game seemed to show a spark of life against Connecticut. Does this change the way John Shoop game plans for Notre Dame?

Jason: I don't think it will change his preparation, but it will probably allow him to sleep better this week. The offensive strength of the team is the receivers, but the running game needs to be somewhat consistent to help with play action and other ways to get our receivers the ball.

Buck: This week the Tar Heels were ranked 22nd in the AP, but not in the Coaches' Poll. We talked a little bit last week about rankings and how players view them. A win this week should move North Carolina into the Coaches' Poll and move them up in the AP. Do players tend to focus on this more as the team gets more recognition? Can it affect their play on the field?

Jason: I don't think the rankings are that important in the players' eyes at this point in the season. I think it's important for fans, alumni, and recruits who are considering coming to Carolina. All of that is great, but again , they are 4-1 right now and there is a lot of football to be played. The Tar Heels are still very young and have much to prove as a team and program. I don't think they have even come close to playing their best game yet. The team is still loaded with young guys, so I think the goal of the team/program is to win, win championships (first ACC and then national) and then the rankings will take care of themselves.

Buck: In getting to that ranking, there seems to have been ebb and flow week-to-week in terms of outstanding, even game-changing, performances by different Tar Heels. Brandon Tate appeared to have won the McNeese State game almost single-handedly. Cameron Sexton had a great game against Miami, as did Trimane Goddard. Last week, Bruce Carter filled up a highlight reel in a single game, and Shaun Draughn had a breakout game in rushing. Is this typical of teams that are Top 25 quality? By that I mean the dominant player, on both sides of the ball, can change week-to-week?

Jason: I would agree that top 25 teams would have that characteristic, but in order to break into the top 10 consistently, you really need guys who dominate week in and week out and are difference makers in every game. Guys like Natrone Means, Bracey Walker Dre Bly, Greg Ellis, Brian Simmons, who every week seemed to have a big game.

Buck: In terms of this weekend, what do you think the keys to the game will be?

Jason:

  • Win the turnover battle. Keep that streak going. The one time UNC lost, they had untimely turnovers which killed them.
  • To help Cam, I think UNC needs to establish an effective ground game to take some pressure off of him. ND's run defense isn't the greatest, so they should have some success.
  • Defensively, Clausen is probably the best pure pocket passer we have faced this year, so I think it will be critical for our front four to get pressure on him, whether it's sacks or making him rush his throws. The Tar Heels have been playing a 'bend but don't break' defense and have not gotten tons of pressure with just the front four. If they continue that strategy, then I think it's important for the defense to get pressure so Clausen doesn't have the time to sit back there and pick us apart.

Buck: Thanks Jason, look forward to talking to you next week.

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.


Inside Carolina Top Stories