Q&A with Butch Davis, Part IV

UNC head coach Butch Davis talks about scheduling, the kicking game, recruiting, turnovers and Marvin Austin in the fourth and final installment of the preseason interview at the ACC Kickoff.

When a kid commits to another school, do you stop recruiting him?

We leave the door open. We call the kid and say look we respect that if that's what you want to do. If you have a change of heart and if it's something that you think that you want to do, please call us. And that's happened - kids two or three weeks later go, ‘You know what? Maybe I made a premature decision, I'd like to rethink that situation.' When I came in, in the first year, Greg Little, Marvin Austin - there's whole lot of kids that we ended up signing that had either verbally committed, or soft verbal committed or at least leaning in that direction. Zack Pianalto is a great example, he was committed to Texas. I called him and said look, ‘I don't know if you're solid on that commitment, if you are good luck, I wish you the very best. The ball is in your court; if you have any interest in finding out about North Carolina, call us back.' 10 days later he called back and said ‘Yea, I think I would like to find out.' We never harass or hound them. If they say look, ‘This is what we want to do,' then we back off.

With the experience and speed you have on defense, is that the biggest reason for optimism?

I think certainly speed and experience in that respect. We have slightly a little bit more depth than we have had in some positions. We've got a little depth in the defensive line, a little bit of depth at the linebacker position. We feel a little bit better about some of the depth at running back. If Ryan Houston has to start a game, we don't feel bad about it. If Jamal Womble had to start a game, we don't feel that bad about it. Two years ago, you could've flipped a coin and I don't know if we had a running back that we felt good about. There's been some change from that respect.

Each of the last two years, the two teams that led the ACC in rushing defense were Virginia Tech and Boston College, which coincidentally played in the ACC Championship game. How important is it in this league to stop the run - why is it so important and how tough is it to do?

I think it's universal. If you asked coaches all across the country, they would tell you that playing great run defense is almost the number one, paramount thing you've got to accomplish as a football team. If you can take the other team's will away from being able to run the football, you've got a chance to control a game. It's that way in the NFL, it's that way in high school. If you can make it a one dimensional game, where they have to throw all the time and you know they have to throw, you have a better chance of winning the game.

Do you have to, by default, look at the ‘Wildcat' scheme?

Absolutely. It's a lot more prevalent now. Conceivably four or five years ago, West Virginia might have been the only school in the country that was actually running that, now you might play four teams. It's equally as difficult for the offense that Paul Johnson is running at Georgia Tech. They are the only team in the ACC that runs that offense. You only get three days to get ready for that…

Was there a benefit for T.J. Yates last year, in terms of the cerebral part of the game, sitting out and watching?

I don't think so, to be honest with you. That all sounds like good lip service…'I'm to come to the sidelines and watch the game.' Maybe for a quarter or for a half to watch a game and just kind of remove yourself … There's no substitute for playing, you can make all the alibis you want to. He'd be a better player today if he would've started those seven games - just for going in, the speed of the game, all the experience, the throws, the reads. I've got to think he would've been a better player for playing in those games.

You got Yates back, but you lost some really talented receivers. What is the state of the passing game? How concerned or not concerned are you?

I'm concerned. I've got to be. We've got some work to do to replace those guys. We are not going to be as good at receiver, Sept. 3, as we were at anytime last year. Do I think that we're going to be OK and do we expect to improve as the season goes along? Absolutely. I'll be thoroughly disappointed if those guys don't come on and learn to play. There are some kids that we're counting on to be significant contributors and I think they will be good players.

Is there a gap between this program and Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech?

Who knows? You've got to show up, play and win. It's one game at a time – when we get to those games, we beat Georgia Tech last year. We played a pretty good game against Virginia Tech - we had our chances in that game to win that game.

Do you feel like you have the elements in place that you could win the ACC this year?

All of those are hypothetical questions. ‘What if?' You going to tell me who's going to get hurt this year for Virginia Tech? Who's going to get hurt for Georgia Tech? I'd give you a better answer if you can tell me all who's going to be playing on those days.

How would you characterize how Marvin Austin played last year?

Solid and at times spectacular. He is starting to learn, and that's a very, very … people think that all you have to do is be a beast of an athlete. You've got to learn how to play the position; there's as much craftsmanship in learning to be a good defensive linemen – how to play double teams, how to rush certain protections and stuff. I think he got better as the season went along. For a defensive lineman to get the kind of notoriety and the production, you've got to have a good supporting cast. You have to have other defensive linemen that are playing well. As the defense gets better, you'll see those guys become better players. I can tell you from coaching Cortez Kennedy, Jerome Brown, Russell Maryland and a whole host of defensive linemen, they went through the same growth problems. Earlier in their careers they looked fabulous and they looked like they should just be wreaking havoc and before their career's over with they all did. But they all had a lot of growing pains, learning to play.

Is it fair to look at stats with interior defensive linemen?

I don't think so, because a lot of the things they do sometimes are somewhat unselfish. They're taking on double teams, they're holding off guys and keeping the offensive linemen from getting to the second level to get to the linebackers. I think if you see linebackers that are having phenomenal numbers then the guys in front of them are playing really good.

What's the more challenging thing? Is it taking the program from where you had it to a successful winning season or is it now the next step where you want to turn it into a BCS bowl team?

Steps three, four and five are a lot harder. Sometimes it's easy to go from no wins to four wins and four wins to six or seven wins. As you climb the mountain it gets harder. The years at Miami we had a couple of 9-3 seasons, then went 11-1 and every year that you try to win that one or two more games, it's not just about winning one or two more games - you've got to go back and win the first eight that you won with the team the year before, so you have to re-win all of those game. There's no givens. We won eight games, but we haven't won a game this year. We've got to try and win the same eight and then try to improve on that.

How do you feel about your schedule this year?

The road games are tough. Going to Georgia Tech, that'll be tough. Going to UConn, I think that they're going to be picked second or third in the Big East Conference. They were a pretty talented team – I think they had as many players drafted last year as we did. I think they had five or six. Randy (Edsall) has a done a good job in growing that program. We don't play Notre Dame, but we play Florida State. I don't know that that was any great trade off. It's a tough schedule, the ACC's tough and I don't know. I look at it and I think this year's schedule is tougher than last year's schedule.

You've got two I-AA teams on the schedule this year? How did that come about?

We were trying to readjust our schedule, trying to move some people around to add some teams in the future. We couldn't find anybody. We ended up getting in a situation – we didn't really want to play two I-AA teams, but that's who we ended up having to play.

What was the game that led to this situation?

The home and away on Colorado, I think.

Shouldn't there be more stringent rules against…

You don't like the idea that games are made 10 years in advance and stuff. How do you know who's going to be good? And then people drop out. One of things that's become very much en vogue, is some of the MAC schools and some of the school's like Sun Belt schools, they're getting $1 million and $1.5 million to go on the road and play. Alabama or Penn State or somebody will pay them a phenomenal amount of money. You schedule one of those teams and you're going to pay them $600,000 – they'll drop you in a heartbeat for $2 million to go to Alabama. It makes it hard. Hopefully in years to come, what'd you like to do, I'd like to get the schedule straightened out. We loved the Notre Dame game last year and we like playing big time games. Hopefully, we'll never play any I-AA teams, maybe we'll have to from time to time.

Do you want to be playing East Carolina every year as a rivalry game?

Whenever they're on the schedule, it just falls the way it is. I think we've got them three more times in the next six or seven years and then we have them this year…

Were you surprised to see Carolina picked third in the Coastal Division? Is that accurate?

I was kind of surprised we were picked that high. We lose six starters on offense and two kickers and lose your two most productive players on defense. I didn't give it any thought as to where anybody picked us. I didn't even think about. I could've seen somebody picking us in any place.

Is that the type of thing you talk to the team about?

Nope, not at all. It's a non-factor.

Where does your kicking game stand?

Casey is the kicker. He's the guy we expect to be the field goal, kickoff, extra point guy. We've got to replace our punter; we have a young kid that's been on the team that's red-shirted, this will be his third year in the program as a punter - Grant Schallock. He kicked for us in the spring time, then we signed a kid, C.J. Feagles, as a true incoming freshman whose father is Jeff Feagles who kicks for the New York Giants. So, we've got those two guys battling for the punting job. What'd you really like to have is an experienced, veteran kicker that's like a red-shirt sophomore. The day that I got to Carolina we didn't have any scholarship kickers or snappers, with the exception of Connor Barth. We didn't have a punter on scholarship, we didn't have a deep snapper and we didn't have any backups. So it's been a building process, trying to get our kicking game sorted out to where a guy can come in learn, red-shirt, watch, travel and then come in after he has been there for a while and be the guy.

Has Casey had it easier because his brother kicked before him at Carolina?

They are so different in their personalities and stuff. Casey was a very gifted athlete as far as a soccer player, he has a strong leg. You just hope he has the continued success that Connor had. Connor was phenomenally accurate - his accuracy from inside 45 yards was just about automatic.

Do you believe you can control turnovers?

Yes I do. Absolutely. Creating turnovers is harder, but protecting the football? Absolutely. That's something that you can manage. You can do a much better job of protecting the football, run after the catch with the receivers. That's the part you can control. Turnovers are going to happen, they're just inevitable. Someone is going to come out of the clear blue and hit a running back, but if you're doing the right things often enough, you should see that number shrink. It is the one, biggest, greatest difference in winning and losing - turnovers. On any level.

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