Deems & Mark: State of the Heels

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders conducts the weekly roundtable discussion with former Tar Heels Deems May and Mark Paschal, with insider insight into the win over ECU and analysis of the key storylines that have emerged thus far.

Buck: It looked like the UNC offense came out of a long dark tunnel on Saturday. After taking some injury hits on the offensive line at the start of the season and fielding a largely untested group of wide receivers, the offense didn't fold. We haven't always seen this sort of resiliency at North Carolina, what do you guys think explains it?

Deems: Buck, that's pretty simple. UNC has a championship-caliber coach (and staff) who will not settle for anything less and the Tar Heels haven't had that in the past.

The attention to detail, the preparation for the season and the adjustments made during the games and at halftime are something that the Tar Heels haven't seen in years. UNC used to not even be able to get eleven players on the field, the team would needlessly waste timeouts because it was so ill-prepared, and it constantly repeated mistakes.

All players make mistakes, but the good coaches teach and coach and will not accept the same mistakes week in and week out. Bless the previous coach's heart, but he was so far in over his head that the differences in the team then and now are so evident that even my wife said, "Gosh, they look so much better." (And she maybe sees ten plays a game).

Mark: The resiliency you see in the players is directly correlated to the confidence Coach Davis and the rest of the coaching staff embodies. Their leadership and drive for success has truly manifested itself in the players. They believe in themselves, the team, and the direction of the program; they are winners and are proving that each week.

I can't say enough how proud I am of the offensive line and the way they stepped up this past weekend. They played as a unit, protected T.J., and opened holes for our backs. The receivers also played well.

Buck: One factor that should be giving this Tar Heel team some confidence is the consistently high level of play from its defense. The difference is that on Saturday the offense matched that level of performance. Deems, you talked last week about how a consistently underperforming unit, like an offense, can have an adverse impact on team chemistry. Do you think the Tar Heels have dodged that locker room problem?

Deems: There never is adversity when you are 3-0. I merely pointed out that had the Tar Heels lost to UConn, some fractious dissent could've developed because of the stark contrast in production from offense to defense.

That was avoided and the excellent play from the offense Saturday was a huge credit to Coach Pittman. His guys did not like being referred to as soft; they were prepared and performed at a high level against an athletic ECU defense.

No sacks after six the previous week? Running the ball for over 100 yards? Total offense of over 400 yards? What a great testament to Coach Pittman getting his guys ready to play. I don't think I've ever seen that much improvement from one week to the next.

Buck: Mark, Skip Holtz said in his post-game comments that Robert Quinn is ready for the NFL right now. The Tar Heels have him the rest of this year and next year, at a minimum. Is he on the verge of becoming the next superstar NFL defensive end from North Carolina?

Mark: Robert Quinn is a flat out ball player. The motor that he has is unmatched; watching this kid work each snap is truly inspiring. He has all the physical tools to be a prime time player and I think he is the best defensive end in the ACC with regard to both stopping the run and in the pass rush aspect. Mike Ingersoll (at right tackle) will face a DE of his caliber this week and I think Ingersoll will take it upon himself to work with Robert one-on-one this week to make sure he is prepared.

Buck: How concerned are you guys about the kicking game? Grant Schallock inexplicably had a rough day punting the ball (to the point where they had freshman C.J. Feagles warming up on the sidelines), and Casey Barth missed a 38-yard field goal in great conditions. The Tar Heels were able to overcome it on Saturday, but how can they get the kicking game fixed during the season?

Mark: Coach Davis believes in special teams, as do all great coaches. UNC spends more time on special teams each week than most teams because Coach Davis believes there is a huge opportunity, each snap, to make a huge play by changing field position or setting up a score. Personally, I am a little concerned with the way UNC played as far as kicking the ball, but the coverage on kickoffs and punts was outstanding. Johnny White and Jon Smith played their butts off on the coverage teams. They'll get better with the kicking part; of that there is no doubt in my mind.

Deems: I knew UNC had to get to something negative and the kicking game is a big concern. Special teams dictate the field position for the game and UNC has really been behind the chains on field position due to very poor kicking. Both the punter and kicker are struggling, and losing the deep snapper, Trevor Stuart, is a huge blow. The punter has to kick better than a 30-yard average, especially when the other team averages 49 yards per kick; that's two first downs.

The place kicker has to make everything under 40 yards and get better depth and hang time on kickoffs. Another concern is that the punt-returners are letting the ball bounce. With the advantage of the fair catch, just wave your arm and go catch everything. The ball is hitting and then bouncing another 20 yards when the returner should be catching it! Nothing got a returner cut quicker in the NFL than letting balls hit the ground that could've been caught.

As for the kicker and punter, I have no idea what to do. Kickers are so quirky; we just pretty much stayed away from them during games. It's kind of like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter in that you didn't want to be the one to say something and have them get a case of the shanks or something. If it doesn't improve I expect to see Feagles at punter. I asked his dad if he was ready and he said "yes" (Jeff and I played together at Seattle). I don't know who backs up Barth, but UNC needs someone who can make everything under 40 yards. Hopefully they both can bounce back from sub-par games. UNC will need high performance kicking to reach its goals this year.

Buck: Mark, North Carolina continues to take advantage of its depth on defense. Kennedy Tinsley, Dion Guy, and Kevin Reddick got quality snaps at linebacker on Saturday. Quinton Coples and Michael McAdoo are getting a lot of snaps at crucial moments of the game at defensive end. You can't really consider Tydreke Powell and Al Mullins "reserves," because they rotate in so often. What kind of advantage is it for a defensive player to be able to give 100 percent on every play and know he'll still be fresh in the fourth quarter?

Mark: This is a huge advantage for a defensive player. Being fresh on each snap makes a player that much more dangerous. There have been years where defensive guys have played 80-plus snaps at linebacker during one game and they were so exhausted that they were not performing to the level that they could when they were 100 percent. This depth will make the defense that much better going into weeks seven, eight, and nine. The young guys and other reserves that have come in have not dropped off the intensity from the first team, allowing Carolina to play with 20 guys instead of 11.

Buck: Deems, a lot of folks think that T.J. Yates may have had his best game as a Tar Heel, and he's had some three touchdown, 300-yard games at North Carolina. Do you think his performance on Saturday was special, and if so, why?

Deems: Although T.J. has had a lot of great games, the ECU game has to be the most proficient. Yates had no picks, he threw the ball away to avoid sacks, and he was a great leader all day. He was very accurate and showed a lot of poise in the pocket, but again, that's a credit to UNC's O-line.

Those young receivers stepped up big time. Boyd showed an extra gear on the long TD pass, Highsmith's numbers speak for themselves, and we can't overestimate the impact that Adams' 20-yard gain on a slant route will have on him. He struggled with that route the week before and this will be a huge confidence builder for him. Give Yates credit for sticking with him and give Adams credit for a great route and catch.

These young kids have a come a long way since opening week.

Buck: Good stuff today guys, thanks and we'll catch up after the trip to Atlanta.


May
Deems May excelled at tight end for UNC and was drafted in 1992, playing eight seasons in the NFL. He's since become a fan favorite for his candid commentary on the Tar Heel Sports Network.
Mark Paschal was a team captain for the Tar Heels in 2008. As a middle linebacker, he led the team in tackles prior to a career-ending injury and didn't miss a game in his career up until that point. He's the host of the Inside Carolina Call-In postgame radio show.

Paschal

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