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 reflections on the loss at Georgia Tech and analysis of what UNC must do to bounce back.

Buck: This was a game in which UNC looked out-of-sync in every phase of the game - offense, defense, and special teams. Is a game like that one harder to shake off because so many things went wrong, or easier to get over because the entire team was flat?

Mark: Out of sync is a nice way to put it - the Heels looked flat and played uninspired football. It was frustrating to watch because we have more talent than they do, but they out-hustled, out-hit and out-performed. No one seemed to bow their neck and say ‘enough is enough, I'm not going to keep taking it from these guys anymore.' We just took it, for four quarters. A loss is a loss - Coach Davis will make sure these guys learn from this.

Deems: It just depends on the leadership from the players and what the internal make-up of this team is. Leadership is not rah-rah yelling, it's leading by example in your preparation and performance. How does Yates respond in practice and preparation this week? Is he the first on the field and the last off? Is he studying extra film or moping around? How does our front seven on defense respond to giving up 300 rushing yards? Do they take it personally or blame it on our inept offensive showing? Those are questions that I can't answer, but I will get them answered Saturday.

Buck: When the game started, I thought, ‘Well, Yates often gets off to a slow start,' but he never snapped out of it. The Tar Heel offense always seems to be slow getting into a rhythm at the start of a game. Is there something they could be doing differently on their first possession? Do you think it is the plays being called, or that the team just doesn't come out with intensity on offense?

Deems: Our notorious slow starts have frustrated me more than anything else this season. We were fortunate to bounce back from slow starts the first three games, but against a preseason 15th-ranked team in the country, we were unable to overcome the slow start. I would change everything up if I were Shoop. From pre-game warmups to how we stretch to what we discuss before the first series. I would even contemplate opening up the game going a series or two with A.J. Blue and running triple options or bootlegs. Let Yates look at what the defense is doing.

Anything to avoid what we all have witnessed at the start of the games this year. Another possibility is scripting the first ten offensive plays. You script them and go over them the night before the game. You go over every scenario on what you're going to do if you get base defense, or blitz. You do not deviate from this script for any reason (exceptions being 3rd and inches, 4 and inches, etc). Everyone knows what the first ten plays are and what to do about it on every possible defensive look. No surprises. Bill Walsh started this with the West Coast offense. We did it with Mike Holmgren at Seattle. All night long you played every scenario in your head with those first ten plays and what you were going to do versus every look. If you messed up, the consequences weren't good. After those ten plays a rhythm usually develops and the offensive coordinator and rest of the offense can usually get a feel for what the defensive strategy is, adapt and call plays accordingly.

Buck: Mark, last year the Tar Heels seemed to have a good defensive plan against the Yellow Jackets. This year, not so much. What explains the difference? Georgia Tech did a much better job protecting the ball and not turning it over. Was that it?

Mark: The defensive gameplan was the exact same, Buck. The difference was pretty simple - this year we did not get off blocks, tackle well or play with a sense of urgency that we played with last year. We lacked the physicality in this game to beat a tough, physical Georgia Tech team. When you don't out-hit, out-hustle and out-work Georgia Tech, they will beat you nine out of ten times. You give them the ball offensively and don't create any turnovers defensively - you are at even more of a disadvantage.

Buck: Erik Highsmith still managed to have over 100 yards receiving, good for fourth in the ACC in receiving yards. At this point can we say he is the real deal?

Deems: I believe that would be a safe assumption. He is by far the best player we have on offense right now as he has come to play every game. Some players are great preparers, some are great practice players, some are just great game players. I don't know how Erik prepares or practices, but he comes to the games and produces. Highly unusual for a rookie.

Buck: Last year, as you'll remember well, Mark, the Tar Heels rebounded well at home over Boston College after a tough loss at Virginia, their first ACC road loss. How do the players and staff manage to put a tough loss behind them and instead focus on the next game.

Mark: Last year, for the seniors and the rest of that team, it was a sense of pride in ourselves and a pride in representing the University. We lost a tough game on the road that we felt like we should have won. What it comes down to is looking yourself in the mirror and making sure you are doing everything it takes to be successful the coming week with the focus on not stacking two losses back to back. The coaches do a great job of teaching and correcting mistakes after a loss, and then completely putting it in the past starting Monday - a new week, a new opportunity; that is why people have seen Carolina play well a week later after a tough loss.

Buck: Virginia represents a different level of opponent than Georgia Tech, and the game is at home. The Tar Heels could hardly have drawn a better game off a tough loss, at least not in conference, do you agree?

Deems: Buck, I could give a rat's behind about Virginia. I don't care about any team we play. All I care about are the Tar Heels. How are we going to respond to a thorough whipping? I saw improvement in our special teams, especially our punt team. Can our kicker make a kick? Can we bounce back from all of those three-and-outs offensively? Can we respond to our first poor game defensively?

I never thought we would go undefeated - I knew the Tech game was going to be tough especially after they were embarrassed - but I never imagined we would lay a big egg, minus 88 (Highsmith) on offense and 42 (Robert Quinn), 12 (Charles Brown), and 16 (Kendric Burney) on defense. Those four came to play (I'm sure there were others, but with just one look at the game, they stuck out the most). However, this is the ultimate team game, you have to win two out of three phases to win and we had too many players not show up Saturday. I'm more anxious to see how we respond to this loss than anything left on our schedule.

Mark: Virginia looks pretty bad, but the leaders on this Carolina team need to remind everyone how bad they looked this past Saturday. Virginia and Al Groh always play Carolina close. This isn't a gimme'. The Virginia guys are FBS scholarship athletes and would love nothing more to get a ‘W' over UNC on the road - the guys on this Carolina team just cant let that happen. This needs to be a statement game for all three phases of this football team.

Buck: Thanks guys, as always.

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.


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