Heels Moving Forward

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina had the option of lingering in the murky waters of last weekend's humbling defeat in Atlanta, but the program has put that loss firmly in the past and is looking to even its ACC mark at 1-1 against Virginia on Saturday.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice

* Davis has been around football long enough to experience nearly every possible situation, whether it be a 1-15 season with the Dallas Cowboys or being knocked out of the national championship game in 2000 by Florida State despite beating the Seminoles during the regular season.

So losing a conference road opener after three-straight wins pales in comparison. Moving past Saturday's loss started with film study and a strong showing in practice on Tuesday afternoon.

"You talk about the things that are important to help you win," Davis said. "You talk about things realistically – Why did we play bad? What didn't go right? How are you going to fix it? And then obviously, you just come out and jump into the next opponent...

"A lot of times, [kids] are more resilient than the fans and the coaches because they've got a million things going on in their life. But you focus them on, ‘Hey, this is a new start, a new week, new team, new opponent, new challenges, 3-4 defense,' and the next thing you know, they're into the adrenaline of ‘Let's be ready and let's play well.'"

* The offense has been drenched in criticism ever since the final horn sounded at Bobby Dodd Stadium, thanks to a putrid performance that included 154 total offensive yards, three turnovers and a 1-of-11 third-down conversion rate. But Davis doesn't seem to be shocked that his offense has struggled at times through four games this season.

"Let's be honest, guys," he said. "At the start of this season, we knew we were replacing five guys – not only that just graduated – but five guys that went to the NFL. So that, in and of itself, was a challenge. And a lot of the guys that we thought potentially would replace those people are not even available to us."

To replace current Denver Broncos tight end Richard Quinn, the coaching staff expected to have Zack Pianalto (foot) and Ryan Taylor (knee) available. To replace Atlanta Falcons offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds and Calvin Darity, line coach Sam Pittman thought he would have numerous options that are either on the injured list or no longer in the program. And to replace the professional triumvirate of Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster, wide receivers coach Charlie Williams was hopeful that Dwight Jones (knee) could immediately step into one of those roles.

"Forget about the fact that Richard Quinn could have come back and so could Hakeem," Davis said. "How different offensively would we have looked if all of those guys would have stayed healthy and all those guys would have stayed? So we knew it was a work in progress... And we've been challenged a great deal by the injuries. So every day, we just hope to come out here and try to get a little bit better."

* There is little doubt that Tar Heel fans will feel a collective pang of apprehension when Casey Barth (4-of-7) trots out for his next field goal attempt, considering that the Wilmington, N.C. sophomore has missed three of his four boots between 30 and 50 yards, including a 32-yarder at Georgia Tech.

But Davis doesn't think that his kicker's confidence has been shaken.

"I know that he's mad at himself; I think that any kicker would be," the third-year UNC head coach said. "Sometimes kickers are like quarterbacks – they're their own worse critics. They want to be perfect, and I know that he wants to be perfect – he wants to make every kick.

"When I talk to him about it – like any kicker I've had – you talk to him in the context of a golfer that's putting. You're sitting there, and as much as you say, ‘Hey, we don't expect you to make 50-footers in golf,' we don't expect you to make 55-yarders in games very often. You might make some, but the ones … inside of three feet you'd like to make them.

"But still, you see guys that do that for a living, and they still miss them. And it boils down to blocking out all the previous kicks, and it's fundamentals. It's your approach to the ball, trust in the snapper, trust in the holder, the plant foot and hitting the ball."

When asked if the coaching staff still has confidence in Barth, Davis responded, "Absolutely."

Barth took snaps with both the first-team and second-team field goal units during Wednesday's practice, connecting on five of his six attempts. His one miss was from 44 yards out.

A sophomore slump is not uncommon to the Barth household, although Casey obviously hasn't earned that label yet. His older brother Connor missed nine of 14 attempts beyond 30 yards in his second season in Chapel Hill, as well as failing to connect on a 24-yarder against Utah.

* There is still no word as to whether the Hoos' Vic Hall will play this weekend, but the Tar Heels are taking no chances in game preparation.

"He probably will play," Davis said. "You go on the assumption that anytime they've got somebody like that, [he will play]. And then if he doesn't play, then he just doesn't play. But you have to be prepared. He's a very talented athlete."

In the season-opening loss to William & Mary, Hall logged minutes at quarterback (2-of-5 passing for seven yards), tailback (54 rushing yards on eight carries), punt returner (14 yards on three returns) and kick returner (five yards on one return). He has not played in the last two games due to a hip injury suffered against the Tribe.

Hall is listed at No. 3 on Virginia's depth chart at quarterback this week.

* Virginia's defense is allowing an eye-popping 180.7 yards per game on the ground this season, good for 102nd nationally. But those early numbers appear to be the exception to the rule that 3-4 defenses are problematic for an offense's attempt at running the football.

Davis is clearly not ready to concede a walk in the park for his running backs on Saturday.

"They're mobile and they're big and they're physical," he said. "They really attack downhill. They don't run side-to-side. Their front seven are guys that read hats and they try to minimize how much vertical push you can get off the ball. So it's a different concept and it's another challenge."

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