Deems & Mark: State of the Heels

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders conducts the weekly roundtable discussion as former Tar Heels Deems May and Mark Paschal tackle the upcoming Thursday night showdown with Florida State.

Buck: Deems, while you could point to the competition that FSU has played this year, it is evident that this isn't the same brand of Seminole defense we're used to seeing. Statistically, Florida State has the worst passing and rushing defense in the ACC. Taking nothing for granted, coming off of 10 days of rest, this is about the best the UNC offense could hope for, isn't it? What are you looking for out of the UNC offense on Thursday night?

Deems: It's hard for me to imagine an FSU team being really bad defensively. That is just hard to do because you know they are going to be extremely athletic. I'm sure that the Seminoles went back to the drawing board and probably simplified their schemes to let their guys think less and concentrate on the basics. I'm sure they're licking their chops watching the lack of blitz protection at UNC over the last few weeks and they want to "get well" against the Tar Heels. Offensively, I look for UNC to create more max protection, quick hitters, and misdirection to try and neutralize the Seminoles' athleticism. I'm sure the Carolina coaches have taken the extra time to break down a lot of tape and have schemed a plan to exploit the areas FSU has had trouble defending this year.

Buck: Mark, Florida State comes in with the best offense UNC has played so far this season, statistically. FSU is averaging 426 yards per game in total offense, which happens to be the best in the ACC. Christian Ponder is averaging 297 passing yards per game. Is this the week we find out just how good the UNC defense really is? What are the keys to keeping the FSU offense in check?

Mark: Buck, UNC's defense has proven that it is pretty stout week in and week out. That being said, this is an explosive offense and will be a great test for the UNC defense. The guys will be very well rested and excited about a nationally televised Thursday night game against this Florida State group. This is a great opportunity to show the country ‘Tar Heel football.' The Heels can make a statement about who they are as a team and how tough they are defensively. The best way to keep Florida State in check is very fundamental in concept but very tough to execute. They are fast and explosive, and what that means for the defense is that they must tackle very well, swarm to the football and not give up any big plays. If they can do that, the UNC defense will show the country that it deserves all the hype and credit they have gotten so far this season.

Buck: There is always a mental aspect to every game. FSU comes in at 2-4, with their backs against the wall. The natives are restless in Tallahassee and a loss to UNC would be like throwing a barrel of gas on Chief Osceola's flaming spear. It's a big stage and it is a chance for the Seminoles to start redeeming their season. How important is it going to be for UNC to come out and match the intensity you'd expect to see from the Seminoles under these circumstances?

Mark: I have said this time and time again; teams like Florida State and Miami play their best football when the lights shine the brightest. The lifeblood of their programs are playing in big time games and winning those games. For example, the thrashing Florida State put on BYU earlier this year, or the Miami win over Oklahoma reveal the type of kids these programs recruit and that's the bottom line. This will be a bright light game. People talk about swagger, right? Is it a coincidence that these teams usually only have that "swagger" when it is a big time game under the lights? I don't think so. But what happened to good, old-fashioned dominant consistency? That lack of consistency has been the thorn in those two programs' sides for the past decade. Like I said, this is a big one, so get ready and buckle up; this is going to be a war.

Deems: You have to bank on FSU coming out and playing like they did when they dismantled BYU and not how they did against Jacksonville State. This is "Monday Night Football" on the collegiate level. Everybody will be watching across the country and the intensity will be high on both sides. Good and bad things can happen when you are in the national spotlight. We have to stay away from the personal fouls, false starts and other penalties that occur more frequently when teams are too amped. The Tar Heels certainly can't afford to start slow and let FSU develop momentum like the Seminoles were able to do against BYU. They must find a way to piece together some first downs early; three and outs will be disastrous if they occur as they have in the past games.

Buck: At this point in a season many teams know where they stack up in the sense that there aren't nearly as many unanswered questions as there were going into the season. Do you get the sense that because of the injuries on offense, UNC still doesn't know how good (or bad) they really are, even at this point of the season?

Deems: Offensively the Tar Heels are not as good as they showed against ECU; conversely, they aren't as bad as they showed against UVa. They will struggle on offense all year because of the offensive line situation. However, that doesn't mean the season is lost. UNC has to take care of the ball, stay away from the second and longs and third and longs and get good production from the punter when they don't get first downs. The receivers can help us by winning outside when they are matched up one-on-one. The backs have to step up and block well and be productive with the draw and screen packages. T.J. Yates has to throw the ball away and not take sacks; losing Blue really hurts, as I think we would've seen more from him due to his mobility. Now UNC has to max protect and get the tight end back in the fold with receivers winning outside. If the offense can identify some good packages that work and produce some good scoring, our defense will give us a chance in every game.

Mark: I think there is no doubt that they know that they are struggling. Just pick up a paper and you see the guys who have been record setters at UNC are now getting their names dragged through the mud. Is it fair? No, but it is expected from people who don't understand the intricacies of what goes into preparing, playing, and winning consistently at the college level. This is the ultimate team game; no one person is responsible for the success or failure of this football team. However, there are still some questions left to be answered. The offensive line is getting healthier, that is where it all starts. If they can open holes for the running backs and protect the passer, they have a chance for success these last six games. On another note, what a great experience this Thursday night game will be for the guys on this team, the coaches, the University and the town of Chapel Hill, not to mention the benefits this will have from a recruiting standpoint.

Buck: Thanks guys, game time is closing in on us early this week. We look forward to hearing your comments after the FSU game.

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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