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 reflect on the win over Miami and look ahead to Saturday's game at Boston College.

Buck: This past weekend's win over Miami, a team ranked in the top 15, was huge in a lot of ways, including securing a bowl bid for UNC. What were the biggest implications of this Tar Heel win in your minds?

Deems: There were a few things about this win that stick out other than the obvious bowl eligibility and conference win over a Top 15 team: a) It gets Carolina back in the talk in the national picture with recruits and other coaching staffs, whether it's Top 25 talk or program rebuilding, the job Coach Davis has done, etc. After the UVa game UNC disappeared from all talk, then the FSU game got the Tar Heels one-half of incredible exposure, but everyone just remembered the second half collapse. After winning at VPI on ESPN, the talk was, ‘wow, big win, dominant defense, but is it an anomaly?' Miami affirmed that it wasn't, and b) the most important is recruiting. Many of these athletes have UNC and Miami in their top five, Carolina showed that they are ahead of Miami by beating them.

Mark: This was a great win for this football program. The way this staff and players have continued to battle through adversity speaks volumes about the character of the players on that team. Obviously each team sets out each season to compete for a conference championship, and this team was no different. When they dropped those first ACC games, and the conference championship was no longer an option, getting to the best bowl was the next goal and that is what made this Miami game so special. Let's not forget, this Miami team beat a lot of very talented teams and this game proved to the players, once again, that they are ready to take that next step as a program.

Buck: In the past three weeks the Tar Heels have beaten two top 15 teams in Virginia Tech and Miami and a Duke team that is having one of the best seasons they've had in a decade. This run began after a very low point in the season, after the Tar Heels allowed an FSU team they had beaten to come back on them in the fourth quarter. What have been the most important factors that have made a difference during this run?

Mark: Buck, you probably have to go back a long time in the history files of the UNC program to find when a UNC football team beat two top 15 teams in a three-week span. These guys have a lot to be proud of, but need to know that this season is not anywhere close to being over. They have three games left, and a chance to win 10 games for the first time in a long, long time in Chapel Hill.

I said after that Florida State loss that this is the time where every single person in that locker room better come together, believe in each other and fight to the end of the year. They had more critics than they knew what to do with, but they realized that the only people who are going to make this season a success are the coaches and players in that locker room. The ability to block out all those negative comments from the press and fans and continue to work every day to improve is something they all should be very proud of. Coach Davis and that staff deserve a whole lot of credit as well.

Deems: The most important factors to attribute to the three-game streak are obvious: a) Dominating defense, no need to elaborate, b) Offensive line getting healthy and working well together as is obvious in run game production, c) Low turnovers, d) Coaching and leadership. The coaches and players believed in themselves when everybody declared them dead in the water after the FSU game.

Buck: Mark, I know that scheduling two FCS opponents helps, and that we're not comparing apples to apples, but UNC is poised to move from 64th in total defense, 56th in rushing defense, 41st in passing efficiency defense, and 84th in pass defense to the top 15, top 10 in every one of those categories – in a single year. What in your mind are the factors that have made what looks to be a huge leap forward defensively possible?

Mark: Coach Withers has been outstanding this season. The game plan and schemes he has put together week-in and week-out to put those guys in the best possible situations to be successful have been very impressive. Coach Withers obviously has a wealth of talent and experience, but the trust and belief he has in those guys is what has made them so dominant. I just hope he doesn't leave the team for a head coaching gig after this season is up because the stats are there to warrant it. From a scheme standpoint, what has made them so successful has been the ability to dominate against the run, and put pressure on the quarterback. When you know that a team cannot run on you, and they have to pass to beat you, that is when you can dial up some pressures and create defensive opportunities in sack fumbles or interceptions. It has been a lot of fun to watch.

Buck: Last year the Tar Heels stumbled down the home stretch, losing two of their last three regular season games. How important is it for the UNC program to finish this season strong in terms of building momentum and creating a more positive perception of Tar Heel football in the national media?

Mark: Finishing strong is what it is all about. If you can't finish strong, everything you have accomplished and worked for can be tainted by the last one or two games. The way these guys have played and prepared the past three weeks should give the Carolina supporters a lot of encouragement about the remainder of the season as well as into the future.

UNC is back in the Top 25, and the goal for this team should be to finish there after the bowl game. The national perception and the media exposure will take care of itself. This football team was about as low as it could be after the Florida State game, but they have fought and clawed their way back into the Top 25 football teams in America. Be proud, but do not be complacent. Finish these last games like they are the last games of your life - for some of those seniors, they will be.

Deems: Buck, who cares about the national media? They have absolutely zero invested in the UNC football program. A strong finish builds momentum and creates excitement for the people that mean the most to this program (no specific order) 1) Ram's Club members, they put their money behind the athletic programs and deserve a national power, 2) All the fans that put their heart into wanting a successful program and showed up and cheered during the last 10-year debacle before Coach Davis, and 3) All the current and past players who chose to be a part of this program and dreamed of becoming a national power.

These are the people that deserve a strong finish. The Tar Heels have a chance to win 10 games this year. That is the goal from here. I'm sure last year's finish is in everyone's mind as they prepare for this three-game stretch. We don't know who will graduate or turn pro after this season, shouldn't worry about it as a fan base, and should get used to it. The type of players UNC is recruiting right now are the ones that will only be here three years, so no need to get upset about it. Relish it, as it will become the norm.

Buck: Deems, I know a lot of observers have been critical of T.J. Yates at times this season, including you and I, but his numbers since the FSU game have shown improvement. In these last two games, isn't the object of the game for Yates to just be a good game-manager and let the defense and the players around him win games?

Deems: Buck, you've been watching too much ESPN College Gameday or some other pre-game garbage on TV, where they all say the same things. This quarterback needs to "manage the game," that's the catchword that they all use now. A few years ago it was watching this quarterback and his "maturation" process.

I'll say it again: playing quarterback is about two things and two things only: leadership and making plays. Period. Not "maturation", not "managing the game" - making plays and leadership.

T.J. is 7-3 - in those seven wins he made plays and provided leadership. Most obvious to me: the pass at Connecticut in the fourth quarter to Highsmith … ECU, perhaps his best game as a Heel … at VPI, the fourth-and-seven pass to Little … and the first quarter slant to Little for the first TD against Miami. That's making plays and showing leadership. No need to harp on Georgia Tech or UVa, we all know he'd like to have those games back.

He is the quarterback and they get the most scrutiny. I think I've pointed out the positives and the negatives with T.J. as I have with other aspects of the Heels this year. For example: very poor offensive line play regardless of the injuries early on. Special teams lapses, from missing field goals early, or not deep enough kickoffs, to our punting woes all year, to the blocked punt against Duke, or the fake last week. Very soft play in the second half against FSU by our defense, etc., etc.

This is the ultimate team game, you win together, you lose together. Sorry to ramble but to answer your question succinctly: no, T.J.'s job is not to "manage the game" it's to be a leader and make plays.

Buck: Thanks again guys, this weekend at Boston College should be very interesting. I look forward to catching up with you next week before the regular season finale.


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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