Heels Looking for No. 9

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- No. 25 North Carolina is one win away from posting its highest-win total since Mack Brown's final season a dozen years ago. UNC head coach Butch Davis spoke to reporters about a variety of topics before Wednesday's practice.

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Butch Davis Pre-Practice

** While the 41-10 loss to N.C. State last season has been played out over and over again by the media and fans of both programs over the past 12 months, UNC's coaching staff has not broached the topic with the players, other than during film study.

"Obviously, we got off to a horrible start, turning the ball over early, putting the ball on the ground an awful lot," Davis said. "Those things certainly feed fuel to the fire and they give the other team great field position and opportunities to score and take you out of the elements that you want to do. When we've lost games here, we've always tried to use them as teachable moments and that's what we did last year."

** For most college football teams, there is always one opposing player to avoid. Defensively, it may be a player like Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel, who boasts eight of his program's 20 interceptions, or Virginia Tech's Rashad Carmichael, who owns half of the Hokies' 10 picks in '09.

But it's not quite that easy for North Carolina opponents. Throwing Kendric Burney's way is probably not a good option considering the cornerback has five interceptions on the season. But going over the middle brings Deunta Williams (six interceptions) into play, and testing the other side of the field lights up Charlie Brown's eyes (three interceptions).

And while you're looking down the field, you may want to watch out for defensive ends Robert Quinn (five forced fumbles) and E.J. Wilson (three forced fumbles) causing havoc in the offensive backfield. Trouble can arise from anywhere when you step between the lines against this Tar Heel defense.

"You're looking for gifted athletes at all positions on defense and those guys give you a chance," Davis said. "We were in a similar situation a year ago where Trimane Goddard got the lion's share of all the interceptions…

"But again, I give credit to our defensive coaches. You guys watch us practice, and we almost start every single practice with some form or fashion of creating turnovers. It might be strips, it might be fumble recoveries [or] it might interceptions. That doesn't guarantee that you'll get them, but it will always give you an opportunity to put it on kids' minds that they're thinking about creating [turnovers]."

For comparsion's sake, four N.C. State defensive linemen have combined for more interceptions (4) than its back seven (3).

** During Cam Thomas' 20-yard fumble recovery rumble for touchdown against Boston College last weekend, the fifth-year senior raised the ball in the air before crossing the goal line and almost had the ball knocked out of his grasp by a trailing Eagles' player.

That play conjured up memories of another Davis defensive lineman that celebrated too early – with far more disastrous results. In Super Bowl XXVII, Dallas Cowboy Leon Lett's had recovered one of the Buffalo Bills' five lost fumbles and trotted toward the goal line for a touchdown. But Lett slowed down in celebration, allowing Bills' wide receiver Don Beebe to strip the ball and force a touchback.

While the game was well in-hand for the Cowboys, Lett's gaffe prevented Dallas from setting a new record for points scored in the Super Bowl.

Davis confirmed that Thomas was heard a Lett reference or two this week.

"Yes – especially one week after Melvin Williams almost did the exact same thing," Davis said. "I told him, ‘You almost lived in infamy on ESPN. You'd be watching that 25 years from now.'

"The thing about defensive linemen is that it is such a rare, unique opportunity. They just don't hardly every get a chance to score. And their ability to handle the moment sometimes is a little different than any guys."

** When true freshman Kevin Reddick shifted into the starting middle linebacker spot last month, it was assumed by many that former Mike linebacker Quan Sturdivant would continue with a portion of the defensive play-calling duties. But Davis indicated on Wednesday that the ultimate responsibility lies with Reddick as Sturdivant and Bruce Carter are sometimes removed from the central location of the defense.

"There's been some growing pains," Davis said of the defense's lone starting freshman calling the sets. "There's been some times that a new formation surprises him or a new shift or a new motion. When there's a little bit of uncertainty, it's always nice to be able to look at Bruce or Quan [for guidance]."

** While this coaching staff is married to strict discipline and a consistent routine, Thanksgiving provides one of the few opportunities for policy change around the Kenan Football Center.

On Thursday, the players will briefly meet for team meetings before participating in a 90-minute practice sessions. The coaching staff will then turn the student-athletes loose around 11am for the holiday.

Local kids will head home for time with family friends, likely bringing along the other players that don't have the luxury of a short drive to their parents' house. With UNC's dorms closed for Thanksgiving, the team will meet at a hotel around 9pm on Thursday night to close out the holiday with pumpkin or sweet potato pie.

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