The Tar Heels won four of their last five regular season games.
"We didn't take a step back in what we were trying to do, I think we got some guys back and I think some guys were getting better," Shoop said. "Every single week that Cam Holland played, he got a little bit better. We struggled in there early. He was put in some tough situations, on the road at UConn, on the road at Georgia Tech, but he got better as the season went along and then Lowell got healthy again."
Going into the season the Tar Heels had already taken a substantial hit on the offensive line as the result of several factors; some missed recruiting targets, some recruits that failed to qualify, attrition due to graduation, and medical redshirts. Then the injury bug hit. First, Carl Gaskins was lost for the season with a knee injury. Next, starting left guard Jonathan Cooper was lost to an ankle sprain in the first game of the season. Injuries were beginning to snowball in an already thin area.
"We had some untimely injuries in an already thin situation in the O-line," Shoop said. "Lowell (Dyer) goes down on Thursday before the UConn game, and we've already got (Greg) Elleby, who is a converted D-lineman, playing next to Cam Holland now, where the only reps he had were on Friday."
Despite rolling up 31 points against East Carolina, the offense struggled mightily against other opponents, scoring ten points against UConn, seven points against Georgia Tech, and only three points against Virginia. Over the second half of the season, the offense rebounded as the offensive line became healthier.
"I think Jon Cooper getting healthy for the second half of the season, when we made a little mini-run, really helped us," Shoop said. "We knew we were weren't going to get guys like Carl back the whole season, but getting Cooper back, getting a healthy Lowell, getting Cam some experience helped a little bit."
A couple of other factors contributed to increased offensive production in the second half of the season; the development of Greg Little at wide receiver and the return of tight end Zack Pianalto from injury.
"(Little) really picked the quarterback up late in the season, Zack Pianalto, picked the quarterback up the second half of the season some, those are things we didn't do the first half."
Finally, Shoop attributes the second-half improvement to sheer determination on the part of the Tar Heels.
"I think our guys just set their jaw," he said. "I don't know if schematically we changed things a whole lot, I think our guys just set their jaw that we're going to find a way to win, and if it is ugly we'll find a way to win ugly."
Check back tomorrow for Part III from Inside Carolina's one-on-one interview with John Shoop …
|For even more insider analysis, stay tuned for the comprehensive "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine, due out next month, featuring interviews with offensive coordinator John Shoop and defensive coordinator Everett Withers.|