Heels Begin Prep for LSU

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- There was a new theme at North Carolina's football practice beginning Monday.

LSU - Carolina's season-opening foe Sept. 4 at the Georgia Dome. And being so close to playing an actual game has the players charged up.

"I am ready," center Jonathan Cooper said. "We still need some work, but we are also ready to play a game. And opening with an opponent like that is only a good thing for us."

UNC coach Butch Davis said prior to Monday's practice they would put in about 75 percent of the packages for LSU by the end of the session. With 12 days before kickoff, Davis had options on how to treat the preparation. One approach is to simulate having an off week before a big game; another is to go full out to where it may appear the LSU game is the only one on the schedule.

"It's different because you're not coming off a game and it's not like it's an open date," Davis said. "Form a coaching standpoint, we've been looking at this film for the better part of five or six months. Our coaches have been asked to put together preliminary game plan types of things before we went on vacation in the summer time.

"We had some ideas, but then a lot of it is predicated on your own football team. Can you in fact ask your team to do the things that maybe you thought you'd like to do back in late May, early June?"

The Tar Heels have placed a great deal of focus this month on developing depth. Just look at the snap distribution in last Saturday's scrimmage as an example: The second-team players got between 20-22 snaps; third-teamers between 22-25; and the starters got between 12-15 each.

But starting Monday, things got more serious, as that matchup with the Bayou Bengals creeps closer.

"We will go our best players versus our best players so we can get the speed, good blockers against good defensive guys," Davis said.

Senior T.J. Yates still has a solid hold on the starting quarterback job, although Davis again suggested redshirt freshman Bryn Renner may see some action in the opener. Both signal callers will split the snaps this week, but next week Yates will get the majority of the repetitions.

Most of the starting jobs are in place. Davis said if the Heels were playing this Saturday he'd have "a pretty good idea" of who would fill the 22 starting spots. Whether or not that includes wide receiver Greg Little or defensive tackle Marvin Austin, nobody really knows, perhaps not even Davis.

UNC's fan base has pointed to this game since January, as it's one of the program's most important openers ever. And given the NCAA probe, the players have zeroed in on the game themselves. The best way to avoid distractions now that classes have begun is to lose themselves looking toward the LSU game.

"If you want to be a big-time program you will have to win big games, which means you'll have to deal with campus life leading up to those games," Cooper said. "But being able to focus is always a good thing."

Regardless, LSU is on the way, and it has the Tar Heels' attention.

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For more ACC coverage from Andrew Jones, visit FoxSportsCarolinas.com


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