During the week, you’ll get the stock answer that practice is “all about us,” from the standpoint that the Tar Heels don’t consider who the opponent is. All of that went out the window as North Carolina rallied from a 10-point deficit to beat William & Mary, 21-17.
At halftime, Davis was irate. As well he should have been, because it looked like the Tar Heels could become the latest FBS team to fall victim to an FCS opponent. The first half performance was as close to sleepwalking as you can get and still play football.
“Honestly, maybe we came out flat, and at halftime Coach Davis gave us a fiery speech,” offensive guard Jon Cooper said, “You could tell he was pretty upset with our performance. He told us not to underestimate a team or this is the outcome you’ll have.”
Other players echoed Cooper’s statement. The consistent theme in their comments was that Davis was anything but even-keeled in the locker room.
“He wasn’t all that happy,” Ryan Taylor said in obvious understatement. “At halftime he told us we were going to have to start playing like we were meant to play, in different words, but we came out and picked it up in the second half.”
Senior safety Deunta Williams indicated that the team “definitely got a little bit of heat” from their head coach, and then quarterback T.J. Yates added: “He laid into us a little bit, and we needed it. Everybody kind of perked up after that, kind of got it together offensively and defensively.”
Many times second-half comebacks are characterized as coaching staff adjustments, and no doubt some of that was going on, even if only in terms of being able to recognize what the well-coached Tribe was trying to accomplish.
“Honestly they slanted and twisted just about every play, and that’s a good way to go against a bigger guy,” Cooper said. “If they line up straight in front of you, you can just drive them off the ball, but every play you’ve got to look for the movement, look for them just running away from you.”
Schematically, Davis said that the Tribe threw the kitchen sink at the Tar Heels defensively, something that they had tried to prepare for during the week.
“A little bit was the intensity, a little bit was the execution,” Coach Davis said of the second-half comeback. “The other part of it, and we talked about it during the course of the week, was fire zone blitzes. They had the potential to do them, they hadn’t done much of them because they had been able to win a lot of games without having to do it, but tonight we saw the gamut.
“It wasn’t a carbon copy of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was fire zones from the boundary, fire zones inside, fire zone from the field, a variety – move the defensive linemen, stunt the linebackers – to try to disrupt the blocking schemes and to try to mismatch the protections a little.”
While the coaching staff attempted to get the team up to speed on what William & Mary was trying to accomplish against UNC’s offense, most players agreed that the change in the second half, and particularly the fourth quarter where the Tar Heels outgained the Tribe 172-29 – was all about intensity.
“There was a lot of intensity change – the first half everybody just kind of seemed dead, didn’t come out prepared to play, we kind of fell into the trap of playing a FCS team,” Yates said. “We were trying not to, but we had to get it fixed at halftime.”
Kendric Burney, making his 2010 debut after having to sit out seven games due to NCAA rule violations and a complex academic situation, agreed with his teammate.
“It was a big emotional change,” Burney said. “Not so much the third quarter, but the fourth quarter is when our defense came out, when the whole team came out and played football. We got into it, the crowd got into it, it was back to Carolina football, that’s the way we need to play all four quarters and I believe that coming into next week we’ll definitely be ready for it.
"It wasn’t schemes, it was just playing football.”
Deunta Williams, who smiled broadly when asked about the return of his teammate and roommate in Burney, also believed it all came down to the intensity level change from the first half to the second half.
“We just tightened up,” Williams said. “We manned up, we woke up, and we started playing. That was about it.”