Buck Sanders: Wake Forest, being in the Atlantic Division, is now an infrequent UNC football opponent, but in the games I’ve been to, Wake Forest seems to get fired up to play this game. How much do you think emotion will play into the game on Saturday? Do you think North Carolina can match Wake Forest’s emotional intensity?
Mark Paschal: We had better match their intensity from the opening kick or we will be in for a long game. The game of football has to be played with intensity and passion to be successful, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Often times “emotion” is not jumping up and down and dancing during warm ups; it is a look in your teammates eyes before the kickoff and you know, undoubtedly, he is going to do everything physically possible to win the game and he believes that you will do the same for him.
Quincy Monk: Wake Forest always gets emotionally high and pumped up anytime they play us. They look to this game as a bit of a rivalry. I know for certain that the Demon Deacons are going to be emotionally fired up to play us on Saturday. We better make sure that we are ready to match their intensity or it could be a long game for the Heels. Wake Forest isn’t a team that we should take lightly, so hopefully the Heels will have that mindset on Saturday.
Scott Lenahan: It should be emotional, every game is emotional. You put so much work in year round for only a few games a year. The culmination of all your hard effort can sometimes come down to just a few plays, and I hope these guys realize that. I think most do. With this being an in-state rivalry game for us and homecoming, I’d hope that we’d be emotional, especially after what transpired this past weekend.
Deems May: We can’t worry about Wake’s intensity. We need to concentrate on nothing but how we are going to play this week. Our whole team needs to watch Sylvester Williams’ game last week and commit to playing like he did. If we do that, we will not have to worry about how much intensity Wake plays with.
Buck: Wake Forest has discovered a potent passing attack this season, averaging 285 yards a game through the air. North Carolina is next to last in the ACC in pass defense, giving up over 263 yards per game. What does North Carolina have to do defensively against Wake Forest to negate this seeming advantage for the Deacons?
Quincy: I really would like for UNC to start to add some defensive pressure with more blitz packages against opposing teams. The few times where we were able to bring six or more defensive members, we were able to get the quarterback off his rhythm. Pressure will only add in helping to negate Wake Forest’s passing attack. I expect to see more pressure applied to opposing teams.
Scott: One word: Pressure. Against Clemson it worked when we brought the pressure. When we sat back and tried to keep things in front of us we got beat. Why not gamble and bring it? If we get beat, we get beat. Athletically, our team is off the charts. I’d rather see us get beat by someone just being better than us physically, than a team getting a touchdown off of blown coverage or a missed assignment. Sometimes the best thing for these guys is to unleash them. Let them pin their ears back and create some plays.
Deems: We have to go back to the mere basics in coverage, stick with as simple a plan as possible and go play. Don’t think, react, find some confidence. Find a new leader with Matt Merletti gone, be aggressive, get a few PI’s, holding calls..whatever -- just be aggressive and attack. If you miss a jam or they complete a pass, so what? Get up and go play hard the next play. But have some fun and try to knock receivers out legally who come in to your zone.
Mark: Pressure the quarterback and guard some wide outs that have been running freely through the secondary would be a good start. In all seriousness, we desperately have to develop a better pass rush – it’s killing our secondary, and our secondary has to guard someone so our pass rush has a chance to get there.
Buck: There’s been a good bit of criticism of UNC quarterback Bryn Renner in recent weeks, some arguing that he has regressed as a quarterback over the course of the season. How do you assess the play of Renner? Is he getting better?
Deems: Renner set the bar high early. Last year we all were calling for him before T.J. Yates had a great camp. Expectations were high for him and they went higher with a near perfect opening game. He is not taking good care of the ball. Fumbles have popped up in the last two games and non-aggressive decisions and throws have lead to too many picks. Rumor has it that he is hurting out there, so his toughness can’t be questioned. He needs to relax and have fun, too. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself - study, prepare, be decisive and have fun. If you make a mistake, do it full speed and don’t let it lead to other mistakes. Football is a fun game, but it can beat you down if you lose confidence - find a way to get confidence back and step up and be a leader. That is what great QB’s do.
Mark: I wouldn’t throw Renner under the bus quite yet. I really think it is a combination of poor execution and unconventional play calling. Renner has the same arm, same feet, same everything he had when he started the year. His confidence is obviously shaken but this is to be expected from a first-year quarterback – we were spoiled with his early season play against inferior opponents. Let’s not crucify him yet. I am looking forward to seeing how he responds the rest of the year.
Quincy: I think Renner is continuing to improve in his quarterback play; his ability to stretch the field with his deep passing ability keeps us competitive offensively. However I think some of the turnovers are a bit concerning. We have to find a way not to give opposing teams extra opportunities to score by protecting the football. I addition, we still must remember that this is Renner’s first year as a starter, so there still will be a lot of growing pains throughout the season. We should expect Bryn to get better as the season continues.
Scott: I can’t say that he is the same quarterback we saw in the beginning of the season. I understand that his ankle has been causing him some problems, but he definitely is more timid. He seems robotic in his progressions at times and waiting for certain receivers or routes to develop instead of reading the field and coverages. Playing quarterback is a difficult position and extremely mental. With the complications of the different shifts, movements, check downs, it could be causing him to over think and not play fluid. He’d feel more comfortable and play relaxed if we could simplify things for him a bit. I also understand that as the season progresses you need to add wrinkles, which again adds to the complexity of running the offense. Renner has all the tools and will be an amazing quarterback for us, he just needs to relax and not put so much pressure on himself.
Buck: T.J. Thorpe didn’t start as a kickoff returner last week, interim head coach Everett Withers saying he didn’t start Thorpe because he had a fumble against Miami – he reinserted him after Charles Brown fumbled a kick. What’s your theory about sitting players who’ve made a mistake? Does it make them more competitive, or does it make them tight, fearing they’ll make a mistake?
Quincy: I think when you sit a player that makes a mistake on the football field, it can have two different outcomes. It can force a player to be play more cautiously resulting in the individual playing nervous and scared to make a mistake, or it can result in a wakeup call for the player. The result of T.J. Thorpe’s mistake was a kickoff return. Let’s see what the result we will get from Charles Brown on Homecoming.
Deems: Not sure who made this call but it was a mistake to sit him and that’s not hindsight after the touchdown. If Thorpe would’ve had a fumble comparable to Brown’s in the third quarter where Brown was dancing and stopped (you never, ever break stride when returning a kick) on a return then, yes, you sit him. Or if his fumble was like Highsmith’s in the second quarter with the ball hanging out and not protected, sit him, but not Thorpe’s in the Miami game. The defender put his helmet right on the ball, T.J. was going full speed and hitting a return like you are supposed to (not dancing, or stopping like it is high school). Not many people would’ve held on to that ball. T.J. returns kicks like you are supposed to: straight line, full speed, don’t make your move until you break through the first line (like he did on Saturday) - that is how you return kickoffs.
Scott: Tough question. I think it really depends on the player and it’s a case-by-case basis. If a player messes up you obviously don’t let it slide, but in most cases the player will be harder on themselves than the coach would be. That being said, I think that it usually fuels competition. You want to prove the coach wrong and prove to yourself that although a mistake was made, I’m still the man for the job. But the caveat to that is if you pull a player who’s producing and just made a small mental error, it can break them. They might think instead of it being a punishment, that the coach no longer has confidence in them. Obviously Thorpe is a special kid and came back with the vengeance, and I’m sure glad he did.
Mark: Every player makes mistakes, it is part of the game. I am all for sitting players who make mistakes, too. They will get another opportunity and when they do, sometimes they just take it 100 yards for a touchdown. You cannot play tight or scared, this is big boy football and you will be held accountable for mistakes. But there are two types of mistakes: I can live with a mistake if it is someone going 100 miles and hour, giving everything they have to make a play. I can’t live with a mistake if it is an unfocused or an unforced error (not saying that either fumble by Brown or Thorpe was unfocused or unforced, but you have to protect the ball in the kicking game, if not it will get you beat every time).
Buck: A win over Wake Forest would make North Carolina bowl eligible. How important is it for this team, with all the adversity they’ve dealt with, to make it to a bowl game this year?
Scott: I’d be lying to say that it wouldn’t be important to this team go to a bowl, but I know that they expected better and more from themselves. Especially with all the tools and great players we had on the roster, I think these guys expected nothing less than an ACC Championship. Heck, I know I wanted it for them, too. But make no doubt about it, the way our team comes out against Wake Forrest will speak volumes about the personality of this team. If it’s the team I think it is, we should be coming out Saturday to play Wake Forrest with blood in our eyes.
Quincy: It would be a tremendous achievement for these guys to come out of this year with an opportunity to play in a bowl game. Through all the heartache and black clouds that have hovered over Chapel Thrill, it would be good to see some positive light shine over the season.
Mark: Becoming bowl eligible would be huge for this team. We need some positive energy and a boost in morale to finish this season. We have a month of football left, and for the majority of our seniors, it will be the last four games of their life. How do you want to be remembered? This is your time, make the most of it. Leave it all out there and play for one another. Play for Coach Withers, play for your personal champion who has helped you get to where you are now, and play for No. 25 - because I’d be damned if he saw me take a play off and not give it all I had every snap. Matt, thank you for your effort and commitment these past five years on the field, in the classroom, in the community and in the locker room. You are what is right with college football. You have represented our University with class, honor and dignity; you have made me very proud.
Deems: The situation that we are in did not have to happen. But it is what it is. Bowl games should be the furthest from anyone’s mind right now. It’s unfortunate where we are and I feel bad for the seniors who will play their last two home games to a half empty stadium and conversation of who has tickets to the battleship basketball game in San Diego. This team has to make a decision this week and I’m not talking about the coaches, just the players. Do they want to be 5-7 or 9-3? (either is very possible). Do they want to be the team that started 5-1 and lost 6 in a row or 5-1, lost two and battled back and played in a desirable bowl game? The talent is here to do the latter, but it will take leadership from within, playing hard every play, not worrying about mistakes, and having fun. This has to come from the players; they have to want the best for their coaches and each other (especially the seniors who have done it right). It starts Saturday with Wake Forest, let’s see how much heart we have, let’s play like big Sylvester plays every down.
Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.
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.
Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.
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.