Buck Sanders: North Carolina always seems to match up well with Virginia Tech, as was further evidenced last Thursday, even though the Heels have beaten them only once since the Hokies came into the ACC. Three of their last five contests have been decided by a field goal, and four of the last five by a touchdown or less. Why are these games almost always so close, and what can UNC do to win more of these close games?
Scott Lenahan: You’d like to think that going into every game you prepare with the same discipline and enthusiasm as you do for every other game, but that’s not always the case. It’s much easier to focus and put extra time in on film, practicing with a higher tempo in the week’s preparation leading up to playing a team such Virginia Tech than William & Mary. I’m merely speculating, but you see it all the time. Teams will play up to the competition which they are facing. Knowing that Virginia Tech is a disciplined team and they’ll play sound football puts you in the mindset that you’ll have to play mistake free football and earn everything you get.
Deems May: We match up well with VT. They are straightforward in their schemes and rely heavily on a good running game and good defense. Thursday night is a game that we should have won. We fumbled going in to lead 14-0 and in the 2nd half Ron Cherry and crew made it impossible to compete. I thought we played hard and showed a lot of effort to make it close and we were one yard on the onside kick from really putting them on the ropes. Winning close games is a mentality that is established over time. Leaders step up and make big plays in close games – Bryn Renner, Erik Highsmith , Dwight Jones and our OL stepped up late, we just can’t have lulls in the middle of games.
Quincy Monk: I think it’s the competitive nature of both programs. Both teams are very similar in ability, and that’s why they match up so well on the playing field. I think in order for the Heels to win more of these close games we need to capitalize on our opponent’s mistakes, and minimize our mistakes. We had a great opportunity to go up 14-0 against Virginia Tech this past week, but unfortunately we had a key turnover that shifted the momentum back into Virginia Tech’s favor.
Mark Paschal: The Heels match up well with the Hokies because both teams do very similar things on offense. This sense of familiarity with the opposing offense allows for the defense to play a little faster and with more confidence. Virginia Tech loves to run the football, usually pulling a guard with a power scheme with a fullback leading the way. This is very similar to the blocking schemes that UNC employs. That is why this game is usually so tight and more of a defensive battle than anything.
Buck: No matter what the game looks like on paper, Duke always seems to play North Carolina close. In four of the last six games between the two schools, the Tar Heels have won by 6 points or less. Most would consider North Carolina to have had an overwhelming talent advantage in most of those years, how can you account for the closeness of these games?
Mark: It’s the ACC. Every game is going to be a fight. There really are no “gimmies” in college football. I never lost to Duke. I know some others on this roundtable might have taken one on the chin from the Blue Devils, so you would have to talk to them to see how that feels. I did my part in keeping the Victory Bell in Chapel Hill for four years and I expect the senior class to do the same. You never want to be remembered as the team who lost the Victory Bell.
Quincy: When you have UNC vs. Duke in any sport, you’re always going to have that rivalry. I think Duke always tries to put their best foot forward when they play us in football. I’m pretty sure they mark this game every year on their calendar as their Super Bowl, so that’s why we’ve seen them put so much effort in trying to beat us. Even though it’s well-known that we’ve had the overwhelming talent advantage each and every year, The Blue Devils consistently come out each time mentally fired up to win.
Deems: This has been Duke’s bowl game each and every year. When you know it’s your last game, the players play for the seniors and the coaching staff and seem to find a little extra spark that sometimes is missing in regular season games. Duke is a much improved team and has played good teams close this year. I hope we end the regular season on a good note.
Scott: The same reason I said why we always play Virginia Tech well, but with a twist. The twist being that we’ve always played them for the last game of the season, other than one year, and this is their bowl game. Even if you’ve lost every game all season, you want to end on a high note. I also believe that they actually think they can beat us.
Buck: When N.C. State dominated Clemson on Saturday, while Virginia beat Florida State, we received yet another reminder that the ACC has no dominant teams. Virginia could win the Coastal Division title this Saturday by beating Virginia Tech in Charlottesville, an outcome that would not shock anyone. Does the fact that the ACC seems “ripe for the taking,” make the UNC head-coaching job more attractive to potential candidates?
Deems: Much to the dismay of ABC’ers and uninformed fans across the country, our head-coaching job is one of the top jobs in the country. It doesn’t take a mediocre ACC to make us more attractive. Spend a fall weekend in Chapel Hill, talk to our students, fans, and alumni. Take in a game at Kenan and then walk up to Franklin Street and grab dinner. When you leave on Sunday night, objectively ask yourself if this isn’t a great place to live and coach. Nothing else matters.
Quincy: Most definitely! With the inconsistency within the ACC I definitely feel that potential candidates could very easily think that UNC could be a great platform to compete on a national stage. With no clear-cut dominant team, I think UNC should be an ideal location for someone who is looking to be the forefront in building a great program.
Scott: If Virginia beats Virgina Tech I think I’d be a bit shocked, but then again with all the upsets not only in the ACC but nationwide, it could always happen. Now do I think the UNC job is more appealing because the flux of the ACC? It certainly could have an impact, but I don’t think that’s the selling point. The University itself and the brand recognition we have should be a great selling point to any potential coaching candidate. That and we’ve invested into our football program, displaying that we want to be not only a basketball school, but football as well.
Mark: I would say it makes it less appealing. Right now I would rank the ACC behind some mid-major conferences. Virginia Tech beat us, yeah I get that, but we aren’t a very good football team right now. Clemson, well, Clemson has pulled a Clemson and has completely fallen off the wagon. After that, I see a lot of really average teams fighting for the title. I know that sounds negative, but unless we throw big dollars at someone, I’m not sure how “appealing” the ACC looks.
Buck: What is the ceiling for UNC football? The Tar Heels haven’t won a division title since expansion, and haven’t won an ACC title since 1980. Where should North Carolina be in the pecking order of the ACC? How often should the Tar Heels win a division or ACC title? Assuming that your answer is going to exceed what the Tar Heels have been able to accomplish in the last 30+ years, what has prevented North Carolina football from reaching its potential?
Quincy: We should be at the top of the list when it comes to ACC football. In my opinion there should be no reason why UNC shouldn’t be competing for division and ACC titles. With the amenities, academically and athletically, UNC should be a stable for championships. We have seen the dominance of other sports programs at Carolina, which leads me to believe that we should have the same success with football. It’s been way overdue since we’ve competed for a title, and there’s simply no excuse for it.
Scott: Obviously I’d love to see us win it every year, but realistically I think we should at least be in the top and contending for a position to reach the championship game every year. The reason I believe we’ve been unable to reach these expectations has been our inability to commit to necessitating what a top program needs. To be the best, you need the best. That means great facilities for playing and recruiting and a top-notch coach to steer the ship. I thought with Coach Davis and the presence he brought along was just what the doctored ordered. The past few years we’ve shown as a University our willingness to commit in creating a school known for not just basketball, but football as well. Having said that, I really think that the next coach we hire will be the true litmus test on where we stand with that commitment.
Mark: Longevity in coaching is the key. I understand if you don’t win, you’re out. I get big time college football. We have talent. You kidding me? We have had the same if not better talent than most teams in the ACC for the past four years. Even Mack Brown didn’t win an ACC title here. I honestly believe that this is about longevity in coaching. It takes time to win, to learn to win, to install a coaching philosophy and system. When you have as much head coaching turnover as we have had the last 30 years, there is no chance to build on anything a staff has implemented. North Carolina has everything a student-athlete could ever want. I love Carolina football. I love the University. There is no reason why we cannot compete for an ACC title year in and year out. However, it starts with the leadership of this University, the athletic department and the head coach. If being competitive for an ACC championship is a priority then we will find out shortly. Also, this idea on coaching longevity falls on the loyalty of the head coach as well.
Deems: When I arrived in 1987, the game had passed Coach Crum. Speed was paramount and we were slow (me included). Coach Brown had us close to ACC titles but FSU was a juggernaut in the ‘90s. Had Coach Brown stayed (and he wanted to) we would’ve won multiple ACC titles. Then there was the “lost decade” of Carolina football with a few unexpected contract extending victories, but entirely too many skull-draggings at the hands of non-football powers. We then made a commitment to end the beatings and be competitive. Coach Davis built everything in anticipation of peaking last season. No need to rehash the last two years, but we certainly were close to achieving championships. Who knows what the future holds. It will take strong leadership and an attitude that championship football is vital, not ‘hazardous.’ It will take our leaders understanding that 18-22 year old kids will make mistakes and when they do, you deal with it and not panic. It will take young men on our team to take responsibility for their actions, be leaders, police themselves, and understand that it is a privilege to attend UNC. It will take the non-football faction that exists to understand that like it or not, football success will determine the ability to keep 28 sports. Lastly, it will take a special coach to come in here and revive a gutted fan base, realizing how hungry we are for championship football. Bubba Cunningham is the right man to find this coach.
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.