“That’s what I got for two weeks of practice?”
Those words by head coach Larry Fedora, not long after the Yellow Jackets scored the most points ever on UNC by a conference opponent, left a searing mark.
“I’ll never forget that,” associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning told reporters on Wednesday. “I didn’t have a response to it, just ‘Sorry.’”
To be fair, UNC utilized its bye week last November to rest up its starters and give backups more reps. Wednesday of the bye week was the only day UNC dedicated to Georgia Tech as the players lifted on Thursday and took Friday and Saturday off.
And while Koenning insists his players were prepared schematically for the Yellow Jackets, execution of the game plan failed.
“We just didn’t make plays,” Koenning said. “We weren’t fast enough, we didn’t get off the blocks and we didn’t make tackles… They were better than us.”
There’s reason to trust Koenning’s ability to game plan against Paul Johnson’s offense. In 2008, his Clemson defense held the Yellow Jackets to 207 rushing yards on 52 carries, good for a 4.0-yards-per-carry average.
“The plan we had last year had worked pretty good when we had as good or better players than them,” Koenning said.
UNC has yet to hold Johnson’s multi-dimensional ground game to under 300 years in five games (1-4). The Yellow Jackets are averaging 341.4 rushing yards on a 5.5-yards-per-carry clip against the Tar Heels under Johnson.
The Tar Heels travel to Atlanta on Sept. 21 for their ACC opener.
Fedora confirmed an emphasis on Georgia Tech this week during his radio show on Tuesday night. UNC wrapped up Middle Tennessee in practice on Sunday night before working extensively on the Yellow Jackets on Tuesday and Wednesday. A similar practice is planned for Thursday afternoon.
“We’re going to have real practices,” the second-year UNC head coach said. “We’re getting after it pretty good in practice.”
While Koenning and his defensive staff have spent time the past two offseasons researching methods to slow down Johnson’s offense, senior defensive end Kareem Martin said those discussions don’t typically reach the players.
“You don’t really spend too much time on Georgia Tech because it doesn’t translate to the rest of your season other than that one Saturday when you do play them,” Martin said.
Freshman walk-on running back Reid Baxter and senior Ram Terry Shankle are working as the scout team quarterbacks this week. And to make practice more like game day against Georgia Tech, UNC’s scout team is cut blocking.
Various coaches and players spoke to the benefits involved with having an extra week to prepare for the Yellow Jackets’ offense.
“You get to prepare a little bit more,” senior safety Tre Boston said. “You get the extra four or five practices that you normally wouldn’t get. To get those practices, it really helps, because our coaches are able to throw literally everything at us. They throw stuff at us that we’ve never seen in games, but it’s one of those things they have to do to make sure that we’re prepared at all times.”
Now it’s just a matter of turning bye week preparation into a game day victory.