IC's Game Week Coverage Recap
As Matt Baker becomes more and more seasoned after just six starts, it's not out of the realm of possibility he could show significant improvement as the Tar Heels embark on the second half of the season. And although his play has been solid throughout the year, in fact one could argue he's carried the UNC offense on his back in several games, a noticeable jump in his level of play couldn't come at a better time than this Saturday.
The only real quantifiable knock on Baker at this point is his eight interceptions. Other than that, considering his relative inexperience, Carolina fans can only be pleased with the way the fifth-year senior has performed.
"I think Matt's played really well at times," John Bunting said. "I'm sure he would like to have some throws back, but he's been extremely competitive, and I think he's been pretty poised."
Both coach and quarterback agree if the Tar Heels can get a consistent running attack going it will make Baker even more efficient across the board and even extend to better pass protection from the offensive line.
"It's nice when you can run the ball," Baker said. "We weren't in first down and long much against Virginia. That enables Coach [Gary] Tranquill to be able to call a run or a pass (on second down). From a quarterback standpoint, when you see a shorter down and distance, you don't have to push the ball downfield as much. You don't have to take as many deep shots. You can stay within the game plan.
"When you're in second and long, they can come at you. They can drop everybody back in coverage and come at you. They know a pass is coming."
Now to beat Miami, Carolina may have to play a near perfect game. Even then, the Tar Heels may still need some help. While few experts are giving UNC much of a chance to challenge for the ACC's BCS bowl invitation, it hasn't been mathematically eliminated yet.
However, Bunting says he won't allow his team to look beyond the next game, nor will he discuss with them what other teams in the conference are doing outside of routine scouting of the competition.
"We have to be more concerned ourselves," Bunting said. "I've been around coaches who did that and would talk about running the table and so forth. To me, that's really far fetched. We have to focus on every game – particularly in college ball. We don't get to play four preseason games. I never talk about who's doing this or who's doing that.
"But I am focused in on the fact that we're 2-1 right now, which is good."