Deems & Mark: State of the Heels

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders conducts the weekly roundtable discussion as former Tar Heels Deems May and Mark Paschal tackle the key issues heading into Saturday's clash with Duke.

Buck: First of all, kudos to you both. Last week each of you spent some time defending your opinion that Virginia Tech wasn't an unbeatable team. It's one thing to say Virginia Tech is beatable, it is another to go into Blacksburg on a Thursday night and defeat the Hokies. How big a win was this for the Tar Heels, both for this year and as a step forward for UNC under Butch Davis?

Deems: It was obviously a big win. I feel like thumping my chest a little bit because I took a lot of heat for saying that we weren't that far behind the elite teams nationally after I saw the Alabama/UT game. I also couldn't get anyone to ride up to Blacksburg with me Thursday night to see "Virginia Tech beat us silly." I told them I didn't think that would happen, but still couldn't get any takers.

Sure Virginia Tech has won the ACC a couple of times in the last few years, but let's face it, the ACC hasn't exactly been dominant. Sure they've got a lunchbox on the sideline and the gasconading special teams (aka Beamerball), the car keys on third down, and the unbeatable Thursday night record. I will admit to all those, but we were faster and more athletic on defense and our offensive coordinator was much more creative than theirs. Our offensive line opened up holes in the running game and picked up a key blitz on the corner route to Greg Little for the touchdown (something we haven't been able to do). We had a quarterback who came back after a horrible turnover and stayed cool to lead us down the field (this was perhaps a career saver for him). And on special teams a punter who threw a Russian sickle on their returner!

They learned from their mistakes from the previous week and did not repeat them. All of these are signs of a well-coached team and one that is maturing. Coincidentally, I've got the same people who laughed at me about going to Blacksburg calling for Duke and Miami tickets and screaming "9-3 baby!" Go figure. But come on to the Hill this week, I don't hold grudges - plenty of room to get on the train.

Mark: Buck, thank you. I will take credit where credit is due. Deems and I believed. Those boys wearing the blue helmets deserve a whole lot of credit. Nobody thought they stood a chance, but they silenced a lot of critics by going into Virginia Tech, on Thursday night and coming away with a win. This a huge win for this program and for this team, undoubtedly, but this is much bigger than that for those players on that team. They will remember this game for the rest of their lives and I am proud of those guys. Buck, this is also a great lesson for all those people who said: ‘It cant be done, the season's over, T.J. this, defense that.' What a turnaround for this group of guys.

I said this to Deems when I saw him Friday night at my brother's game: if that game is at home, and T.J. throws that interception and they score, my guess is he gets booed, stands empty out, and we lose that game. Since we were on the road, T.J. didn't hear any boos, didn't see the stadium empty, and went out and orchestrated one of the most memorable drives and comebacks in recent UNC history. T.J. didn't quit, the team didn't quit, they pulled together and made enough big plays to win.

Buck: Mark, do you have any insight into the way the defensive coaches are changing up the linebackers during the game? They move Quan Sturdivant around, they bring Kevin Reddick in and out with Zach Brown, they switch up and bring in Kennedy Tinsley. I know in some cases it may be get to some players experience, like Reddick, but in other cases it is not, like Tinsley. It is just a matter of keeping the players fresh, is it about the match-ups the offense presents, or some combination of both?

Mark: Real insight, no, but I can give you my best guess. I think that the best three guys UNC has right now are Kevin Reddick, Quan Sturdivant and Bruce Carter. When I say the best I mean most talented with a healthy dose of football smarts. I think the staff is trying to keep these guys as fresh as possible while also getting some valuable playing time and learning experience as well. Kennedy Tinsley is a great leader, enthusiastic, does it the right way and plays with a burning passion – it's tough as a coach to keep a guy like that off the field, especially when he is performing so well on special teams. Zach Brown is still an athletic wonder, but needs to continue to learn how to play the game consistently on the college level, and the best way to do that is valuable game reps. That's my guess, Buck.

Buck: This week UNC will face a Duke team unlike any current Tar Heel has faced – one with a winning record. Duke has played UNC tough the past four years. Do you have any doubts about whether the Tar Heels will be able to get up for this game?

Deems: If the Heels don't get up for this game, they will get beat. Plain and simple. However, I'm not worried about them getting up for this game. How they responded to a heartbreaking loss to FSU with the effort and execution against an "unbeatable at Lane Stadium on ESPN on a Thursday night" VPI team and Beamerball, gives me confidence that the coaches will not let them become complacent. How can you become complacent when you're 5-3 and fighting for a bowl game?

What does scare me is the game-planning film UNC gave Duke (especially for their offensive game plan) during the second half against FSU. Cutcliffe probably has watched the second half of that game 100 times and will devise his entire plan from this tape. Make no mistake about this coach, they will be ready and will have a great plan.

Mark: Duke is a talented football team. I do not have any doubts that the guys in that locker room will be able to get up for this game. I never lost to Duke, Deems might have, but I never did - but I can remember watching Carolina/Duke games where Duke came out on top. There is nothing worse than seeing those guys sprint over, spray cans in hand, grab that bell and have it covered in royal blue before you can blink. No Tar Heel should ever have to deal with that. This is always a pride game - this is their Super Bowl and they always come to play. This isn't a Duke team of old; this is a strong football team with an outstanding coach. It should be a great fall atmosphere in Kenan this Saturday.

Buck: Deems, it seemed to me that the Tar Heels could get nothing going offensively until Ryan Houston got into the game. In fact, in their first three UNC possessions, the Tar Heels were minus nine yards in total offense. Once Houston came in, it seemed like the whole offense opened up. What am I missing? Shouldn't Houston be getting a few more touches a game?

Deems: Ryan Houston definitely gave UNC a spark, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here. First of all, let's give the offensive coordinator a little credit. Sure they were unproductive the first few series; let's credit the Hokie defense, the crowd, the hype that they felt being in "unwinnable for the visiting team" Lane Stadium. The first few series always gives away what the defensive coordinator has game planned. You get to sit back and see what they are going to do on each down, you adjust accordingly, and then the chess match begins. Shoop and Pittman made great adjustments and the running game started clicking. Some of those holes you could run through, Buck.

I think Shaun Draughn and Houston are becoming a great combination (I would, however, like for them to wait until they get in the secondary before they keep trying these cutbacks—those work in high school all the time, but only once or twice in college). I watch them both closely on passing downs and Draughn is an excellent blitz pickup blocker, route runner and catcher, and much quicker on screen passes. All of this is contributing to his touching the ball more. However, they are both key to UNC being productive on offense.

Buck: Do you have an opinion about when the Tar Heels should play Duke? I know as a player you play the games as they show up on the schedule, and that when you play a team doesn't necessarily factor into your mindset. As an observer, however, do you think the Tar Heels should stick with the tradition of the past 40 years of – with rare exceptions – playing Duke last, or do you prefer the N.C. State match-up or some other game last?

Deems: Before Cutcliffe, when Duke was losing every game, I would have preferred to play them last. When we are fighting for the ACC championship game every year it would have been nice to have played Duke before going to the championship game (again, pre-Cutcliffe). That has changed, and you have to give him credit - he's the obvious COY in the ACC.

I think it'll be neat to play State on the last week of the season; their fans really, really hate us and it will make for a great atmosphere over in West Raleigh at the end of the year. The only potential future downside of that is if we both were playing for the ACC championship, you could conceivably play each other back-to-back weeks and that would be tough for both teams, but probably pretty awesome for the fans.

Mark: I honestly would rather play State at the end and Duke in the middle. Buck, I just really don't like N.C. State as a whole. I went 2-2 against State. The State fans, for the most part, are nasty characters that love hating Carolina more than they actually like going to State. I never really understood why they hate UNC so much - they have pretty girls there, too.

When I got hurt against them last year and found out it would be the last time I would play football, I was left with a fairly sour taste in my mouth. I would love to strap on my helmet one more time against those guys and beat them the last game of the year. Buck, I do not have anything bad to say about Tom O'Brien and his staff. They are all incredibly classy guys and I have a lot of respect for them and hope that we keep this UNC/N.C. State game at the end of the year - would even love to see it back in Charlotte every once in a while.

Buck: Once again, awesome stuff guys and look forward to next week's discussion.


May
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.
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. He's the host of the Inside Carolina Call-In postgame radio show.

Paschal

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