CHAPEL HILL – To his credit, Larry Fedora knew what was coming when he met with the media on Monday at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Even though the Tar Heels’ 17-13 loss to South Carolina is four days old, and the team has moved on, Fedora is savvy enough to know the media still wants answers from that game, particularly the last drive.
Down by four, the Heels drove the length of the field and got into scoring distance after a 29-yard run by sophomore Elijah Hood. The Charlotte native was averaging 11.5 yards per carry, but when the Heels needed less than that, Hood was a spectator. Fedora knew it was coming, so instead of waiting, he decided to address the final drive head on.
“We’ve already put the thing to bed and we’re concentrating on (North Carolina) A&T,” Fedora said during his opening statement. “But I’m sure you guys questions are going to be from the other night. So let’s go ahead and get these addressed.”
Initially, Fedora was asked about senior quarterback Marquise Williams and his three turnovers, two coming in the redzone. The last pick was the final blow to any chances of UNC pulling off a season-opening win over an SEC opponent. In real time, it just looked like a bad throw by Williams. Fedora said as much on Monday.
“He just didn’t get the throw where we needed it to be.”
The throw was a problem, but an even bigger problem, at least to Monday morning quarterbacks and armchair coaches, was why Hood’s number wasn’t called at least once during the final three plays. Hood proved to be unstoppable in the second half against the Gamecocks. Surely, with less than 15 yards to go, a couple of touches by Hood would have resulted in the game-winning touchdown, right? That’s easy to say now. But in the heat of the moment, Fedora was OK with the play call from offensive coordinator Seth Littrell. Granted, Fedora didn’t have a crystal ball on the sideline. He didn’t know Williams would throw the ball right into the hands of USC linebacker Skai Moore. He liked the call. Littrell liked the call. The right personnel was in the game. The play just wasn’t executed.
“If I could a lot of things over again I would,” Fedora said. “But I don’t get the option to do that. We could have called a different pass, a different run, we could have called a lot of different things. But the one that was called, we had prepared for. We felt good about the calls or we wouldn’t have made those calls in the game. We expected them to be successful. Unfortunately they weren’t.”
The Tar Heels didn’t have a set number of scripted plays, but Fedora said they have a game-plan for the redzone. Apparently the 6’0” 220 pound Hood wasn’t in those plans. Or was he?
After Hood broke for a 29-yard gain, he was taken out of the game to rest. Hood said he typically needs only one or two plays to get his wind, and he’s ready to return. On film, it looked like Hood was about to take the field again, but was pulled back at the last second. Hood and Fedora both said on Monday when the Heels are in their hurry-up mode they don’t substitute, mainly because they don’t want the defense to have the opportunity to do the same.
Asked if he was surprised he wasn’t in the game, Hood paused for a second, laughed and said he wasn’t. Hard to tell if he really believed that. Not to ruffle any feathers, Hood went with the classic cliche his next statement.
“I believe in what we do,” Hood said. “I usually go in when they (the coaches) call me and come out when they tell me to come out. I’m a football player, I trust what the coaches do. They tell me to run a play, I just do whatever they want.”
In the heat of the moment, the coaches (especially in hurry-up mode) don’t discuss who is in the game and who’s on the sideline. When asked if there was a lesson to be learned for future references, Fedora simply responded, “yeah, I guess.”
Hood didn’t ask the coaches for an explanation after the game. He said he figured since they were in a faster tempo, that’s why he was on the sidelines, instead of in the backfield. However, looking back at the ESPN broadcast, the normally quiet Hood, appeared to be extra animated on the sidelines after the final South Carolina interception.
The bottom line, Fedora explained, was this: The team went with what they thought was the best call, and it didn’t work.
“If we would have been successful, we wouldn’t be talking about these things,” the fourth-year coach said. “The plays that were called, were called because that’s what we prepared for in that situation and we felt like they would be successful. We didn’t execute the play that was called. If I knew right now that those plays wouldn’t have been successful I would not have run them, I promise you.”