CHAPEL HILL – Larry Fedora puts a lot of emphasis on the 2015 North Carolina football team.
Despite what UNC teams of the past have or have not done, Fedora stresses this is the 2015 team. It didn’t matter to this 2015 team that the Tar Heels hadn’t won at Georgia Tech since 1997. The 2015 team doesn’t care that the 2014 team didn’t play games like this – the 26-13 win over Virginia, where UNC forced five turnovers and pitched a second-half shutout.
“We don’t like to dwell on the past,” offensive guard Landon Turner said. “Whatever would’ve happened last year, that’s last year. That’s the 2014 team, this is the 2015 team, and I think that is the biggest difference.”
Was it pretty? Not by any means. North Carolina (6-1, 3-0) had two turnovers – both in the first half, and trailed Virginia (2-5, 1-2) by three, 10-7, heading into the second quarter. The officials got a workout as well, as the two teams combined for 23 penalties for 197 yards. But the Tar Heels buckled down and found a way to win its sixth game in a row.
“It was a sloppy game in a lot of different ways,” Fedora said. “Especially with penalties and shooting ourselves in the foot. But we did what we needed to do to win a Coastal Division game, and that was important for us.”
T.J. Logan (3-26) and Elijah Hood (21-103, 2TDs) both scored rushing touchdowns for UNC in the first half, Logan’s on a 16-yard run in the first quarter, Hood’s a 3-yard dash in the second, but the game was tied at 13 after two field goals and a 1-yard TD from UVA.
In the second half, however, Carolina’s defense gritted its teeth, holding UVA to just 127 total yards. The most important part – they kept the Wahoos off the scoreboard. North Carolina senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, who finished with nine tackles, said about midway through the second half they had the Cavaliers figured out.
“After the third drive we knew what they were running,” Schoettmer said. “Once we adjusted to them and figured out what they were trying to get us with, we were ready to go.”
UVA started the game hot, scoring a touchdown and getting two field goals on three of its first five possessions, tying the game at 13. After that, their next six possessions ended with a pick by Sam Smiley, a punt, an interception by Malik Simmons, an interception by Shakeel Rashad, a fumble that was recovered by UNC defensive tackle Robert Dinkins and another interception by Simmons.
“They were running four plays over and over that were hurting us,” Schoettmer said. “So we just got those four plays corrected, they ran them again in the second half, we knew they were coming, but we just executed.”
Carolina only got one touchdown in the second half – a 3-yard run by Hood – and two field goals from Nick Weiler. It wasn’t the offensive explosion that UNC fans had grown accustomed to lately, but a win is a win.
“It’s hard to get wins, especially in our league, just in general it’s hard to get wins,” Turner said. “So none of them are to be looked down apond in any way. You should be proud of any win that you get. We just have to look at this game and see what we need to take from it to get better.”
Game Changer – Things didn’t start out perfect, but they could not have ended any better for UNC’s defense, shutting UVA down in the second half and forcing five turnovers. Of UVA’s last six possessions, five ended in a turnover.
“It’s not about the adjustments and speeches (at halftime) and all that,” Fedora said. “It’s all about staying calm, talking them through what’s really happening, and then letting them adjust to it. Our guys have played really well in the second half.”
Stick With It – Giving the ball to Elijah Hood is the obvious answer here. Hood rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry against the Wahoos.
Get Rid of It – Carolina has to throw that two-point conversion attempt on the PAT out the windown. The Heels line up with their PAT kick team on the field, but depending on the look from the defense, they have the option to throw a pass for the two-point conversion. So far this season it has failed more times than not, like it did Saturday against UVA.
Numbers don’t lie
5 – Number of turnovers by the Cavaliers.
45 – North Carolina has now just allowed 45 points in the second half this season, that’s 6.4 points per game.
6 – Carolina has won six consecutive games for the first time sinec the ‘96 and ‘97 seasons.
Malik Simmons, North Carolina – The senior cornerback came up big in the second half, particuliarly the fourth quarter, picking off two passes.
Shakeel Rashad, North Carolina – The senior linebacker tied his career high with 10 tackles and picked off his second pass of the year.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina – Williams shook off an early interception, finishing 21-26 with 226 yards through the air and another 82 rushing.
What’s Next? – North Carolina has a quick turnaround, heading to Pittsburg on Thursday night for a showdown with the Panthers. Fedora said he and his staff would start breaking down the Pitt film right after the win over Virginia, but the game plan together on Sunday, practice Monday, Tuesday and get on a plane Wednesday to head to the Steel City.
Quotes of the Day
“We look back last year, and we might have crumbled in situations like today. We pulled it together, pulled tight as a team, you know, offense, defense, special teams, we all came together.” – Marquise Williams.