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September 9, 2010North Carolina head coach Butch Davis and his staff wasted no time after the LSU game Labor Day weekend watching the film and getting a thorough evaluation of itself.
UNC's remarkable fourth quarter comeback against the Tigers made for high drama and a potential storybook ending, but the tape showed a few things that might have been better on the Tar Heels' end earlier in the game that could have been the difference in winning or losing.
"A lot of times---and I believe this strongly about coaching---a lot of times it's not really so much about the opponents. It's more about your own football team," said Davis.
"We made enough mistakes and enough poor plays during the course of the ball game that if we would have just played better for ourselves we would have given ourselves an even better chance to have won the game."
"Probably the one real disappointing aspect from the game is we didn't play real well on special teams," Davis continued. "Our coverage units weren't as good as we would have liked them to have been."
"There are some things that we're going to spend a significant amount of time (this week) trying to fix us, and not worry too much about the next opponent."
While the bye this week is clearly crucial from the standpoint of having more time to deal with the NCAA situation and perhaps get more information on who's going to be able to play, it's also good in that it gives Carolina valuable extra time to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option offense.
In 2008, when UNC had a bye week to prepare for the Yellow Jackets, the Tar Heels completely shut down coach Paul Johnson's scheme except for a single late-game play en route to a 28-7 blowout win.
But that was two years ago---before the Yellow Jackets won an ACC title in Johnson's second season of 2009, and before the Tar Heels had 13 players suspended for the LSU game in Atlanta due to ongoing NCAA and internal academic investigations.
The Georgia Tech offensive approach will certainly consume plenty of practice time leading up to the game, but at the same time Davis was quick to point out the significance of staying focused on a lot of different things.
"As a coach you end up---and especially as a head coach---you have to learn to compartmentalize a lot of things," Davis said.
"At certain times you've got to focus on offense, defense, special teams, recruiting, alumni functions, the media---all those different kinds of things."
"You have to put everything in perspective to deal with it appropriately when it's important, and all my focus right now is how to make this football team better," he continued. "How can we take the performance that we had Saturday night, take a look at it, be honest and realistic with ourselves."
"Who played well? Can they play a little bit better? Who maybe didn't play as well as they could? Can they play better and how can we as coaches help those kids play to the best of their ability?"
Clearly one of the biggest highlights from Atlanta was the play of senior quarterback T.J. Yates, who played with tremendous precision and heart in giving UNC a bona fide chance of coming out on top.
The veteran signal-caller took on many challenges Saturday night, including early problems exchanging the ball with Jonathan Cooper, an illegal bit hit out of bounds by an LSU defender, along with a 20-point second half deficit, and came out of it reborn in the eyes of many.
You're only as good as your next mistake in college football or any other sport, but Yates' 412-yard, no-interception performance against the Tigers is further evidence that the glowing things said about him during training camp by his coaches and teammates was on target.
"From an offensive perspective T.J. Yates played extremely well. He had a very good game. He was smart with the football, made some good throws," Davis said.
Yates' favorite targets, Jheranie Boyd and Zack Pianalto, combined to make 14 catches for 295 yards.
Boyd's fantastic six-catch, 221-yard outing included the longest pass play in school history when Yates found him deep for a 97-yarder five minutes into the fourth quarter---a play that sparked the Tar Heel offense at a time when it could have laid down and gotten blown out by LSU.
"We were pleased with our receivers. We thought that those guys made some plays," Davis said.
"Certainly Jhay Boyd obviously was the highlight of the game from the receivers' standpoint. He did a very, very good job."
The biggest offensive downside for UNC aside of the early turnovers was the fact that they couldn't find a sustained running game.
Although Anthony Elzy did a decent job under tough circumstances with 49 yards on 14 carries, Johnny White struggled with just 23 yards on eight carries, including an early fumble.
The two senior running backs were last number one and two on the depth chart for UNC back in 2007, when they were redshirt freshmen.
"We didn't run the ball as effectively as we would have liked to have run during the course of the game," Davis said.
One the biggest highlights of the game from a defensive standpoint was clearly the play of UNC's secondary---players such as Tre Boston, Gene Robinson, Matt Merletti, Mywan Jackson, and LeCount Fantroy----who all stepped in as first-time starters and played their guts out.
Aside of a 50-yard touchdown pass to Rueben Randle in the second quarter, UNC's secondary held LSU's passing game largely in check---holding the Tigers to just 151 total passing yards for the game.
"We had no idea how well they'd play given the level of experience they brought to the game," Davis said of the secondary.
"Defensively some young guys who hadn't played much did a nice job. They came in, played well and made some plays."
"I think that they'll clearly be better for having had that experience, playing against LSU" Davis added. "They were as good a football team as we thought they were going into the game."
While clearly UNC is hoping to get back some or most all of its suspended players in time for September 18's showdown in Kenan Stadium against the Yellow Jackets, the fact that so many players played so well their first time out speaks volumes about the way these kids have prepared and gotten themselves ready to play at a high level.
"As I said after the game, I think that the things that transpired in the second half made a pretty good statement about these kids and their character and their willpower, their ability to really compete, and take an awful lot of pride in Carolina and the way we played," Davis said.
"How we play makes a statement about us."
The big questions now are what kind of statement will the Tar Heels make against Georgia Tech, and which players will be out on the field to make it?
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