ACC: Reality check for Tar Heels
By Joedy McCreary
CHAPEL HILL ó Butch Davis has been in this situation before, having to rebuild a young team’s fractured confidence after it blew a chance at a conference championship with a lopsided loss.
North Carolina’s untimely two-game losing streak already has knocked the Tar Heels from the national rankings and cost them a shot to claim the ACC’s Coastal Division title.
And if they don’t soon figure out what has gone wrong, they’ll lose something else ó the Victory Bell that goes each year to the North Carolina-Duke winner.
“Probably the best thing that we’ve got going for us inside this building, inside this program, is reality,” Davis said. “Coaches and players all the time tell the truth. We talk honestly and openly to our players. When they play great, we tell them. When they don’t play as well, (or) we make mistakes as coaches … we’re all in this thing together.”
A 41-10 loss to N.C. State left the Tar Heels (7-4, 3-4 ACC) ahead of only the Blue Devils in the Coastal standings, so Davis is giving his players a history lesson.
A decade ago, Miami team was in contention to win the Big East before it was routed by Donovan McNabb-led Syracuse 66-13, prompting Davis to say his Hurricanes “absolutely got our doors blown off.”
The following week, they upset then-No. 2 UCLA.
“Adversity’s always going to happen in your program, whether it’s injuries or whether it’s a disappointing loss,” Davis said. “I think it says a lot about the character of your players and it says a lot about the integrity of your coaching staff. How do you talk about adversity? … You have to make sense of, and focus on, the real core belief systems of your football team and your program and how you’re going to deal with those kinds of things. I think through intelligence is how you get back on track.”
That, and going back to what has made the Tar Heels successful this year ó a knack for holding on to the ball, converting third downs and limiting big plays on defense.
“I feel like the past two games we’ve gotten away from some of the things we’ve been doing this season,” offensive lineman Garrett Reynolds said. “One thing that we talked about as an offensive unit, we’re just going to get back on those things … and really just push what we had on our mind at the beginning of the year.”
The Tar Heels, who this season are converting 40 percent of their third downs, are a combined 4-for-22 during their current slide. They have turned the ball over eight times in that stretch.
That includes six giveaways in the loss to the Wolfpack, with T.J. Yates throwing an interception in his return to the starting lineup and former starter Cameron Sexton tossing two picks. Davis wasn’t ready to name a starter Monday, saying he would continue to evaluate the position.
“We’re going to play the guy that’s going to give us the best chance to win this Saturday, and we’re going to watch both of them in practice,” Davis said. “There were some mechanical things that T.J. didn’t do well in the game that I think really hurt his performance, and I think that’s one of the things we need to make sure of, with the speed and the tempo of practice … We’ve just got to get some of those flaws fixed.”