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Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders hosts a collection of former Tar Heels for the weekly 'State of the Heels' football roundtable discussion.
Buck Sanders – Here we are to talk about last weekend and the upcoming game with Virginia Tech. I’ll start with Quincy about his thoughts on that. What are your thoughts about playing Virginia Tech this coming weekend?
Quincy Monk - They’re definitely a team we need to beat. I’m looking forward to these guys coming in our house; I heard it’s an all-white helmet affair, which, I saw the helmet – it looks sick – I wish I still had some eligibility left. But these guys, I’m looking forward to playing them on Saturday .
Brian Chacos - I was on the team in 2004, where we were a field goal away and a bad sack knocked us out of field goal range. I would agree with Quincy, a team definitely disliked – not as much as N.C. State, but a team definitely disliked. I know a bunch of guys, lettermen, are coming back - Matt Baker and a bunch of guys are going to be back in town; it’s going to be a great atmosphere. These guys are coming off of bad losses and tough games. They’re going to be looking to get back on track with an ACC slate coming up.
Mark Paschal - There are a couple of things about Virginia Tech that come to mind. They’re outstanding on special teams and they’ve got a defense that likes to fly around. They’ve got an offense that, typically in the past, is a downhill, right-at-you running style, pro-style, powerstretch. With that being said, they’ve got a very talented athlete at quarterback. It should provide us a lot more clarity on how much this defense has grown from week to week. I’m looking forward to seeing how we prepare for a Virginia Tech team that has lost a couple of games in a row. I figure this is a game where we can really make a statement for starting ACC play out on the right foot. We’ve got to start out on the right note this weekend against Virginia Tech and I believe that we can.
Buck Sanders – You know, Matt, Virginia Tech is coming off of a really disappointing, heart-breaking loss to Cincinnati. This Virginia Tech looks to be a little different than the ones that we are used to seeing. But, how much of that do you think they can get corrected? Are they going to come in Kenan really, really angry? Or, are they going to come in with a little bit of a hangover from Cincinnati?
Matt Baker - Well, you know Frank Beamer is a good football coach. I think they’re going to come into town ready to play. I don’t think they’ll come in with any hangover. I think they show up ready to play. They still have plenty of talent. Their quarterback, people were talking about him being a first round draft pick before the season started. I know he struggled a little bit with those expectations this year, but he’s still a talented player and that team is capable of making a lot of plays.
Buck Sanders – The thing that I wanted to concentrate on this week is the offense after we got done talking about Virginia Tech. The offense, to some degree, I think you can throw out a lot of what we’ve seen. They did score 29 points in the second half against Louisville. But, Louisville may have been playing a little bit of prevent defense at that point. They struggled a little bit against East Carolina. They had some red zone snafus. Then, they come out against Idaho and, again, they had a couple of turnovers in the red zone but, wow, 66 points. Mark, that’s right up your alley, I believe. But, Quincy, I want to go to you first and get your thoughts about how this offense is developing the first year under Larry Fedora.
Quincy Monk - What you saw with Idaho is that these guys are starting to really understand the offensive schemes. It takes a little bit of adjustment when you add a new dimension, a new process, like Fedora has. I think these guys are starting to feel more comfortable. Renner is out there making quick decisions. With Gio in the backfield, he’s always a game-breaker. These guys are starting to feel more comfortable and that’s how we’re able to come out with so much explosiveness early because the guys started to buy into this system – they’re starting to breathe.
Buck Sanders – Brian, one of the players that you talked about all during the preseason and leading into these roundtables was Quinshad Davis. He kind of made a statement a little bit against Idaho. Both of his touchdown receptions, I thought he was more responsible for those touchdowns than actually the quarterback. He made a great play on the ball both times.
Brian Chacos - Buck, I had a great view. I was sitting in that end zone on one of his touchdowns, when Bryn threw the fade. Really, he’s just going to be a nightmare match-up for folks with his size advantage. Bryn literally just threw up a rebound to him and he just made a quick move inside, got the inside position and really just jumped up and got it. Each practice he and Bryn are going to develop that chemistry with each other. I know some guys, particularly Matt, who’s really fond of Erik Highsmith; I’m a really big Eric Ebron fan. But now, with Quinshad sort of stepping up this last game, he can be a guy that, on big third downs or in the red zone, we can now isolate him and throw him the ball. So him having some scores this past Saturday was huge for his confidence and also Bryn knowing he can go to him now for some big time plays.
Buck Sanders – Quinshad really made Marquise Williams look good on that touchdown throw late in the game – in the second half. He just cut inside and made a great play on the ball and brought it in.
Mark, from a defensive point of view, what’s the most difficult part of the UNC offense to defend at this point? If you’re the Virginia Tech defensive coordinator, what do you think are the most difficult points you are going to have to defend when they come to Kenan Stadium?
Mark Paschal - Well, Buck, first of all, I want to say that the more that I watch this offense, the more impressed that I am, the more excited I am about the future of this offense because there are a lot of things that we’re doing right now, just through the few games that we’ve played. There are a lot of things in this offense that scare you from a defensive point of view; there’s a lot of one-on-one. The screen game is so hard and wears you out physically on defense. How fast we get back to the line of scrimmage does not allow the defense to substitute like they would want, that’s another thing. But, if I’m Virginia Tech and I’m sitting here looking at the University of North Carolina’s football team right now, I’m saying, 'oh my gosh, we’ve got to go up against an offense line that looks like a pro offensive line.' These guys are really, really talented and really big; they’ve done an outstanding job protecting Bryn and opening holes for the running backs. Then you go to the quarterback, and Bryn has been outstanding this year. He’ll probably set a whole lot of records this year for season totals, for passing yards and touchdowns. Then, you’ve got Gio, another one-two punch. You’ve got so much talent and the way that this football team spreads the field and the tempo they play with really strains the defense. If I’m Virginia Tech, I’m hoping that we can make some one-on-one tackles because if one guy misses, we're out of the gate pretty quick. The way that Bryn, the offensive line and the receivers are really coming together, it’s a really scary offense to go against and they’re just going to continue to get better.
Buck Sanders – You know, Matt, one of the things I think they’ve shown, more so probably against Idaho than they did against ECU, is using two backs on the field at the same time. They don’t always use them in the backfield the same time. But, sometimes they will have Blue and Gio flank Renner or sometimes they will put Gio in the slot and have Blue on the field. They’re doing some different stuff on offense. They’re opening up the playbook or showing us a little bit more of the playbook, I would say. What has been your impression of how they’re developing the offense as they go?
Matt Baker - Yeah, I think you’re seeing the natural progression of an offense. This is this coaching staff’s first season here, the first time with these players, the players' first time with this offense and both of them are probably getting more comfortable with each other, what they can do, what they can’t do. They’re learning from each other and I think that’s where you’re seeing some changes. I remember our first roundtable before the season that we knew we were a little thin at wide receiver, so we were going to have to use a couple of those tight ends, a couple of running backs in the passing game, and find creative ways to have them stress the defense. I don’t know if that will be an every week thing. These coaches, sometimes, they game plan for a specific opponent. Maybe they saw that Idaho matched up to a two-back personnel but they thought they could exploit that defensive match up. I’m not sure exactly what their thought was or if we’ll see it again.
Buck Sanders – Quincy, as Matt was talking about, using some tight ends in the offense ... I think Eric Ebron, Brian touched on it earlier, but the way they’re using him in the middle of the field is outstanding, I think. Talk about match-up problems that a player like Ebron can cause either a linebacker or safety in the middle of the field.
Quincy Monk - He’s a defensive nightmare for a linebacker and also safeties. The reason being, for a linebacker, he’s big and fast enough where if you’re not a speed guy covering him, he can actually outrun the guy. Then, if you put a safety on him, he’s big enough to man-handle an undersized safety. So, it just creates a lot of mismatched on the defensive end. He reminds me of a guy like Jermichael Finley from the Green Bay Packers; he makes holes in defenses. I think you’re seeing Bryn really take advantage of that because he is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. You can’t put a linebacker on him because he’s too fast and a safety, he’s too big. I really like the way we’re taking advantage of his natural ability.
Buck Sanders – Mark, speaking to mismatches on the field, I think there are several players that provide mismatches for UNC and its offense. But, one point I want to talk about is I know you had some concerns earlier this year about using Gio on punt returns. How do you feel about now? Are you still feeling the same? Do you still think it is probably not a good idea or would you continue to use Bernard on punt returns?
Mark Paschal - Buck, it still scares the heck out of me sometimes. With that facemask that was not called, it just scares me because he’s so dagum valuable to this football team. That being said, you’ve got to have him back there if he’s the best guy and he can create lightening for you. It’s a double-edged sword and I understand the predicament that Larry’s in because you’ve got your best football player and you always want to pressure the other team and allow Gio as many touches as he can possibly handle. But, at the same time, it just scares the heck out of you when you see a facemask get called. And, when he’s in the game so late, I understand that Larry had instructed him to fair-catch only, we don’t want any issues out there – I get that. But, it just scares me but I also understand that he’s the best thing that we’ve got from an explosive standpoint, from lightening in a bottle, almost.
Brian Chacos - Put your best players on the field and let them play ball. I really like that philosophy. No sense in playing safe. If he can make plays for you back there, put him back there. I remember Miami and Florida State teams, when they had some really good teams back when we were in college, and you always thought, why are their best players on special teams? I think that’s how you create an advantage. You don’t put your second or third group guys on special teams and just give up the play – you put your starters in, guys who are going to make plays, block punts, return kicks. You put them out there and let them make a play for you.
You can’t play this game scared. I completely understand what Mark is saying. Even if he was in there the other day, what concerned me about what Coach Fedora was doing - and I completely believe in his coaching staff - I don’t know what he was doing in the game when we were up 60 points. My dad and I were sitting with each other at the game and we were looking at each other just befuddled – we didn’t understand that at all. But, early in the game, put that kid in the game and get a ball in his hands. That’s what these kind of programs that we want to become do – you get the best players in as many bright spots as they can to do good things. And, Gio’s our best ball player and we’ve got to get him the ball as many times as we can.
Scott Lenahan - I don’t know if it really was a great decision, to be honest with you. I think as far as him as a player, he gets banged up… he’s most important carrying the ball in between the tackles. Putting him at punt return is - the probability of getting hurt, it triples. You have guys like Peter Warrick, who back at FSU used to return punts, play defense and do wide receiver, he was a playmaker at all of them. But, he was a durable player and could take a lot of hits and tackle a lot. But, somebody like Gio, he’s a little bit more, well, he’s smaller. I think that if you put him back there, in a place a lot more volatile, as far as getting hit from places that he might not see people come from, there’s a higher chance he’s going to get hurt.
Matt Baker - He’s shorter, not smaller.
Buck Sanders – He’s thick. If you’ve seen him up close, he’s kind of thick in the lower body.
Scott Lenahan - He’s more fragile. How about that?
Buck Sanders – He was sidelined his freshman year and has had some injury issues since, yes. So, it’s an interesting call to put him back there, without a doubt.
Buck Sanders - The final thought is going to be about offense generally. This past weekend was just outrageous in terms of the number of points that the offenses scored. What are we seeing in college football in terms of the number of points being scored week in and week out? I mean, we’ve got Baylor and West Virginia, 70-63. Sometimes there are basketball games that don’t have that many points scored in them.
Mark, what do you think of this development? Are you against it or are you for it? Would you rather see 17-14 games or 37-31 games?
Mark Paschal - Just being a defensive guy, it’s crazy to see the kind of points and the schemes that these coaches are now coming up with to get playmakers the ball in space and taking shots. I think it’s great for the game. I think it’s explosive. I think it’s going to keep people interested. I think it’s exciting for college football. There are a lot of great things that are going on all over the country, and in Chapel Hill. I think we’ve got an offense that is going to go with the trend and really score a lot of points for the foreseeable future. It’s exciting to now have an offense that can put up those kinds of point totals.
Brian Chacos - Buck, I think it’s really just taking shots down field. I’m looking forward to us hopefully taking part in that more. I think we’ve got a great quarterback who has the arm to do it. And, talking about a question I answered earlier, we found a new weapon with Quinshad, who’s proven that he can go and attack the ball up in the air. Obviously, Eric Ebron is a proven commodity who can catch the ball and get yards after the catch. So, attack down the field is how these points are getting generated on the board. I’m looking forward to Carolina hopefully improving upon that and doing it against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
Buck Sanders – You know, Matt, I think we’re seeing this at every level; it’s no longer the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field and 9-7, Green Bay over Chicago. Green Bay is putting up 35 points a game, or whatever. It’s changed at every level. Is this just the way it is based on a lot of different factors, including players’ safety and other types of factors that we’re seeing?
Matt Baker - It goes all the way back to creating mismatches. That’s what offensive football is all about – how do you create mismatches. Teams have found that if they spread the field out, they play fast and they put a little deception into the game that they can create a lot of mismatches and that’s the thing right now. You’ve seen football go through many different phases – the different offensive styles. Basically, they are all about the same when you look at your people up front. All the runs are blocked the same at the end of the day. But, it is an exciting brand of football. I will say, these offenses are great when you play against teams that have a little less defensive talent. But, if you go up against an Alabama or an LSU defense, some of those guys, these offenses can run into problems sometimes when they face a defense that’s just as athletically gifted, if not moreso, than your offense. It’s very exciting to watch and I like it for us here at Carolina.
Buck Sanders – I think actually Oregon has a shot this year. I think their defense is a little bit better than it has been in years past and the offense is just as good.
Scott Lenahan - I really think that Matt hit it on the head well when he talked about the evolution of football and where it’s gone – making mismatches. It is exciting, but it’s also exciting to watch. Like Matt said, watching SEC-type programs like LSU v. Alabama, that's where it’s hard . . .
Buck Sanders – Ugh, that’s boring football.
Scott Lenahan - Hey man, I don’t know. When you’re an offensive lineman, you like seeing people just get smacked. That stuff is fun. It’s also cool to watch bombs – Eric Ebron making plays like that. That’s fun to watch, even people like Gio Bernard catching passes out of the backfield. High scoring games are fun.
Featured Lettermen in Today’s Roundtable
- Matt Baker quarterbacked the Tar Heels in 2005, while amassing the 7th-highest season passing yardage total in school history. Following his UNC career, he was a member of six different NFL teams.
- Brian Chacos’s UNC career (2001-06) included 35 starts at offensive tackle, a selection to the Lombardi Watch List, and All-ACC Academic honors.
- Scott Lenahan manned the center position in Chapel Hill from 2003-07, overlapping two coaching regimes. Nicknamed 'Tank' for his weight room exploits, he earned the top senior honor on the '07 Tar Heel team.
- Quincy Monk recorded 247 tackles at linebacker during his Tar Heel career from 1998-2001. He was drafted into the NFL and spent three seasons in the professional ranks.
- Mark Paschal captained 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 four-year career up until that point.