The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Friday March 24th

SportsSaturday - A View From The Other Side

Mike O'Cain wants this weekend to be just like any other.

But it won't be. It can't be.

And he knows it.

O'Cain, North Carolina's offensive coordinator, figured that out early in the week when he was watching film of N.C. State, UNC's opponent today.

The players he saw running around on the field were his guys. He was the one responsible for bringing them to Raleigh.

He had celebrated with them after great wins against the likes of Syracuse and Florida State and suffered with them after bad losses to Baylor and Wake Forest.

He was their coach, and they were his players. They were family.

That's what will make today different. No longer are they family.

"I don't think there's any doubt that there's a relationship that we have," O'Cain says. "I know it's changed, but those are guys who I grew very close to.

"There will be a little bit different feeling - there's no doubt about that."

One thing that won't be different about today is the rivalry between N.C. State and North Carolina. The game is huge and always will be, no matter who the coaches are.

O'Cain knows this, and that's why he has stayed quiet this week. Everyone wants him to say that he was wronged by N.C. State, that he wants to blow out the Wolfpack to show Chancellor Marye Anne Fox that she made a mistake when she fired him.

But O'Cain hasn't said that, and he won't. This rivalry is bigger than one man, even if that man is wearing colors different from those he wore the year before.

"He's approaching this week like every week," UNC quarterback Ronald Curry said. "He understands that this is a business, and that's the way he's approaching it."

N.C. State's players have the same situation facing them. They now have to try to knock off the man they believed would lead them to victory every week he was their head coach.

"I love Coach O'Cain and always will," Wolfpack linebacker Levar Fisher says. "Just not on Saturday.

"I think he's a great man, and I respect everything he's done. He found a job, and I'm happy for him. But Saturday I'm playing to win just like he is."

Still, it's not that simple. N.C. State's players won't be able to avoid sneaking a peak at the other side of the field in the pregame to see what O'Cain is doing. That's only natural.

Then, there's the postgame situation. Either O'Cain or the Wolfpack will walk off the field with a loss. How will the winning party react?

"If I see him after the game, I'm going to try to shake his hand," Fisher says. "I don't know if he'll want to shake our hands after we . nah, I'm not going to say it. I'm definitely going to try to shake his hand and wish him the best the rest of the season."

If things keep progressing as they have thus far, O'Cain should enjoy the rest of his season. His offense has brought an excitement to Kenan Stadium that was lacking even during the glory years of 1996 and '97.

The Tar Heels have already ripped off 10 plays of more than 45 yards, which is 10 more than UNC had in that department last year. Sure, a good bit of that production is because Curry and wideout Bosley Allen are healthy.

But it's O'Cain who is putting them in position to make plays. He made a change, starting in the Marshall game, of putting Curry in the shotgun most of the time and letting him create.

Curry has responded with the best stretch of football in his career. He completed 24-of-39 passes for 292 yards and two scores against the Thundering Herd and then lit up Georgia Tech like a Christmas tree.

Curry passed for 388 yards and three scores and ran 46 yards on a quarterback draw for UNC's other touchdown in its 42-28 loss to the Yellow Jackets.

"Every defense you go up against has a soft spot," Curry says. "I just think he does a good job of attacking those soft spots."

The pressing question today is whether O'Cain can devise a game plan to beat his former team. Two schools of thought compete with each other in that regard:

1) O'Cain has an advantage against N.C. State because he knows the team's personnel and thus can attack its weaknesses.

2) N.C. State's defenders have an edge because they know what O'Cain likes to do offensively.

Which is correct? It depends on who is answering the question.

"I don't think there's a real advantage," O'Cain says. "I think that's blown out of proportion in a lot of cases. I really think it's just a matter of those guys going out and playing well on the field and not how much I know about them or how much they know about me."

Fisher isn't so sure about that.

"We don't have an edge," he says. "He has more of an edge on us because he knows who is going to overrun the ball and things like that. He still knows that. He can look and see that I still overrun the ball a lot, and he knows that some players still aren't very disciplined.

"He's going to take advantage of that. If anybody has an edge, he does."

If Fisher is right, the Wolfpack could be in trouble. N.C. State allows 25.2 points per game, but that number includes a shutout of lowly Southern Methodist. The Wolfpack has surrendered an average of 31.5 points in its other four contests.

That bit of news is no doubt encouraging for O'Cain, but it didn't change the way he prepared for the game. Nothing does, not even lining up to play against family.

"People don't understand this, but every week is the same," O'Cain says. "You don't prepare any differently this week than we did the week before or the week before or the week before."

He pauses.

"But Saturdays are different," he adds. "The emotions are different on Saturdays."


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