The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 26th

Tar Heels Hope Turf Energizes Ground Game

North Carolina football coach Carl Torbush knows some of his players aren't thrilled about traveling to Pittsburgh this weekend.

And it's not because they have become tentative in the midst of a four-game losing streak. They just aren't looking forward to trying to halt that streak on the cold artificial turf of Three Rivers Stadium.

"Because we're playing on turf for the first time, you hear some moaning and groaning other than what they're expected to do," Torbush said.

Pittsburgh is playing at Three Rivers Stadium this year after it left 74-year-old Pitt Stadium at the end of last season. A new stadium that the Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers will share is set to open next August.

UNC hasn't played a game on artificial turf since it defeated San Diego State in the 1998 Las Vegas Bowl.

Only six current Tar Heels were on the roster in 1996, when North Carolina played two regular-season games on artificial turf. UNC defeated Syracuse at the Carrier Dome and Houston at the Astrodome that year.

Players often put on elbow sleeves and long-sleeved shirts to avoid turf burns. But senior linebacker Brandon Spoon, who had four tackles against Houston in 1996, said playing again on turf isn't a big deal for him.

"We groan more when we have to practice on it during two-a-days," Spoon said.

Torbush said he won't move UNC's practices to the artificial turf of Henry Stadium unless poor weather conditions force him to.

"We practice on our turf quite frequently in bad weather," Torbush said. "What we'd rather do is just go up there on the turf for the first time if the weather permits this week so we'll feel like we're faster."

UNC's three freshman tailbacks might finally get to show off their speed Saturday on the artificial turf.

Brandon Russell has started all eight games at tailback, but he has rarely gotten to show off his quickness outside the tackles. His 19-yard gain against Marshall is the longest run by a UNC tailback this year.

Backup Willie Parker rushed for 71 yards against Virginia last week, but Torbush said he won't announce a starter for the Pittsburgh game until Saturday.

"I think we've made some real tough runs, and I think our running game has improved a great deal," Torbush said. "But for us to get where we want to be in the running game, we've got to knock off a couple big ones, and we have not done that yet."

Torbush said that hasn't happened because backside linebackers and defensive ends have gotten their hands on Tar Heel runners before they could break into the secondary.

"It's not like we've gotten dragged down from behind on any play that I remember," Torbush said.

Halloween Humor

Torbush said he never goes to Franklin Street to celebrate in the Halloween festivities. But if he ever did, Torbush said he knew what costume he would wear.

"I'd be the disappearing man," Torbush said. "Pretty good answer, right?"

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.



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