After reeling off three straight victories, two of those against top-15 opponents, North Carolina has assured itself of its second straight winning season and bowl eligibility.
But given what happened in the final games of last season, coach Butch Davis and the Tar Heels are planning on closing out this season like they closed out Saturday’s 33-24 victory against Miami.
“Some of the same things that allow you to finish games certainly become evident as you try to finish seasons,” Davis said in his weekly press conference. “Some kids, when they’re freshmen and sophomores, don’t appreciate the fact of how tough it is to win these games.
“The minute you think something is going to be easy, it almost assuredly won’t be easy.”
After a 7-2 start to 2008, UNC struggled on its way to the finish line. The Tar Heels stumbled in three of their next four games to close with an 8-5 mark.
One of the losses in that stretch included a 41-10 rout at the hands of rival N.C. State, one of the remaining two teams on UNC’s regular season schedule this year.
Sporting a 7-3 record at this juncture, UNC finds itself in a similar position.
Davis’ players certainly don’t need much reminding of that.
“There’s still a sour taste in our mouths about (the N.C. State game). It’s definitely been something we’ve preached all year about not having a game like that,” cornerback Kendric Burney said. “Never having a breakdown where we’re not playing Carolina football for all four quarters.”
One aspect UNC is focusing on this week is correcting some of the problems that still linger on offense.
North Carolina has leaned heavily on its defense, rated No. 8 nationally, in most of its wins this season. Of UNC’s 33-point outburst against Miami, 14 came off of two defensive returns for touchdowns, and a Burney interception set up a field goal.
UNC ranks 11th out of 12 teams in the conference in total offense.
“We haven’t played as good as we want to on the offensive side of the ball,” tight end Zack Pianalto said. “We have two more chances to work out the kinks before the bowl game.”
And while UNC players say they are focused on the next week’s practice, they are not completely immune to the postseason and the surrounding projections that come with it.
Two more wins could mean a trip to Atlanta for the Chick-fil-A Bowl, while two losses would likely lead to a shorter drive to Charlotte for another shot at winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Quarterback T.J. Yates admitted to peeking ahead a little bit when asked to which bowl he thought the Tar Heels were headed.
“I’ve heard some in the papers and on the radio,” Yates said. “But I try to stay away from all that stuff, keep my head in the right place.”
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