Butch Davis has addressed the steep learning curve facing his young football team on several occasions.
But if last Thursday’s win against Virginia Tech is any indication, North Carolina is proving to be a quick study — at least when it comes to potentially heartbreaking losses.
“Football coaches always talk about lessons you learn. We got tested against Florida State,” Davis said in his weekly press conference.
“You got tested in your character, your perseverance, your ability to deal with adversity. That test comes back, as we said after the game. One week later, here you’re in the same situation.”
But in order to prove its 20-17 upset victory against the Hokies was more than a fluke, UNC will have to learn another lesson before Saturday’s game against Duke.
“Sometimes it’s not as hard to handle adversity as it is to handle success,” Davis said. “We got about 10 hours to enjoy that victory, and you’ve got to put that behind you and move on. This is a very critical and important stretch.”
The Tar Heels have already been in this position. UNC blazed its way to a 3-0 start, and its players were a very confident bunch heading into the conference schedule.
Humbling defeats to both Georgia Tech and Virginia wiped away some of that swagger, as UNC managed only 10 points combined in those two games.
But Thursday’s victory against a top-15 opponent did plenty to soothe the wounds still festering from those losses.
Quarterback T.J. Yates and the offense led drives of 84 and 78 yards in the second half to rally UNC against a traditionally stingy defense, taking some of the heat off a heavily scrutinized unit.
Yates was exuberant in post-game interviews, saying he had never felt as good as he did following a football game — a feeling made sweeter in the context of UNC’s up-and-down season.
On Monday, though, Yates said Davis reined in the focus of a team with a speech he gave in the locker room this weekend.
“It’s kind of hard not to take more time with this win and kind of savor it a little bit,” Yates said. “But coach kind of reiterated to us that the win we just had doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win this next game.”
The offense isn’t the only unit on its guard against complacency.
After a torrid start to the season, UNC’s secondary has struggled against some of the ACC’s more talented quarterbacks.
Christian Ponder memorably torched the Tar Heels for 395 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State’s 30-27 win, and Va. Tech’s Tyrod Taylor found plenty of seams through the air in a losing effort.
“It’s a shot to your pride a little bit. But as a defense, we know we’re a good defense and a great defense at times,” safety Deunta Williams said. “We’ve just got to get back to playing great football.”
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