“I think his response has been good,” Fedora said. “I think it’s exactly what I expected from him. I mean, he’s not a wishy-washy kid. He’s pretty strong, and he understands what he needs to do, and he understands what we need to do as a team, and I think he will do a good job of leading.”
The head coach credited Elliott’s ability to get outside the pocket in opening up the offense in the second half. The lefty ran for 53 yards on eight carries after halftime, as UNC outscored California, 17-7.
Despite Elliott's four-interception performance, Fedora stated full confidence in his quarterback on Monday.
“I’m not worried about Nathan’s confidence, if that’s what you’re asking me,” Fedora said. “He’s played this position a long time, and there’s pressure that comes with being the quarterback and leader of the team and he understands that.”
Fedora also stated he wants true first-year Cade Fortin to get significant reps in practice this week, although he emphasized it would be as the second-team quarterback.
On the defensive side of the ball, the seventh-year coach lathered praise on redshirt senior defensive end Malik Carney, who led all Tar Heels with eight tackles and two sacks.
“He had a great game,” Fedora said. “He had the kind of game we were expecting him to have because he’s prepared himself that way.”
However, Carney begins a four-game suspension this week against East Carolina. In his stead, junior Allen Cater should see more reps. Cater made two tackles on Saturday in limited time. Fedora was pleased with a particular play he made in preventing Golden Bear running back Patrick Laird of a big gain.
“We showed a play after last night, where the one time we got out of a gap and the back broke and Allen Cater was the guy that ran him down,” Fedora said. “So he was playing very hard and with a lot of energy.”
Redshirt senior defensive lineman Tyler Powell could also split time at defensive end against the Pirates, after seeing a majority of snaps at defensive tackle on Saturday. It was his first game action since suffering a season-ending knee injury against Duke on Sept. 23.
The silver lining of the weekend, though, seemed to be the play of a somewhat inexperienced linebacking unit. Senior Cole Holcomb led UNC with 93 tackles in 2017, but his two battery mates, Dominique Ross and Jonathan Smith, had just five starts between them entering the season opener.
That didn’t stop Ross, a junior, from being one of the most electrifying players for the Tar Heels on Saturday. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound linebacker showed off his unique skill set by breaking up a team-high four passes in coverage and contributing five tackles on the day.
“Dominique was all over the place,” Fedora said. “He was physical, he knew his run fits, he fit where he needed to. He tackled very solid. He was physical in everything he did, and he did a great job in his coverages.”
Smith continued to show promise, following a successful 40-tackle sophomore campaign. The junior had six more tackles on Saturday to go along with 1.5 sacks.
UNC was a different team in the second half on Saturday, with its offense picking up the slack and the defense suffocating the Golden Bear offense for just seven points.
But it will need to continue its momentum and aggressive play against the Pirates this weekend. An 0-2 start could sink the ship, especially with No. 21 Central Florida coming to Chapel Hill on Sept. 15.
The Tar Heels did catch a break, as East Carolina was forced to postpone its Saturday game to Sunday due to thunderstorms, giving the team one less day to prepare for UNC. Yet, Fedora did not seem pleased with the game's postponement.
“It backs up everything," he said. "It gives you less time to prepare. For them, the same way.”
The head coach ended his press conference by stating his team will learn from its errors as it looks to capture its first win since Nov. 18, 2017.
“We don’t take it easy on them because we lost a game,” he said. “We’re going to learn from our mistakes one way or the other and so you would like to learn from those mistakes with a win. It’s a better feeling than doing it the other way.”
And with that, the head coach stepped down off the podium and exited the room to go prepare for a game that could dictate the direction of the season.
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