On Saturday, Mack Brown insisted that his team would not take any moral victories from losses after the North Carolina football team suffered a gut-wrenching 21-20 loss to No. 1 Clemson.
However, in his weekly press conference, Brown said this game could pay dividends for the program in the future.
“It did send a message to our fanbase that we’re headed in the right direction,” Brown said. “It did send a message to recruits that if we can get Clemson down to one play, we’re going to be good in the future.”
There is no question that being one play away from ending Clemson’s 19-game win streak was a big accomplishment for the program. The close game on national television got the team the exposure Brown was hoping for – it was the most-watched college football game in the late afternoon window.
And Brown believes that for the Tar Heels, there's still room for improvement.
“The good thing is we can do better,” Brown said. “We can play better than we played Saturday.”
To get back on a winning track, UNC will need to be the team it was against Clemson. The Tar Heels will travel to Atlanta for an ACC Coastal Division matchup with Georgia Tech on Saturday. North Carolina has struggled in past years in Atlanta, having beat the Yellow Jackets there only once since 1997.
Despite three straight losses, Brown is adamant that North Carolina still has plenty to play for.
“All of our goals are still out there,” Brown said. “We can still go to a bowl, we can still win the Coastal, we can still have a chance to play Clemson in the ACC Championship.”
Another matchup with the Tigers would be a dream scenario for the Tar Heels. To get there, Brown wants his team to play to their potential, not to the level of their competition.
“What we’ve started doing is talking about us,” Brown said. “We’re the ones that need to play hard every week, we’re the ones that have to play to a standard and not talk about who we’re playing.”
All three teams they have lost to are currently undefeated. Those games have all been close, too, as UNC lost each by a single possession. Areas of concern include being better on third down, getting off to better starts in games and dealing with injuries on both sides of the ball.
North Carolina arguably overcame all of those and was one play away from upsetting the Tigers in Chapel Hill. Brown partially attributes the team’s performance against Clemson to a great atmosphere.
“This might have been a better atmosphere than Miami,” Brown said. “I thought the home crowd gave us a great advantage. That’s not something we’ve always talked about here, but they were loud from the start to the finish.”
On Tuesday morning, Brown went as far as to thank fans in an email to the student body, mentioning "how fun it is to be the head coach of your football team," and encouraging them to keep showing out at future games.
That crowd likely impressed over 100 recruits in attendance, as well. According to Brown, recruits also appreciated his decision to attempt a go-ahead 2-point conversion late in the game.
“The response from the recruits has been unbelievable,” Brown said. “Every recruit said ‘Man, I love it, I would’ve gone for two.’”
That decision, Brown said, defines his philosophy at UNC so far this season. While the team is showing signs of improvement, he didn't return to Chapel Hill for moral victories. He wants to go for it.
“I’m at a stage in my life where I don’t care about anything but winning,” Brown said.
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