Through five games, UNC has a 2-3 record, but a win in its only game against a division foe — a 28-25 home victory over Miami on Sept. 7.
In a wide-open race for the division crown, it isn’t far-fetched to imagine the Tar Heels playing for the conference title. No. 23 Virginia (4-1, 2-0 ACC) leads the Coastal so far, but none of the Cavaliers’ wins have been overly impressive.
North Carolina also has the advantage of facing UVA and Duke — both undefeated in conference play — at home.
But UNC will need to make sure it takes the same approach in preparation it took against Clemson when it faces lesser opponents, something it has struggled to do.
“We don’t want to think that it was one game,” redshirt junior linebacker Chazz Surratt said. “... Whether it’s Clemson or whether it’s anybody, we’re coming out here to play hard and play well, always.”
Leading up to the matchup with the Tigers, first-year quarterback Sam Howell said the Tar Heels set a standard for what the energy level at practice should be. The consistency on Saturdays will come with hitting that new benchmark leading up to every game.
During the team’s film session this week, Howell saw plenty of room for improvement from last weekend’s performance. He also saw a showing UNC could build on.
“There’s so much in the game that we could’ve done better,” Howell said. “It just shows what we’re capable of as a team, and kinda gives us a little more confidence, going out and doing that against the best team in the country.”
Even though North Carolina couldn’t pull off the upset, the close loss to Clemson seemed to increase the fanbase’s optimism in the program’s eventual turnaround. Surratt felt the support but said it doesn’t make up for having fallen short in three close contests.
“We’re appreciative of all that, all the love,” he said, “but we’re just trying to win football games still. That’s the main goal.”
While many have praised the Tar Heels for their most recent effort, Dorn knows there will be a fair amount of naysayers if UNC falls to a Georgia Tech team in full-on rebuild mode.
And he knows what they’ll say: “Oh, Clemson just didn’t come out to play well.”
“But, if we go out and finish it out, I think there will be a lot of excitement.”
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