In his career as a head coach, Mack Brown is 30-7-1 when coming off bye weeks. With the North Carolina football team coming off its first bye week of the season, he'll try to improve that already impressive record against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
The Tar Heels are in contention to win the ACC Coastal Division if they can win out the rest of their schedule.
“We haven’t done very well since they joined the ACC,” Brown said of the Hokies. “We’re 2-5 up there, so it will be a great challenge for us to go on the road. They’re 4-2, coming off a big win against Miami and then beating Rhode Island this weekend. They’ll be all excited.”
Despite being a 3.5-point favorite, UNC will have its work cut out for them. With the announcement that starting cornerback Trey Morrison is out indefinitely with an upper-body injury, North Carolina has lost four contributors in the secondary to injuries, with the others being Patrice Rene, Cam'Ron Kelly and Myles Wolfolk. What's more, Brown believes the Hokies have “some of the best wide receivers in the country.”
"(Cornerbacks coach Dré Bly) is making his money,” Brown said. “He's having to coach the heck out of them."
Still, Brown has faith in defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, who he says has "dealt with this kind of stuff before."
"Army had a lot of numbers, but sometimes they didn't have the great players," Brown said. "So, they had to do a tremendous job of scheming to cover some guys.”
Brown added that junior Greg Ross, first-year Obi Egbuna, redshirt first-year Javon Terry and redshirt first-year DeAndre Hollins will all get considerable playing time.
"They don't have to know everything," Bateman said. "They need to know the game plan. And then you've got to rely on guys like Myles Dorn and Jeremiah Gemmel if you do have to go off the menu a little bit — if you have to go back and get a special from week two."
True first-year Storm Duck, who Brown said he was afraid to put in the game just three weeks ago, will now serve as one of the team's starting corners for the foreseeable future.
UNC hopes the bye week will help prepare the young players for these major roles.
“The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do is teach them that how you practice is how you play,” Brown said. “What we see in practice shows up in games. If a guy drops a ball in practice, what I see is him dropping it against Virginia Tech — and we’re less likely to call your number.”
On the other side of the ball, dropped passes are one of the major concerns that have popped up in recent weeks for this team. Early against Georgia Tech, wide receivers dropped multiple passes, including a few that could have gone for touchdowns.
"We just got to catch balls," Brown said. “We can't drop balls. We dropped a few yesterday in practice, and now (wide receivers coach) Lonnie Galloway has spent about 45 minutes after practice throwing them tennis balls … If you can catch a tennis ball — and have to focus on that — you ought to be able to catch a football."
Despite the challenges at hand, Brown seems to be relishing the opportunity and is excited about preparing his team for the back end of the season.
“There’s this real balance of midseason, of practicing them hard enough, but keeping the pressure and keeping them focused,” Brown said. “It’s one of the real challenges, but one of the real thrills in coaching.”
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