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Saturday January 23rd

UNC football coaches look to capitalize on extended break ahead of Boston College game

Head Coach Mack Brown and Offensive coordinator Phil Longo celebrate UNC's win on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. UNC defeated Duke 20-17.
Buy Photos Head Coach Mack Brown and Offensive coordinator Phil Longo celebrate UNC's win on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019. UNC defeated Duke 20-17.

Following two straight weekends of no games, the North Carolina football team will be taking its first road trip of the season up to Boston College on Saturday.

UNC was unable to schedule a non-conference game last Saturday, a week after UNC-Charlotte canceled the two teams' Sept. 19 matchup in Chapel Hill for COVID-19-related concerns.

But after almost two weeks of trying to rework the schedule, head coach Mack Brown announced that UNC has locked in a non-conference game against Western Carolina on Friday, Dec. 11, to replace the game against the 49ers.

By tacking the matchup with the Catamounts on at the end of the season, the Tar Heels will still be able to keep their bye week open on the weekend of Nov. 21.

The time off between games from Sept. 19 to Oct. 3 is the longest break in the middle of a football season for UNC since 1952, when a polio outbreak caused the team to temporarily disband. Brown discussed how the team has been handling the hiatus in a Zoom press conference on Monday.

“Does it still hold true that you improve the most between your first and second game if there’s two weeks between them, really three weeks between them?” he said. “I think probably not. We’re starting over. We got to completely start over.”

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo said he's been taking the extended time off to create a more sound rotation on the offensive line.

Longo noted that junior Quiron Johnson and first-year Jonathan Adorno specifically, have improved over the last two weeks. He also pointed out that sophomore Joshua Ezeudu, who missed the Syracuse game with a lower-body injury, is practicing with the team again. 

“We’re starting to get closer to that eight-man rotation that we want on the offensive line,” Longo said. "It’s probably a situation that we’re much better at right now than we were going into the Syracuse game.”

Longo emphasized the difficulty of developing players without valuable in-game experience, but also said the break helped the offense as they continue to get comfortable with each other.

“It helps the timing,” he said. “We lost a lot of reps with spring ball. We didn’t even get all the player-led workouts in the summer.”

As if the team didn't have enough on its plate already with scheduling changes and injuries, co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman commented on how the Tar Heels' defense is facing major changes after fifth-year safety Myles Wolfolk was ruled academically ineligible last week.

To replace the veteran, junior Trey Morrison will be shifting from nickelback to safety, while first-year Ja’Qurious Conley is expected to get his first start at nickelback on Saturday.

“We came in and reset it and said, ‘Look, go back to training camp rules and everything, and let's go work on our base stuff,’ and we got a little more individual time and I think that part was great,” Bateman said.

Despite all these moving parts, the Tar Heels are looking to make a seamless transition back into the season with their matchup against the Eagles on Saturday.

“I’m just excited to see how we are,” Brown said. “We’re about to jump back into it now. We’ve been talked about and bragged on enough, it’s time for us to prove something."

@lucasthomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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