The North Carolina football team enjoyed a big victory over rival N.C. State on Saturday, but the Tar Heel coaches aren’t letting their players get too comfortable.
“You can enjoy it until you go to bed,” head coach Mack Brown told his players at Saturday’s post-game victory dinner.
Brown didn’t want his team to fall into the same trap as they had after their win against Virginia Tech two weeks ago — the team followed up that win with a loss to an unranked Florida State. This week, the team’s sole focus is preparation for Saturday’s matchup with Virginia.
“After you beat Virginia Tech, everybody’s patting you on the back and hugging you, talking about how great you are, and you listen to all of it and you didn’t play and got beat,” Brown said in a Zoom press conference on Monday. “You can’t let a loss beat you twice, but you also can’t let a win beat you the next week.”
The Tar Heels certainly made some mistakes in Saturday’s game that the coaches will look to address in this week’s practice. After going up 14-0 early, the last three minutes of the first half saw the UNC defense give up an N.C. State touchdown to cut the lead in half.
“Against N.C. State, we got them into a third-and-eight, we had exactly the route we thought we were going to get and we didn’t defend it very well,” co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said. “I think the bigger challenge for us right now is getting our kids to understand the importance of the last five minutes of the half.”
The oft-injured defense was without sophomore defensive back Storm Duck and senior defensive back Patrice Rene. Duck is expected to miss the game against Virginia, while Rene will be evaluated over the course of the week. Senior wideout Beau Corrales is also questionable for Saturday’s game.
Another topic of concern is containing the quarterback run. Although the Tar Heels held N.C. State to a mere 34 rushing yards, they have struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks in past games this season, namely FSU's Jordan Travis, who ran for over 100 yards against UNC.
Virginia starter Brennan Armstrong, who rushed for 91 yards against Miami on Saturday, matches that label.
“We are very well aware of our lack of success with rushing quarterbacks,” Bateman said. “Coach Brown has reminded us of that a few times, and we’re going to spend a lot of time this week preparing for that.”
As for the offense, coordinator Phil Longo continues to focus on developing his young group of linemen. The explosive UNC run game shined with 326 yards against the Wolfpack, which Longo partly attributes to an improving offensive line.
“There’s a lot of unity upfront right now. I think we’re more physical upfront this year than we were last year, and it certainly helps when your running backs, both of them, are elite this season,” he said.
In last season’s 38-31 loss to Virginia, UNC torched the Cavaliers through the air with 353 passing yards and four touchdowns. But fans shouldn't expect this year’s game plan to heavily favor the pass game, though, as both Brown and Longo are committed to the “balanced offense” that they have emphasized this season.
Although the Cavaliers carry a 1-4 record, Longo is by no means discounting the Virginia defense.
“They're probably the most multiple-schemed that we have seen this year,” Longo said. “So we certainly respect Virginia’s talent on defense, and you add with that just their multiplicity with regards to coverages and pressures, we’re going to have to be on the ball mentally this week.”
You can watch UNC play Virginia on Saturday at 8 p.m. on the ACC Network.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.