“We’re not a great team. We’re a good team.”
That is the sentiment UNC football head coach Mack Brown had when he described the team’s play this year in Monday morning’s Zoom press conference, following the loss to Virginia on Saturday.
Two of the bright spots for UNC in Saturday's letdown loss were wide receivers Dyami Brown and Khafre Brown, whose performances weren't lost on offensive coordinator Phil Longo. The two brothers showed out on Saturday, with Dyami totaling 240 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 11 receptions while Khafre had a 76-yard touchdown reception.
“I would say the biggest similarity is speed," Longo said. "They both possess it. They do a good job vertically and have the ability to detach or separate themselves from defenders. You try to get them both in that type of scenario and obviously both of them responded on Saturday.”
Along with the Brown brothers, sophomore quarterback Sam Howell’s composure and patience leading comeback attempts have impressed Longo this season.
“Someone pointed out that he’s never thrown an interception in the fourth quarter," Longo said. "He makes good decisions, he stays within the play. I just think he’s getting better and better ... He’s able to maintain focus on what we need to do on each particular down.”
It's easy for Longo and the staff to heap praises on the offense when Howell and Dyami Brown were both named ACC Players of the Week, but co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said Virginia’s pre-play activity was a major factor in the Cavaliers' success against a UNC defense that struggled Saturday night.
“We didn’t handle some of the shifts and motions and it kinda got us into a vanilla defense a lot," Bateman said. "I think when they got us where they knew we were going to be, they T’d off on us and blocked us really good.”
Bateman added that the Tar Heels’ lack of effort in tackles also contributed to the Cavaliers' success.
“We’ve had three games where we’ve been really good and three games we’ve been really poor," Bateman said. "I think the three games we’ve been poor, when you go back and watch them, you see us fundamentally being poor and that’s on me as the defensive coordinator.”
In order for the Tar Heels to bounce back against Duke on Saturday, Bateman said his defense has to do better in "sudden change" scenarios. He added that since the Syracuse game, UNC's defense has overthought the process at times, rather than just relying on training and fundamentals to get the job done.
Bateman pointed out that the team’s run defense has been “inconsistent” this year. Brown also acknowledged the team’s struggle with run defense, simply crediting Virginia for blocking better than North Carolina did on Saturday night.
Brown recognized the effort the Tar Heels' offense put in Saturday night, but also acknowledged that more could’ve potentially been done. The team had several missed opportunities, between the defense unnecessarily using the last timeout before halftime, a holding call that nullified a rushing touchdown for Howell and a missed field goal.
“Forty-one points should be enough to win a game and we left some points on the board,” Brown said.
He also pointed out that despite the mistakes that have been made, he’s still proud of the effort the team has displayed in this season that has provided an unusual stretch of games.
“I’m proud of these players. They are trying," Brown said. "They get down and they compete so hard to come back and that tells me that they’re believing and that they’re getting better. Some might say ‘same old, same old’ but it’s not.”
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