The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, March 1, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: Against a one-win Virginia team, UNC football must limit complacency, penalties

UNC senior linebacker Cedric Gray (33) tackles Virginia junior wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. (1) during the football game at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, V.A. on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Sharpe.

In 2005, former Texas head coach Mack Brown hung a piece of cheese from every players’ locker. Above the lockers, a simple quote adorned the wall: “Don’t be the big rat that’s eating the poisonous cheese.”

The then-No. 2 Longhorns were undefeated, slated to face an underwhelming Texas A&M team in one of their last games of the regular season. Brown’s former coach at Florida State and then-Dallas Cowboys head coach Bill Parcells called. His advice was never to underestimate any opponent; to never be the big rat that eats the poisonous cheese — a message Brown then posted across the Texas locker room.

While Brown took this message to heart, the Longhorns still clung onto a 34-29 lead heading into the fourth quarter, eventually winning, 40-29.

As Brown heads into the South’s Oldest Rivalry at the helm of a No. 10 ranked North Carolina football team, his thoughts return to Parcells’ words. In the last six years, the Tar Heels have only beaten the Cavaliers twice. Last year, despite being ranked No. 17, North Carolina squeaked out a 31-28 against a UVA program with a losing record.

While the Cavaliers find themselves in a similar position with only one victory under their belt this season, both teams know these rivalry matches are always played close. 

“Are we going to walk around all week and be cool and talk about all these stats?” Brown said. “About how many times we have been 6-0? Better not, because then you won’t be 7-0.”

Following what is arguably the biggest win of the season against Miami last weekend, UNC coaches and players alike exited Sunday’s team meeting unhappy. While the Tar Heels beat Miami 41-31 to maintain their perfect record, they were plagued by penalties and gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

“We did do a lot of bad stuff in that game,” senior linebacker Cedric Gray said. “Stuff that’s got to be fixed and I think the biggest message in that meeting was penalties. The penalties [were] awful this past weekend. So that’s something that we got to clean up this weekend.”

As North Carolina gears up to take on the Cavaliers on Saturday, this is the mindset. When comfortability creeps in, the Tar Heels’ disappointing four-game losing streak to close out last season serves as a reminder. For Gray, the loss to Georgia Tech last season acts especially as a persistent lesson.

“A game like UVA, maybe a lesser opponent, we can’t get complacent,” Gray said. “Georgia Tech always had our numbers so we can’t get complacent just because of their record. We have to come in and show up week in and week out.”

These same reminders from last year afflict graduate center Corey Gaynor, who knows seasons can pivot drastically in an instant. 

“This game is fickle,” Gaynor said. “It changes every second. You wouldn’t believe [it]. You feel on top of the world one day, right? Everyone is patting you on the back. You lose one time. You give up one sack. You give up one [tackle for loss] and the narrative changes on you. So we’re always looking for what’s next.”

As the Tar Heels work to maintain their perfect record and lofty goals of being a possible championship contender, they come back to Brown’s idea.

You can’t sit around and eat the cheese. 

“You can’t listen to the talk," Brown said. "You can’t pat yourself on the back because we’re human beings. We’re human beings so we know Virginia’s going to play hard Saturday night. We knew Miami was going to play hard Saturday night. How are we going to play?”


@dthsports |

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.