Nine-man defense illustrates UNC's poor focus
When he got home Saturday and watched the tape of North Carolina’s 55-31 loss to East Carolina, Jabari Price counted the defenders who were on the field at one point in the second quarter.
The senior cornerback stopped at nine.
“I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Price said.
The Tar Heels (1-3, 0-1 ACC) didn’t call a timeout, and Pirates senior Vinvatious Cooper ran 26 of his career-high 186 yards.
The nine-man defense illustrated the “immature mistakes” that Price said undermined UNC’s effort against ECU, which included 37 missed assignments on the Pirates’ 101 plays.
“It’s just unheard of,” Price said. “ECU has a fast tempo, but it’s not that fast that we put nine people on the field. … You can’t win a game with nine people. I’ve never seen it done in my life. It’s inexcusable.”
After suffering the worst loss of his 16-game tenure at UNC, Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora opened his weekly news conference on Monday by saying he disproved the old saying “It’s never as bad as you think it is, it’s never as good as you think it is.”
“It was as bad as I thought it was,” Fedora said. “The film didn’t show us anything to make us feel any better about it.
“Like I said after the game, we played poorly in all three phases. We got out-coached in all three phases. We’ve got to do a much better job, each and every person that’s associated with the program, including myself.”
Price said the defense held a players-only meeting on Sunday after ECU put up 603 yards, the second-most yards by an opponent in the history of Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels are last in the ACC in points allowed and yards allowed heading into Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech (12:30 p.m., WRAL).
“It starts (with) making the plays in practice rather than shooting the breeze and just punching the clock on Tuesday and Wednesday,” Price said. “We haven’t been practicing the way we’re supposed to be practicing, the way we have in the past, and it’s kind of been showing on Saturday (in) our tackling ability.”
Despite having the worst record in the ACC (Wake Forest, at 2-3, is the only other team with a losing record), Fedora said he won’t change his philosophy, which he said has been proven to work. Instead, he said the team needs to play with more energy, enthusiasm and passion.
Price agreed that the problems didn’t stem from the schemes, which he said were the same as when UNC beat ECU 27-6 last season. Instead, Price said the problem came from the players’ attitudes about the Pirates, who hadn’t won in Chapel Hill since 1975.
“We saw ECU (and thought), ‘Oh, we beat them every time,’” Price said. “I think we looked past them, in a sense, and that’s the biggest mistake a team can make on this level. … You have to play the game, not the name.”
Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for the next two games, at Virginia Tech and home against Miami on Thursday night. But if the execution also doesn’t improve, UNC will hit the halfway point at 1-5 for the first time since the John Bunting era.
“There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to come together,” Fedora said. “If I wasn’t sure about what we were doing, if I didn’t believe in what we do, then maybe my confidence would be wavering, but it’s not. We’ll get there — I just don’t know when.”