Excited to get back going this week on the road back in conference play. Got a big challenge this week in North Carolina. They’re a team that obviously is 2-2, but very easily could be 4-0. They’ve gotten down in some games, but they don’t go away, they keep coming back. The biggest thing I would say in watching North Carolina is you can tell and see the influence of the new staff and Coach [Mack] Brown and see what they are trying to do with the program and the culture there. You can tell the guys are listening and they believe in what they are talking about. They play incredibly hard regardless of if it’s 21-0 or if the game is on the line at the end of the game. They play really, really hard. They’ve got some pieces. Like I said, a team that could be 4-0 and definitely capable of beating us for sure.
They turned it over three times this past week, sack-fumble-touchdown and they had another big interception, and App [Appalachian State] took advantage of it, which is what good teams do, but really impressed just watching how they play and what they’re trying to do. They’re very well-coached. Defensively, they have got an excellent scheme. They’re all over the place, and they’re multiple in what they do and they have brought a lot of pressure -- a lot of different ways. They’re not afraid to play man coverage. They’ll get up and challenge you outside. They’re confident in what they’re doing there. The backers are active and, again, everybody is flying around and playing hard and playing physical. And they have gotten better as the games have gone. That’s one characteristic I can say from this bunch.
Impressed with their personnel inside. Big [No.] 92 and 55 are really good football players. They’re athletic at end, physical at backer, and again, really confident outside at corner. I don't know if the one safety is going to be there, but No. 1 is a good player. He’s a very active guy -- physical. Good group.
Over on the offensive side, very young, but they have got some talent and they have got some explosiveness. I think they have had 37 explosives to this point. Everything goes through the quarterback. He’s kind of Baker Mayfield-esque, if you will. Probably not as fast as Baker, but he’s got that type of toughness, grit, and same thing, gets better as the game goes and it seems like the bigger the moment, the better he plays. He’s just got a little moxie and savviness to him. Obviously he's a young player, but makes a lot of plays with his legs, has a good feel for the pocket, scrambling around. They do run him as well. They’ll run some option, they’ll run obviously the zone read. They run a lot of quarterback draw as well. Lots of RPOs -- lots of RPOs -- but for whatever reason, he’s been really good in the fourth quarter. If you track him, the fourth quarter, he’s like 70-something percent on his passes of 10 yards or more. Prior to that, he’s not near as good, so when the games have been on the line, he’s been really good, and he’s made some plays. He’s a guy we offered. Everything kind of goes through him.
They’re young up front. Not sure if their left tackle is going to play, he’s a really good player, I think this is the best group of backs we have seen. I think that kid last week might be the best overall back and will probably play on Sunday, but this is the best group of backs. They roll them in and out of there. [No.] 8 is quick, fast, scatty. [No.] 25 is a really good player. [No.] 24 is a senior and another guy they’ll put in there. But [No.] 25 has made some explosive plays. They involve the backs a ton. This is a game where we have got to do a great job, especially in the passing game, against these running backs, because they touch the ball a lot.
They’re quick outside at receiver. A lot of double move type stuff, jerk routes, bunch of 50/50 balls, sky balls, smash fades. They push it down the field. They’re not afraid to catch it, cock it, and let it rip, that’s for sure. We have got to win some competitive plays, try to find a way to keep the quarterback contained, especially on scramble situations, and then we have got to do a good job with these backs.
[They run] a good scheme. They’ve run a little mid-line, they’ve run some speed option, some zone, counter, and everything in between. Mostly 11 personnel -- they’ll get in some two-back as well -- but again, a very well-coached team and a team that you can see, again, has a plan, they believe in what they are doing, they have a great spirit to them. You know they are going to be excited to play Clemson and we’ll get the very best version of North Carolina. And we know that. And again, this is a team that is definitely good enough to beat us. No doubt.
For our team, it's about continuing to build some momentum, to play well, to build on what we did this past week, to start to look like an experienced team. We have played four games now, so let’s start to act like we have played four games and correct some of the mistakes that we have made, be a little more detailed in some areas, a little more consistent with our technique and fundamentals, and just play fast and be who we are. Play physical, get back to winning the turnover margin, see if we can get that back on the right path.
So I’m just really excited about this trip. It’s crazy, this is my 17th year, and I have been there one time, and it was a miserable night back in 2010. It was probably the worst coaching job I have ever done to this point, so I’m just looking forward to this opportunity and hopefully playing our best game and building some confidence and momentum. We have got an open date coming up after that. It's hard to believe this is Game 5 and that's how quick it goes. We’re a pretty healthy team right now, so hopefully we can, again, play well, play with some confidence, build momentum and get into the open date and have a chance to evaluate almost half a season, do a lot of self scouting and set up for a good second half.
It's going to take a great effort this week on our parts. Everybody is pumped up about it. I'm excited about competing against Coach Brown, obviously one of the best to ever coach the game. I think he’s also one of the best people to ever coach the game. He’s a true gentleman. He loves the players. He’s got a lot of relationships from many, many years at many different schools, and I think, again, one of the most respected people in this business. He’s been a great friend to me, so it’s exciting. It’s not something I ever thought I would ever even have the opportunity to do -- to coach against Coach Brown -- so it’s kind of cool to that we get a chance to do that and visit with him a little bit before the game.
I will say this, Blake Vinson is out. We are going ahead and do surgery on him, so he’ll miss the rest of the year with a patella injury. They’re going to go ahead and fix that ligament on the side of his kneecap there just so he doesn't have to deal with this. We’ll go ahead and do it now so he’s ready to go and fully recovered ready to go for spring practice. Hate that for Blake, but the good news is with the new rule, he can get this year back because he redshirted as a freshman and the new rule is now that if you redshirted as a freshman and then you lose a year for medical purposes, you can actually get that year. So technically he could have a sixth year if he wanted it, so that’s a good thing for him. Obviously hate that he can’t play the rest of the year. So [Will] Putnam, who played a lot this past week who was already going to play this year, it just gives him more opportunity to get in that mix.
On why he was so critical of himself in his last trip to Chapel Hill:
“We just weren't ready to play. I didn't have them ready to play. I did a terrible job. We just weren't ready. We turned the ball over, missed kicks. I just didn’t have them ready. Simple as that.”
On his thoughts on the way home from that game:
“How bad a job I did getting us ready that week. Simple as that. Nobody’s fault but mine.”
On if it is different entering Week 5 now because of redshirt rules:
“It’s not really that different. For us, I don't think we have got anybody that’s in that situation for us right now at this point because the guys that have played in four games, they are guys that are going to play. So, like [Joseph] Ngata, [Frank] Ladson Jr., those guys are going to play. Chez [Mellusi], [Michel] Dukes, they’re going to play. I don’t even know if they’ve played in four games, maybe two or three. [Joseph] Charleston, [Lannden] Zanders, maybe they’ve played in all four maybe, at least on special teams. We don’t really have anybody that is in that category for us right now. Again, we have got a few guys we want to hold that we’ll play in four games, but they haven’t played in four yet. Something could change between now and then. I don’t know when it will come. Maybe it’s game seven, maybe it’s game eight, something could change. But nothing different for us.”