CHAPEL HILL Maybe there wasn’t as much red and white as there was last year, but North Carolina’s players still walked into their locker room Sunday to find it decorated with N.C. State signs and paraphernalia.
The Tar Heels’ coaches used a similar motivational ploy last season as a way to inspire a program that had lost five in a row to its rival. One year and a 43-35 triumph against the Wolfpack later, the Tar Heels’ coaches have no reason to change a winning routine.
While coach Larry Fedora wants his players to be as hungry to beat N.C. State as they were last season, the game he really wants the Tar Heels to emulate is Saturday’s 34-10 victory against Boston College.
UNC (2-5, 1-3 ACC) had its most complete performance of the season, holding the Eagles to 59 yards passing and using the quarterback rotation of Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams to move the ball on offense.
“Especially the last two weeks, I think we’ve started to make some progress in some areas,” Fedora said Monday at his weekly news conference. “We haven’t arrived, but we’re getting better – we’re getting better in a lot of positions and we’re getting better in a lot of situations.”
In particular, Fedora was pleased with the lack of turnovers, the perfect red-zone execution and the defense’s attention to detail. Boston College only had three plays longer than 20 yards – Andre Williams’ 56-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, a 21-yard Williams run in the second quarter and a 24-yard run by quarterback Chase Rettig in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.
“There were a lot fewer mental mistakes,” Fedora said.
For sophomore linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, the strong effort against the Eagles actually began in the aftermath of the last-second loss to Miami on Oct.17.
“Everyone was heartbroken,” Schoettmer said. “We had our best week of practice for Miami; we laid it out on the line, we just couldn’t finish. So everyone was a little mad and upset about the game, but we knew we played well and there were some things we did really well that we could build off of.
“We just put that game to bed Sunday and went to work and just geared up for Boston College.”
In those practices last week, Schoettmer said the players had a sense they were getting close.
After the win against the Eagles provided the Tar Heels with tangible proof of progress, Fedora wants the players to keep pushing. In that regard, he was pleased the mood at practice Sunday wasn’t all that different than it has been on Sundays all year.
N.C. State decorations aside.
“Everybody’s got a bit more lift in their step,” Fedora said. “You invest so much and then when it pays off for you, you feel a lot better than you do the other way, I can assure you.
“But as far as the way they approach practice on Sunday – I’m proud of this group for this: they’ve been very consistent. They come out there and they go to work.”
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