So, it’s do-or-die time for the North Carolina football team. Again. After falling to 1-4 with a 27-17 loss to Virginia Tech Saturday, the Tar Heels have just seven chances remaining to secure five wins, making themselves bowl-eligible and semi-vindicating the early disappointment of this season.
Defensive end Kareem Martin said he's confident UNC can turn around its season.
The next task isn’t a small one, either. UNC hosts No. 13 Miami on Thursday, Oct. 17, a game that was billed as a Coastal contender showdown in the preseason. Now, it’s merely the first opportunity for the Tar Heels to show they’re capable of turning around their season.
To do that, UNC will have to defy history. Going back to 1956, UNC has started off 1-4 or worse just 10 times. It didn’t make a bowl in any of those seasons. The Tar Heels haven’t started a season this poorly since 2007 – Butch Davis’ first year at the helm – when they finished the year 4-8.
But, there is hope, the Tar Heels contend. The early-season schedule hasn’t given UNC any favors. UNC’s schedule ranks as the fifth-toughest in the country, according to Jeff Sagarin, a statistical guru with USA Today. Including Miami, four of UNC’s first six opponents have been ranked or received votes in the Associated Press poll; none of the final six have.
Coach Larry Fedora said he’s confident UNC will turn around its season, but it has more to do with UNC’s own personnel than any opponent.
“These guys are still working hard,” Fedora said. “They’re fighting, and they believe in what they’re doing and what we’re doing. If we keep working hard, we’re going to make some good things happen, and, eventually, enough lights are going to come on in some heads.”
There was widespread satisfaction in the UNC locker room following the Virginia Tech loss in regards to the team’s effort and intensity. That translated to success in certain areas of the game, too, such as holding the Hokies to 48 yards rushing.
Now, UNC has to avoid a letdown in focus and execution, which it did against East Carolina following a solid showing against Georgia Tech.
“Defensively, we probably played our best game against Virginia Tech. We just have to build on that,” defensive end Kareem Martin said. “It wasn’t just a one-time thing for us. As a defense, we have to have that mindset that nobody is going to run on us, and we’re going to do our assignments.”
That hope extends to the offensive side of the ball, too, where Fedora said his offensive line is improving each week. With more consistency up front, along with the inspiring debut of freshman running back T.J. Logan last week, the Tar Heels are anticipating a surge in a rushing attack that has been meager so far.
UNC also got an admirable performance from quarterback Marquise Williams when he was thrown into the fire against Virginia Tech. While Bryn Renner will hold his starting position when he returns from his foot injury, Fedora said Williams’ production will translate to more snaps and more wrinkles in the Tar Heels’ offense.
It’s now-or-never for a reeling UNC team, but the Tar Heels are insistent that they’re closer to the now than the never.
“We’re just trying to be positive in everything we do. I know that we can turn it around,” Martin said. “I’ve been on teams that have gone on long winning streaks, and I don’t know why this team can’t ... I definitely think that can be us.”