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What’s up with UNC football’s mood and penalties? You asked, we answered.

UNC’s Fedora: ‘I hate the fact we’re 0-2’

UNC Tar Heels football coach Larry Fedora talked about the team’s loss to the ECU Pirates on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 and handling adversity.
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UNC Tar Heels football coach Larry Fedora talked about the team’s loss to the ECU Pirates on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 and handling adversity.

Every other week I answer readers’ questions about North Carolina sports. This time around there were a lot of questions about North Carolina’s 41-19 loss to East Carolina on Sept. 8. And some of you were not happy with UNC’s 0-2 start to the season.

The Tar Heels play for the first time since the loss to the Pirates when they face Pittsburgh at home on Saturday. UNC’s game on Sept. 15 was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.

Here are your questions and my answers:

@jamesleegilbert: Who was suspended for the UCF game and which game might they be suspended for now?

@jonmalexander: There were eight players — quarterback Chazz Surratt, defensive ends Malik Carney and Tyrone Hopper, wide receiver Beau Corrales, linebacker Malik Robinson and offensive linemen Brian Anderson, Quiron Johnson and Jordan Tucker — scheduled to sit out against UCF.

The cancellation of that game won’t affect when those players return. All but one of those players — Carney, whose suspension was staggered — will return as scheduled on Sept. 27, when UNC plays Miami. Carney will return when UNC plays Virginia Tech on Oct. 13.

The nine players who were given four game suspensions for selling team-issued sneakers were suspended for 30 percent of the season. The cancellation of the UCF game brings UNC’s season to 11 games instead of 12. So those suspended players will only have to sit out three games total, according to Bobby Hundley, UNC football spokesman.

If UNC does decide to schedule a 12th game this season, once the team announces that game, the players will have to sit out the following game.

@rscearce: How long is the leash for Fedora?

@jonmalexander: I think it depends on what happens the rest of the season. I think UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham expects the football team to win, and anything short of that is a disappointment. But at this point, I do not see Fedora being fired if the Tar Heels have another losing season.

Fedora signed a contract extension in 2017 that goes through January 2023. According to his contract, if Fedora were to be fired “without cause,” the university would owe him the remainder of his contract, including his $600,000 annual base salary and his yearly supplemental pay.

Fedora’s supplemental salary is $2.3 million for 2018, and will be $2.4 million in each of the next three years. In all, the university would owe Fedora $11.9 million. That number would be reduced if he were hired elsewhere.

Paying that much money for a coach to not coach your team would not make financial sense. Also in the six seasons he has been at UNC, he has had four winning seasons. Combined he is 43-36.

Based on that, if UNC were to have a losing season this year, I think Fedora will get at least one more season.

@Ryan_Cobb: What’s the mood on the team. Are they fired up and want to win to help save their coach or have they begun to give up? Does Larry still have this team?

@jonmalexander: “Fired up” was not the vibe I was getting from players after the ECU game. They were distraught, upset and confused after the loss. But they did not appear to have given up.

Each player I spoke to was ready to move on from the loss.

“I don’t think anyone wants to start out 0-2,” junior quarterback Nathan Elliott said. “But there’s no quit in this locker room. There’s no quit on this team. Anywhere on this team.”

With the cancellation of its game against UCF, the Tar Heels have had a few extra days to rest and prepare for its home game against Pittsburgh. UNC beat the Panthers last year on the road 34-31 with 6-1, 215-pound Elliott at quarterback.

This game, UNC’s first home game of the season, will be the last game players like 6-3, 215-pound Surratt, a sophomore, and 6-4, 210-pound Corrales, also a sophomore, will have to sit out.

@Neck_Bone09: I’d like to know Fedora’s thoughts on the penalties. Guys like (Tyler) Powell and (Malik) Carney who have been in the program for 4 years are the worst offenders. Are they un-coachable or are they a reflection on the culture Fedora has established?

@jonmalexander: Fedora said recently that he was disappointed with the penalties.

“We can’t do that and have success,” Fedora said of committing penalties.

It’s something the coaching staff says they have addressed in practice. UNC had seven penalties in the first half for 65 yards and none in the second half of the ECU game. The penalties UNC did have extended drives and led to ECU scoring.

For instance, the late hit called against UNC senior defensive lineman Tyler Powell on third and 22. The personal foul call made the play an automatic first down. Four plays later, ECU scored on a touchdown run.

But I don’t think it is fair to call Carney and Powell “uncoachable.” Carney and Powell are both well-liked on the team. They have both been described as leaders by coaches. Fedora and defensive coordinator John Papuchis credited Powell for his intelligence and knowledge of the game.

Fedora said Carney is the emotional leader. He’s probably the most talented defender on the team, too.

I honestly think they’ve just made mistakes.

@NoahAforefortt: Do you see major improvements happening when some of the injured and suspended players come back?

@jonmalexander: I do. Particularly at quarterback. Surratt gives UNC another option at that position. He started seven games for UNC last season. While he has was not always accurate throwing the ball (58 percent), Surratt was a dual threat.

Surratt threw for 1,342 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions last year. He also ran for 210 yards and five touchdowns.

Carney’s return will also be big for UNC. He’s the team’s best pass rusher. He had two sacks and three tackles for loss against Cal. UNC struggled getting pressure on ECU quarterback Reid Herring last week without Carney.

With the suspensions, UNC lost a lot of depth at certain positions, particularly the offensive line, defensive line and defensive backs. Returning those players, and the talent it lost will only help.

Have a question?

Twice a month I’ll be answering readers’ questions in this mailbag. To submit a question, tweet me @jonmalexander with the hashtag #AskJMA, or send me an email to jalexander@newsobserver.com.

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Alexander, 919-829-4822; @jonmalexander
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