The first words Larry Fedora spoke on Monday at his regular weekly news conference were these: “All right. The world didn’t come to an end. The sun came up yesterday, back up today.”
He smiled, slightly, and went into his opening statement – about evaluating a 70-41 defeat against East Carolina that was the worst of his tenure at UNC, about moving on from that defeat. Fedora might have been certain the sun would rise after that defeat, but he wondered about a lot of things.
For one, about the mental state of his players. The Tar Heels gathered Sunday, like they normally do, to watch film and to correct their mistakes and, after Saturday, there were many. And as for the mental health of the team? Fedora stated the obvious.
“Oh, we’ve got guys that are down,” Fedora said. “I didn’t expect them to come in here dancing around and all happy. I’m not sure that I would have understood what that meant. So yeah, we had guys that were down. And we addressed the game.
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“But, again, it’s very, very important that we don’t dwell on it. It’s over with.”
That, above anything, was Fedora’s primary talking point Monday: The best plan after UNC’s worst recent loss – and, statistically, the worst defensive performance in school history – is to forget about it quickly. Not that it will be easy.
Fedora said on Saturday he’d evaluate the job he was doing. He said he’d evaluate aspects of the program he has built and is trying to build.
And after performing those evaluations, he sounded optimistic Monday that he and his assistant coaches have been doing the right things. Fedora didn’t outline any changes. He didn’t describe how the staff would alter its course, how it might change schemes or approaches.
“I can change a lot of things, as far as the way we practice, but I don’t think that’s the answer,” Fedora said. “I think the way we practice is the right way, and I think it’s a proven way, and I think we’ll continue to do that.
“Any time you have that kind of result, you’ve got to look at everything. It doesn’t mean everything is good and wrong. But you’ve got to look at everything. You’ve got to evaluate every little detail to find out if you still believe what you’re doing is the right thing. And I still do believe that.”
UNC set single-game school records for yards (789), first downs (39) and points allowed. Fedora said he didn’t know how many tackles the Tar Heels missed, but that was a high number, too.
Even so, he defended the team’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme, which has been built, he has said, to neutralize spread offenses – the kind the Pirates used with much success. Fedora, when asked if the loss caused him to question the effectiveness of the 4-2-5, said the problems aren’t a result of the scheme.
He pointed to other teams’ use of a 4-2-5 defense and their success with it.
“Whether you’re in a 4-3 or a 3-4 or a 4-2-5, you’ve still got to make plays, and you’ve got to put your guys in a position to be able to make plays,” he said. “I don’t think it’s the 4-2-5. Now maybe the scheme that we used within the 4-2-5 in the game wasn’t the best thing that we needed to do.”
The Tar Heels adjusted their defensive alignment, and mainly used one linebacker – Jeff Schoettmer, the middle linebacker – and six defensive backs. Travis Hughes, a senior who is usually a linebacker, played the “bandit” position – a hybrid linebacker and defensive end.
It was such a different approach than what UNC normally uses, Schoettmer said, that his position group didn’t even study film of mistakes in the ECU game. Schoettmer said Fedora left it up to the position coaches as to whether players had to watch what went wrong.
“Since we ran a little different scheme than we did normally, no need to dwell on it, too,” Schoettmer said. “Move on to Clemson. They’re a good team. We need as much film as we can get on them.”
Fedora rejected the thought that players quit Saturday – an opinion T.J. Thorpe, a junior receiver, shared after the game. Fedora said he didn’t see anyone quit, and he seemed surprised Thorpe had come to that conclusion.
Even so, the effects carried over to Sunday and “guys were a little down” when the team reconvened, sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer said Monday. Switzer said “guys got a little negative” amid a humiliating loss.
“Frustrations and emotions overcame a lot of the positive energy that we had,” Switzer said. “So I think we can use that experience, as well as what we went through last year to kind of propel us forward and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
A season ago, UNC lost five of its first six games – including a 55-31 loss against ECU – before turning around its season. Then, though, the Tar Heels took advantage of a schedule that was considerably easier.
The schedule only appears more difficult now. A trip to Clemson awaits this weekend, and then UNC plays Virginia Tech at home before traveling to Notre Dame. The games the team might have thought would be its easiest, entering the season, already are in the past.
Fedora on Monday spoke of the importance of resiliency and responding – the kinds of things he often spoke about last season amid a difficult start. He said he spoke with his players about the choice they can make after one of the most humbling losses in school history.
“Everybody’s got a choice on how they’re going to react to the situation, and that determines who you are, is how you react to it,” Fedora said. “I mean, the true test of a man is finding out who you are. And until you’re really tested, you don’t know.”