When Larry Fedora said before the season that "it's time," he was talking about the opportunity North Carolina had, its need to take advantage of a wide open Coastal Division, which seemed there for the taking and in a lot of ways still does.
Fedora's words then, from late July, can be applied now, too.
After two consecutive losses to begin what appears to be the most difficult part of UNC's schedule, Fedora and his team face an uncomfortable reality: end the losing streak now or experience something similar to what it did the first half of last season.
A year ago UNC lost five of its first six games, and then salvaged the season with a turnaround in the second half. Now, after defeats at East Carolina and Clemson, the Tar Heels are returning home in desperate need of a victory against Virginia Tech.
"There's always a sense of urgency," T.J. Thorpe, a junior receiver, said when asked if that was especially true this week. "You know, you definitely don't want to be in a situation we were in last year."
Fedora on Monday during his weekly press conference said he hasn't spoken with his players about the significance of this game - the significance of first game against a division opponent. He hasn't spoken about how wide open the Coastal still seems.
"I haven't really talked about that," Fedora said. "We have to get ourselves right right now. And really it's not about who we play, it's still about our room and getting ourselves right. If we go out and we play hard and we take care of our job, then we've got a chance.
"If we don't, if we continue to make the mistakes that we're making mentally, then it'll be hard."
To Fedora, the direction UNC's season takes is as simple as that. Fix the mistakes - and there have been many - and the Tar Heels, as poorly as they've played at times in the past two weeks, might still stand a chance in the Coastal. Allow the mistakes to continue and, well, it could get ugly. Or uglier.
There were enough positives, at least, for Fedora to regain some sense of optimism after the loss at Clemson. The Tar Heels routinely allowed big plays, again, and gave up touchdowns of 75, 50 and 33 yards (twice) but, aside from those breakdowns, the defense offered some encouraging signs.
"When you look at the whole body of work and you really break it down, there was some really good things," Fedora said. "I mean, you hold them to 2.1 yards rushing per attempt. You hold them under 100 yards (rushing). We had multiple guys getting to the football. We tackled much better."
Offensively, too, the Tar Heels made some strides. Thorpe, the receiver, turned a short pass into a 41-yard touchdown on a well-executed play early in the third quarter.
Later Marquise Williams, the junior quarterback, threw another short pass that Ryan Switzer caught over the middle, in stride. Switzer outran the Tigers' defense for a 75-yard touchdown.
The Tar Heels, though, have continued to hurt themselves. The breakdowns have ranged from innocuous and understandable, like a false start penalty on a lineman affected by crowd noise, to the bizarre and unexplainable, like the continued problems in the secondary.
UNC's first blown coverage Saturday, for instance, left an entire side of the field uncovered. It resulted in Clemson's first touchdown, which came on a 74-yard pass.
"Those are just mental mistakes," Fedora said of the lapses in coverage. "Because they're base things. They weren't something that was exotic, that we put in for that game. I mean, they were just basic mental mistakes."
There were a lot of them. Deshaun Watson, the Tigers' quarterback, often had his pick of open receivers. And when the Tar Heels' defense wasn't blowing an assignment, UNC was often committing a penalty. The Tar Heels finished with 15 for 130 yards.
Asked how he and his staff address the continued mental mistakes, Fedora said, "We go through it on film, and it's not always a pretty sight when you get called out in front of everybody for a mistake like that. And then we go out on the field and we correct the mistake."
To do that, Fedora said, the coaching staff replicates the situation - the formation, the play call - when the mistake happened. Then the play is repeated, the breakdown addressed.
Ethan Farmer, the senior defensive tackle, said Monday that it was "frustrating" to play as well as the Tar Heels did up front while still allowing 50 points. Farmer seemed pleased with the progress of the defensive line, but said the secondary had some work to do - as if it wasn't obvious.
"As a defense, we played very well," Farmer said. "It was just the key breakdowns."
A game against Virginia Tech, then, might bring the Tar Heels some relief. UNC during the past two weeks played two of the best offenses it might see this season, and both ECU and Clemson took advantage of the Tar Heels' defensive woes.
The Hokies, though, rank 11th in the ACC in yards per play (5.42). Their inefficiency on offense, at times, has mirrored UNC's difficulties on defense.
It won't get any easier for the Tar Heels after this week. After Saturday they go on the road, again, and again play a team, Notre Dame, capable of exploiting the defensive mistakes UNC has made with regularity.
So while Fedora wasn't talking two months ago about beating Virginia Tech, or winning any other game, specifically, now arrives a critical moment for the Tar Heels. A victory this weekend and UNC remains very much a part of a crowded race in the Coastal. A loss, though, and UNC is closer to finding itself in nearly the same position it did a year ago.