News and notes from Mack Brown’s early NC State Week press conference
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina football coach Mack Brown met with reporters Monday for his first media address in a week leading up to Friday’s game against rival NC State, the regular-season finale for both teams.
The Tar Heels (9-2 overall, 6-1 ACC) are coming off a 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech, a stunner at home that saw UNC squander a 17-0 lead and fail to score during a second-half shutout. Drake May was sacked six times and didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season, Josh Downs threw a touchdown pass in the end zone in the final 4 1/2 minutes of the game, and the Tar Heels’ six-game ACC winning streak ended a week after winning the the Coastal Division of the league.
UNC fell five spots to No. 18 in the AP Top 25 poll on Sunday, and will take place on Tuesday night when the fourth edition of the College Football Playoff rankings are released. The Tar Heels were ranked No. 13 last week in the third edition of the CFP Committee. UNC’s date in the ACC championship game against Clemson, the Atlantic Division champion, is Dec. 3 in Charlotte.
NC State (7-4, 3-4) is coming off back-to-back losses to Boston College and Louisville. By all accounts, the Wolfpack could use their fourth different starter at quarterback this season against UNC. Ben Finley replaced starter Jack Chambers in NC State’s 25-10 loss at Louisville over the weekend. The Wolfpack were without MJ Morris due to a lower-body injury and Devin Leary was lost to a season-ending injury in October.
Here are our notes from what Brown said Monday at the Kenan Football Center…
— Tight end John Copenhaver and receiver Antoine Green participated in UNC’s Monday morning practice. Both missed the Georgia Tech game with upper-body injuries.
Deep threat Green was knocked out of the Tar Heels’ win at Wake Forest by a hard hit late in the first half that led to a targeting penalty against Wake Forest safety AJ Williams, who was ejected for fouling.
— UNC does not reward players of the game after losses. But Brown said that on defense, cornerback Storm Duck had perhaps his best game, while defensive ends Kaimon Rucker, Jahvari Rizzi and Kevin Hester Jr. and linebackers Cedric Gray and Power Echols also played well against Georgia Tech . “The first people did a really good job,” Brown said.
Offensively, tight ends Bryson Nesbitt and Kamari Morales, along with offensive lineman Ed Montilus, were recognized for playing well. On special teams, Hester, Malik McGowan, Jonathan Adorno, Obi Egbuna, Marcus Allen, DeDe Hollins, Gibson McRae and punter Ben Kiernan had another commendable game, Brown said.
— Brown said when Elijah Green broke off an 80-yard touchdown on UNC’s first play against Georgia Tech, he told the coaches and players to mentally start over and treat the score as if it were still 0-0.
Brown reiterated his long-held distrust of big-play scores early in games and their tendency to sometimes create a false sense of security. “It’s usually an impostor,” he said. “It just looks like it’s going to be too easy. And you jump out 17-0 and then you don’t follow through.”
“The difference in the Georgia Tech game,” Brown said, “is the red zone.” The Yellow Jackets converted their drives into touchdowns on 3-for-3 drives, while UNC was 1-for-5 on touchdown drives in the red zone. This has typically been a strong suit for Maye and Co., which has helped fuel the Tar Heels this season. “We have to get back to doing it better,” Brown said.
— “We don’t know who’s going to play quarterback (for NC State), but we just got beat by a team that played their third- and fourth-team quarterbacks.”
— Brown says NC State played good defense, not good defense. He says the Wolfpack is ranked 21st nationally in total defense, 15th in scoring defense, 9th in rushing defense, 18th in third-down defense.
— Regarding the rather suspicious penalty against Nesbitt that spoiled what would have been a 68-yard touchdown run by Green on third down and put UNC up 17-14, Brown said the Tar Heels turned the penalty over to the ACC league office. Dennis Hennigan oversees the conference’s football officials.
“That’s a tough call that would have won the game,” Brown said. “But I told the boys, don’t put the game in the hands of the officials. … It was hard, and really heartbreaking.”
— 3 of 6 sacks against Georgia Tech came on the line of scrimmage.
— Brown called UNC’s consistent offensive performance against Georgia Tech “very uncharacteristic” and “very, very disappointing.” Brown said UNC needs more consistency in its running game. He said the Tar Heels need to get their program to the point where they will play at a high level regardless of the opponent.
“I kept saying throughout the week that great teams don’t have a trap game,” he said. “They just get ready and go play. It was a case of it jumping up and biting us this weekend.”
Brown said he considers the game before a competitive late-season game, such as UNC’s situation with Georgia Tech and NC State, “the most dangerous week of the year.”
— Monday was essentially a Tuesday practice for UNC. Tuesday will be practice on Wednesday and so on, with the Tar Heels on a short week leading up to Friday’s game at Kenan Stadium.
— UNC’s offense managed just 108 yards in the second half of a loss to Georgia Tech. The Tar Hills punted the ball three times in the second half, Maye had an interception in the red zone, there was a turnover on downs and UNC didn’t score in the fourth quarter.
“And all of that is the reason we won nine games,” Brown said. “I’m not sure where this all came from.”
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