CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) – North Carolina never expected to be in this position.
The Tar Heels were considered dark horses to challenge for an Atlantic Coast Conference division title.
Instead, they have the worst record in the league. And with games against resurgent Virginia Tech and No. 14 Miami ahead, they’re in serious danger of dropping to 1-5.
“I do realize the task at hand – it will be very difficult – but right now I’m more focused on the Tar Heels than I am Virginia Tech,” coach Larry Fedora said Monday. “We have got to get better as a football team. Doesn’t really matter who the opponent is right now.”
UNC (1-3, 0-1 ACC) is coming off one of its worst losses in a while – a 55-31 thumping against East Carolina in which the Tar Heels allowed 603 total yards.
Fedora spent the vast majority of his weekly news conference breaking down the long list of things that went wrong against the Pirates, and didn’t even mention the Hokies until nearly 8 minutes in.
“That’s going to determine who we are, is the way we react to this game,” Fedora said. “If you walk around with your head down … you have no time to do that. You’ve got two more days to get ready for Virginia Tech, so you have no time to feel sorry for yourself or to be mad at yourself or any of those things.
“You’ve got to put it to bed and you’ve got to move on,” he added, “or you get beat twice by the same team.”
Now they’ll attempt to turn their season around in Blacksburg, Va. – where they’ve only won once there since 1930, and that victory in 2009 was vacated. Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0) has won four straight since its opening loss to No. 1 Alabama.
“The rest of our schedule’s a must-win,” cornerback Jabari Price said. “We get into conference play and try to contend for the Coastal (Division), we have to win these ACC matchups.”
It certainly won’t be easy. The Hokies have wins over two teams that have defeated North Carolina. That includes a 15-10 road victory over the same East Carolina team that came into Kenan Stadium and dominated the Tar Heels.
After that loss, North Carolina senior running back A.J. Blue said his teammates had a “lack of focus” and “complacency.” He said the Tar Heels may have looked down upon the Pirates, who embarrassed North Carolina in claiming just their third victory ever against UNC.
Price said the Tar Heels held a players-only meeting the next day to “talk about what’s going on, the things we’ve been noticing.”
And quarterback Bryn Renner agreed with Blue. Renner arrived at Monday’s interview session with a boot on his left foot, declined to say what happened and insisted “I plan on playing Saturday.”
“A.J. does a great job of leading this team. He said all the right things,” Renner said. “We didn’t play the way we’re capable of, and it’s got to stop. Things have got to stop and things have to change and player make changes.
“All across the board, the whole team has to kind of look themselves in the mirror and see if they’re doing everything they’re supposed to be doing on and off the field that can help this team win,” he added.
The effort was especially discouraging after the Tar Heels were competitive in a 28-20 loss at Georgia Tech.
“Two steps forward, four back,” Price said. “That was the story of our Georgia Tech and ECU games. You can’t do that on this level. No matter what the team is, you have to play the game, not the name.”