Out-of-town Q&A: North Carolina

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It’s Wednesday morning, so that means its time to take a look at Maryland’s next opponent from the perspective of someone who covers them.

(As opposed to Thursday morning, which is time to go get a five cent-a-gallon discount on gasoline at the local Shell station).

Back on point. Jack Daly of the Durham Herald-Sun has graciously taken the time to answer five questions about North Carolina’s 7-2 team. You can check out his coverage of the Tar Heels on the Herald-Sun’s website, though it does require free registration to read more than a paragraph on any story.

On to the questions:

1. It was two years ago this week that North Carolina hired Butch Davis to take over its program. Just how has he turned a doormat into a division title contender in that span?

JD: First and foremost, Davis had a decent base to work with. Most of the standouts on this year’s team – Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate (before he got hurt), Cam Sexton, T.J. Yates, Trimane Goddard and Mark Paschal were all recruited by Davis’ predecessor, John Bunting. Davis has done an excellent job of taking those players and changing the culture surrounding the program. No offense to Bunting, but the players just seem to have more confidence now that they’re being coached by Davis.

It’s also important to note the Tar Heels got a big scheduling break this season in avoiding Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State. The Tigers haven’t lived up to expectations, but all three of those teams would’ve been more than capable of handing UNC a conference defeat.

2. Requisite quarterback question: Is there any chance T.J. Yates regains his starting quarterback job from Cameron Sexton soon?

JD: Not as long as the Tar Heels keep winning. I think Yates is still the quarterback of the future at UNC, but the coaching staff isn’t going to mess with a formula that’s produced a 5-1 record since Yates went down with a broken bone in his left ankle on Sept. 20 against Virginia Tech.

3. From watching part of a few games it seems like Quan Sturdivant, Mark Paschal and Bruce Carter make up one of the conference’s top linebacking corps. How vital have those guys been for the Tar Heels’ surge in the standings?

JD: The linebacking corps has been impressive, but the best thing about the Tar Heels’ defense has been its ability to come up with interceptions. UNC is tied with Boston College for the NCAA lead, having picked off 18 pass this season. Trimane Goddard leads the NCAA with an average of .67 per game. (In normal language, Goddard has picked off six passes this season.)

4. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks seems like one of the favorites for ACC player of the year. What are the chances the electrifying junior returns for his final season of eligibility?

JD: Nicks hasn’t tipped his hands as far as his plans for next season. But I think there’s a strong chance he’ll head to the NFL, especially after he saw teammate Brandon Tate tear his ACL earlier this season.

5. Maryland fans remember the Terps’ inability to keep defensive lineman Marvin Austin, a D.C. native, close to home a few years ago. How much of an impact has the sophomore had over the last two seasons?

JD: Austin has been solid, if not spectacular. The sophomore has 29 tackles but only 0.5 sacks. The highlight of his season came when he intercepted a Connecticut pass and lumbered 23 yards into the end zone for a touchdown. We emphasize the word “lumbered” – Davis said it was the slowest 23-yard run he’s ever seen.

Austin is looking forward to playing in front of the home folks this week. “I get to go back and a lot of people in my family, and around the area want to see me play in person,” he said. “A lot of them have not had that opportunity, so it is going to be a pretty special game.”

And that’s a look at things in Chapel Hill. Thanks again to Jack Daly for lending his insight.

Patrick Stevens

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