Brewer: Don't Take MTSU Lightly

Brewer: Don't Take MTSU Lightly

by Rick Brewer,

Some people have been quick to give up on North Carolina's football season.

It has been said and written in the last week that the Tar Heels may be headed for a long year. This is after just the season opener against South Carolina.

However, there are not many on the Carolina campus or among alumni who feel that way. Fans of a particular team always are looking for a silver lining. It's easy to find plenty of those in Chapel Hill.

Certainly last week's loss at South Carolina was disappointing. But, it was just one game in a season. There are plenty more to be played, starting with Saturday's matchup against Middle Tennessee State.

The Tar Heels were picked by many to battle Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech for the ACC's Coastal Division title. Now a lot of those people have jumped off the Carolina bandwagon after one humid night in Columbia.

They should remember this is a different team than the one the Tar Heels had last year. Gone are three starters in the offensive line, including All-America guard John Cooper. The defense is missing star tackle Sylvester Williams and linebacker John Reddick.

And, then there is Gio Bernard, one of the most explosive all-around backs in college football who has gone on to the NFL.

Besides, last week's game was one South Carolina was supposed to win. The Gamecocks were ranked sixth in the nation and were playing at home with a veteran team. Those who forecast such things believed there were only five teams in the country better than South Carolina. There were probably only two or three teams who would have been favored over the Gamecocks in Columbia.

Still, it was also a game the Tar Heels hoped and even expected to win. They were more upset than anyone when they didn't.     

Last week's game did reveal Tar Heel problem spots. Coach Larry Fedora already knew his team had areas of concern. They were just exposed to everyone else by the Gamecocks.

An inexperienced defense has plenty of work to do. Carolina hurt itself by giving up too many big plays last year and that again was the case in Columbia.

A rebuilt offensive line showed promise, but needs more consistency. The entire offense struggled more than it did in last fall's opening game. Of course, this season's first opponent was a bit more powerful.

Fedora was just as disappointed as his players at last week's outcome. However, he came away feeling Carolina could be an exceptional football team this fall.         

"We've still got a long way to go to be the type of team I know we can be," he said. "That was obvious against South Carolina.  We're in year two of our program here and I wish we were further along, but we're not.

"However, I'm not coming out of this game thinking we're so far away that we'll never make it. That's not the way I approach things. We need to improve our execution every week in order to make the progress we want."

That means continued intensity in practice. There are now different opponents to prepare for each Saturday. While players are thinking about weekly game plans, they must also work to correct the mistakes made against the Gamecocks.

There is an old football axiom that a team's greatest improvement all year often comes between its first and second games. Players are generally more nervous before openers than during the rest of the year. Just getting those first game jitters out of the way should help a great deal.

The first game can expose unexpected problems or weaknesses. Many of those can be corrected before a team plays again. Occasionally a player simply performs better in games than in practice. The first game can give coaches hints of that.           

Fedora will be expecting and needing that improvement this week. Middle Tennessee State may not be known as a football powerhouse, but the Blue Raiders cannot be taken lightly.

MTSU returns 17 starters from last fall's 8-4 team. The Blue Raiders pounded Georgia Tech, 49-28, in Atlanta. If that can't get anyone's attention in Chapel Hill, nothing can. The Tar Heels have struggled more against the Yellow Jackets recently than just about anyone.

Middle Tennessee State piled up 510 yards of total offense against Georgia Tech. Quarterback Logan Kilgore connected on 17 of 23 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns.

The Blue Raiders opened this season with a 45-24 win over Western Carolina. Kilgore led an offense that finished with 475 total yards. Running backs Jordan Parker (156 yards) and William Pratcher (71) led a ground attack that pounded out 270 yards.

Parker had a 65-yard touchdown run on that game's first play from scrimmage. That's the type of big play that hurt Carolina last week and last year as well. The Tar Heels must do a better job of containing those long plays if they are to develop into a solid defensive unit. 

Do that and maybe some of those who jumped ship last week will be getting back on board.


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