Turner's Take: Scott Steps Up
Fredericksburg, Virginia native Tim Scott seems to have some of his best games against teams from the commonwealth. A year ago, the junior cornerback had six tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception against Virginia Tech and six tackles, including one for loss, in Charlottesville. This year’s game with Virginia coincides with a period of improved play from the secondary and a two-game Tar Heel winning streak. Still, Scott is not taking the 2-7 Cavaliers lightly. “They’ve got a pretty good core within the running backs and the receivers and David (Watford) at quarterback,” Scott said. “They’re going to be a good challenge this week.”
The challenge for Virginia will be moving the ball through the air against a Tar Heel defensive backfield that is steadily improving week to week. Carolina allowed just 14 completions for 176 yards by the N.C. State Wolfpack last weekend, and picked off two passes. Scott himself had one of those interceptions. With Justin Thomason and Jeff Schoettmer pressuring quarterback Brandon Mitchell, Scott jumped in front of Wolfpack receiver Travares Copeland and made the grab.
“We’ve just been communicating more,” Scott said of the secondary, which has improved on its propensity to give up big plays early in the season. “Coach Fedora just talks about being 1-0, 1-0. In order for us to be 1-0, the secondary can’t give up plays, so we had a quick meeting talking about how we can’t give those up. We’ve got to communicate better as quick as we can before plays and that’s what we’ve been doing, and it’s been helping us.”
The year before Scott arrived, then-freshmen Jabari Price and Tre Boston were forced into early action due to the 2010 NCAA investigation. When Scott came to Chapel Hill, he was a freshman joining two experienced sophomores in the Tar Heel defensive backfield. “They (Boston and Price) told me what I needed to do and what to expect in college football and it helped me out a little bit,” he said. “Of course, I had to realize it for myself but once I realized it, I got the gist of it I think I transitioned well.”
Indeed. Scott made eight starts as a freshman and has been entrenched at cornerback ever since. In the first year of Vic Koenning’s defense, Scott and Boston led the team with four interceptions a piece, while Scott’s 19 passes defended were a team-best as well. He also had 5.5 sacks from the cornerback position. The move from a 4-3 base defense to a 4-2-5 in 2012 opened up things for him, he said. “In a 4-2-5, the corners are more free we get a lot more free plays to do what we want read the quarterback and just break on the ball which on the 4-3 you really can’t do.”
In the first month of the 2013 season, Koenning’s frustration with the defense was apparent. But at the same time, it was Scott who understood he had to filter his coach’s comments to get to the core of the criticism, then build off of that. “Coach Vic is just one of those coaches that’s always going to be on you,” Scott said. “He wants us to succeed so when we mess up he’s going to be hard to make sure you don’t make that mistake again. He’s not just yelling at us just to yell at us. He just wants us to make sure that we have our plays right for Saturday.”
Another area that Scott is impacting is punt coverage. Fedora has famously told his players that with few exceptions, they can’t start on offense or defense without starting on a special teams unit. Scott and Price are the punt team gunners, getting downfield to force fair catches and pin the opposing offense deep in their own territory.
“We told Coach Fedora, ‘Put us on there, and we’ll make sure we make plays for you,’” Scott said. “He’s put us on the punt team and I feel like as gunners we can easily just make the guys fair catch, because we’re two guys that can easily get down there.” Carolina’s punt coverage is among nation’s best, allowing just 3.8 yards per return.
“It is a matter of pride here that you better fight scratch and claw to get on special teams because it’s important for us,” Fedora said. “Tim, from the very beginning, did that and now I think you see him making big plays for us in special teams, and he’s making more plays for us on defense. He’s come a long way, he really has.”
As mentioned above, Fedora has stressed the importance of going 1-0 each week. That sounds better than trying to move to 2-5, 3-5, 4-5. The past is past, and the Tar Heels know that they can only try and win one game each Saturday. This weekend, Scott will take on the Virginia Cavaliers and do his best to get Carolina to 1-0. “We don’t really worry about our record right now,” he said. “We just worry about winning that game that week. We’ve got UVA, and we’ve got to make sure we’ve got our defenses right and we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got all the assignments. That’s the only way we can get 1-0.”