Tar Heels Not Overlooking Potent ODU
By Emily Fedewa, GoHeels.com
Playing a non-conference game this late in the season may be a bit unusual, but the Carolina football team isn't using that as an excuse to take Old Dominion lightly.
Sophomore bandit Shakeel Rashad recognizes that the Tar Heels can't overlook ODU or quarterback Taylor Heinicke - even giving the opposing quarterback a nickname to highlight his talent.
"I've been calling him Taylor Football. I'm waiting for that one to catch, it hasn't caught yet though," Rashad said with a smile. "But he's really good and you have to give him all the respect that he deserves, which is a heck of a lot of respect because he's a great quarterback."
Rashad said the UNC defense has been working on compressing the pocket and trying to take away passing lanes to limit the effectiveness of Heinicke, last year's winner of the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in FCS football.
After racking up seven sacks against Pittsburgh in last weekend's win, head coach Larry Fedora knows that Carolina's defensive pressure is an important part of its game.
Fedora pointed to Heinicke's ability to get the ball out quickly and extend the play, as well as the strength of ODU's offensive line, as challenges that may hamper Carolina's ability to pressure.
"I mean, this cat's really good," Fedora said of Heinicke. "He knows where to go with the ball, so he's not just back there patting it. He knows where he's going, and their offensive line does a good job of protecting him."
In order to limit ODU's effectiveness, the Tar Heels will need to continue improving on the defensive end as they have in recent weeks.
After an injury to his meniscus early in the year, Rashad was forced to sit out the first half of the season. During that time, he noticed a distinct lack of energy in his team.
Now, though, he thinks that excitement is back - and it's been the difference between the 1-5 start and the current four game win streak.
"At the beginning of the year I wasn't playing, so I got to see a lot from upstairs, and I noticed that people didn't seem like they were flying around and having fun," Rashad said. "I feel like this half of the season people are having so much more fun and really loving to play the game, so it's going better for us."
Despite that streak and the increased energy, Fedora repeated the Tar Heels' mantra of simply focusing on being 1-0 - and not on the possibility of bowl eligibility with a win over ODU.
But Rashad said he knows that, while UNC can't neglect the threat of Old Dominion, being 1-0 this week and making it to a bowl after last year's ban are a package deal.
"I think the two go hand in hand because if we're focusing on being bowl eligible, then we have to focus on being 1-0 this week," Rashad said. "Because that one win is what will make us bowl eligible. So I agree with Coach Fedora that we have to focus on being 1-0.
"And you can't look past this opponent - they've got Taylor Football back there in the pocket. "