By Staff Report.
North Carolina head coach Everett Whithers held his weekly press conference where he looked forward to the matchup with No. 7 Clemson Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.
“After watching the game tape, there were some positive things in the game that probably gave us a chance as the end of the game to win. Any time you can hold the third-leading rusher [in the ACC] to 29 net yards is pretty good defensively. I thought we played a bunch better on defense in the second half. So things were really good. I thought we did a good job in our cover teams on the punt and kickoff, which that was a challenge going in because we knew about Travis Benjamin and all his ability. He has hurt us in the past in the kicking game. So I thought we did some good things there. I thought Bryn [Renner] played well in the second half throwing the ball. We were able to do some things better in the second half throwing the ball, so I was pleased with that.
“The things that we have got to continue to get better on are we can’t turn the ball over in the kicking game, and we have got to continue to get better at that. We put the ball on the ground a couple times on kickoff and kickoff return and we have got to be better at that. We had two long touchdown passes, so the emphasis we are going to have this week is really focusing in on being better fundamentally and technique-wise against the balls down the field. And we can do that. When you look at the tape, it’s more about positioning and technique and fundamentals and finishing. And if we can continue to do that, we’ll get better.
“So there were some good things out of it. Obviously, you want to capitalize on those four-down opportunities, but we are going to be aggressive in that way. I want to stay aggressive, I want to get six *points+, I don’t want to get three. I want to get six. So that’s one reason will continue to do those type of things. But I think this team is probably coming into today feeling better abut themselves than they did when they left that field on Saturday. So I think we are headed in the right direction.
“Obviously, we are playing a top-10 team this week with a very explosive offense, their quarterback is playing really well, they have got a heck of a tailback I think. Last year, I thought they had two of the best tailbacks in the country. So it’s going to be a challenge with the quarterback and Sammy Watkins is talented, fast, athletic and all those things. He may be one of the best, if not the best, player in the country right now with all the things that he can do. People forget about the tight end. I think their tight end is one of the best in the country.
“Defensively, I think this may be the best front four we will play this year. I haven’t seen everyone else on our schedule but they have got some guys up front that look like first-round draft choices. So it will be a challenge for our defensive line to match their defensive line. This week is about matching their guys, playing better than their guys and winning the one-on-one opportunities. So we have got a lot of challenges. Again, going on the road, playing a top-10 team. But I think these kids will be up to the challenge. And I’m looking forward to it.
“You guys probably got the memo. We dismissed Ebele Okakpu for conduct detrimental to the team. Ebele will remain on scholarship and he does have a chance to graduate in the spring. So we want to give him that opportunity to continue his education and hopefully graduate in the spring. We wish him well.”
Can you elaborate on what led up to Okakpu’s dismissal?
“Nope, conduct detrimental to the team.”
With the NCAA investigation ongoing, are you holding the players more accountable?
“No, I think it’s about holding them accountable whether you’re under investigation or not. This is about life lessons and doing things right. This football thing is about doing things right. I think it’s the greatest game in the world and you learn so much from this game. And some of it is when you don’t do things right, you have to be held accountable.”
You mentioned Sammy Watkins. How do you prepare to face a guy like that, who can do so many things?
“Well we see guy maybe not as talented as him every week but every team has some spotlight guys on offense—good teams—spotlight guys on offense and defense. And what you don’t want to do is get too involved in trying to stop that one guy because then other guys beat you. So it’s about playing fundamental football. Knowing that some of those guys like Sammy Watkins are going to make some plays and you just hope they don’t hurt you with big plays.”