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UNC coach Everett Withers meets the press: a recap

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CHAPEL HILLEverett Withers, the North Carolina coach, met with reporters on Monday for his weekly press conference. He spoke on a variety of topics – from the status of Giovani Bernard after he suffered a concussion to the challenges his team will face here on Saturday against Duke on Senior Day to the Tar Heels’ Thanksgiving plans.

Here’s the recap:
 
-opening comment:
“Coming out of Thursday night, there were spots we felt like we played well. Again, you don’t want to turn the ball over going in but there were some things we felt we did well. We felt like the first half we were able to hang in there. We didn’t particularly play well the beginning of the third quarter, but I do like the fact we continued to battle and just came up there short at the end.”

-on the status of RB Giovani Bernard:
“Everybody is going to ask about Gio. Gio had a mild concussion during the game. We held him out the remainder of the game. He did do some limited work in practice yesterday. Some non-contact work in practice yesterday. He will be evaluated today and we hope to have him back on the practice field tomorrow. So we’re excited about the game this week, obviously another in-state opponent. Eight miles away, a rivalry. And I really think Duke’s got a good football team that doesn’t have a very good record right now. Coach Cutcliffe and his staff have done a great job with the program and we’re going to have to play good because we know what kind of ballgame this is. This isn’t about records or anything this about being eight miles away and trying to be the better team on Saturday.”

-how did Gio seem to be feeling during and after the Virginia Tech game:
“He was fine. Gio wanted to go back into the ballgame Thursday. He wanted to go back and play. We just couldn’t do that. He was really anxious to get back on the field and we got him back out yesterday and he was fine yesterday and hopefully we’ll have him back full speed Tuesday.”

-on whether he anticipates Matt Merletti – who sat out the Tech game with an ankle injury – being able to play on Saturday:
“That’s hard to say right now. That’s still up to our sports medicine staff and his progress. We won’t know that for a while. I know he’d like to play.”

-on Miami’s decision to forego a bowl game and whether it is something that has been discussed at UNC:
“As far as I’m concerned it hasn’t been discussed, no … we’re bowl eligible, you know. Bowl eligible doesn’t mean you automatically go … I hope we go, yeah. Until somebody says we’re going I don’t know.”

-on the progression of Duke QB Sean Renfree:
“I think he’s had a good season. You know, he’s a talented quarterback with a good arm. You know, their offense is one of the – I think is one of the best in the conference because of what they do. They can kind of do what they do – he knows where to go with the ball. This offense has always been one that we’ve spent a lot of time trying to dissect and figure out. But I think he has great command of the offense. I think he only gets better and better. You know, I think we’ve got to find a way to get some pressure and get him off rhythm. Because if he’s able to stand back there, I mean he’s pretty talented throwing the football.”

-on whether he has extra concern against Duke’s passing offense given UNC is last in the ACC in pass defense:
“You know, I think it’s all about pressure on the quarterback and getting the ball out of his hand and make him throw the ball off rhythm. I think that’s what our concerns [are], whether we were first our last. Doesn’t matter. It’s how much pressure you can get on the quarterback.”

-on how frustrating it is to continue to be beset by penalties:
“Well, I mean, you’re frustrated any time you have those kinds of penalties. Any time you have penalties, period, you’re frustrated. Hopefully we’ll continue to learn and grow. We try to teach off of those situations so we can get better and hopefully this team will continue to grow and get better from those experiences on the field.”

-on his evaluation of the UNC defense from the start of the season to now:
“Well we’ve had a lot of guys that have been in and out of the lineup and some injury concerns and having to plug guys in to certain situations. I mean, to be honest with you, from start to finish I think this group has hung together fairly well and done a good job. I mean, this group – there’s some young guys, we’re talented up front. I think those guys have played well up front. We’ve had a mixture of guys in the back end that have had to play. And they’ve played hard, trying to do what we ask them to do. So, you know, I’m pleased to the fact that we have hung in there and tried to play the best of our ability.”

-the status of seeking a redshirt for PK Casey Barth and the kicking position overall:
“Still in the works … we have a kicking competition every week … anybody that can kick, we’ll have a kicking competition.”

-on the preparation during a holiday week:
“Nothing really special. We actually got an extra day by practicing yesterday, with a Thursday night game. So we’ll have an extra day of work. We’ll do our same Tuesday, Wednesday routine, basically move up our Thursday routine and give our kids until Thanksgiving afternoon and the Friday morning time to be with family and then we’ll continue on Friday. So there’s a little break in there on Thursday that we’ll give our kids.”

-on Thanksgiving plans as a team:
“In the past what we’ve done is we’ve kind of held a team [gathering]. But there’s so many kids that are local and our team is fairly close. I mean, those kids, they go home with each other all the time so most of the kids will take a roommate or teammate with them home for Thanksgiving. So I think it’s special when you’ve got a team that can do that.”

-as an interim coach, how much pressure do you feel to keep the winning streak over Duke alive:
“I don’t feel any pressure on that. I mean, like I said, when I first stood up here [in August] my only concern was trying to help these kids have the best experience that they can have. And that’s it from the start, [it will] be it at the end.”

-on whether he has given any thought to his future and whether this could be his final home game:
“Not one bit.”

-on whether he has talked with UNC AD Bubba Cunningham about his future:
“We’ve had several conversations. Several.”

-on how have those conversations have gone:
“Good.”

-on whether he feels UNC has improved each week:
“We’ve gotten better in a lot of areas every week. I mean, I feel like we’re a better football team now than we were at the beginning of the year.”

-on how frustrated he is that the team’s record doesn’t show that improvement:
“Well, there’s a lot of teams – there’s 120 Division I teams. I think you’ll get a lot of coaches to say their team’s better but their record may not be better. I heard coach Cutcliffe say it. You know, that he’s got a good football team that doesn’t have a good record. I think he’s true – he’s right.”

-on the UNC-Duke football rivalry:
“I think it’s a rivalry. You know, it’s eight miles away and I know it’s a big basketball rivalry, but it’s a pretty big football rivalry. These games are pretty competitive and tough and can get physical and I know they’ll come over here and try to be physical and I’m looking forward to it. Again, it’s what college football is supposed to be.”

-on his familiarity with what Duke will try to do on Saturday:
“Well, I know some of the things that coach Cutcliffe preaches. They’re going to be fundamentally sound. They’re pretty good at time of possession, on offense. So trying to keep the ball – they don’t get a lot of penalties. Our end, we have to be physical and run the football. We know that. Because they do have a good passing game. So we’ve got to keep that offense off the field and the only way to do that is keep the ball, be able to run the ball. Keep the chains moving – something we haven’t done a very good job of on third down. So we have to continue to do that and I think that’s all into  the line of scrimmages, the offensive and defensive lines being physical up front. If we can do that, I think we’ve got a good chance of being successful.”

-on what he has seen from Duke’s defense:
“Well, I think they’ve gotten better each week. You know, statistically you don’t see a whole lot of guys but I know they’ve got the second-leading tackler in this conference. They’ve got two of the top-15 tacklers in this conference. So they – I believe that theyr’e growing into the scheme that they’re using. Again, it’s a process. Any time you take over a program, it’s a process of building it. They’ve changed coordinators once, maybe twice. So it’s a matter of guys getting familiar with what you’re doing on defense and I think they’re growing into it.”

-on whether Cunningham has given him any indication about his job status and where he stands:
“I believe I’m a candidate.” 

-the direction of this program given the recent string of losses:
“Well I mean, again – you have to look at things other than wins and losses to sometimes judge what you’re doing as far as is your team getting better. I think our quarterback’s continuing to get better. I think he played better Thursday night than he played the week before. Hopefully that will continue. I think we’re getting better in the back end, in the secondary. I think there are some things we’re getting better [at] there. I think we continue to improve against good running backs … so I think there are some spots we continue to get better in. And that’s what you have to do – you have to find out where you’re getting better in as your football team [is] growing.”

So there you have it.

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great defensive coach, but

great defensive coach, but so outa there....... Thanks coach Withers for being a man of integrity and doing everything under the circumstances to help this team mature and be successful. Good luck in you next move.

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About the blogger

Andrew Carter is the University of North Carolina beat writer for the News & Observer.
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