North Carolina finally turned in the kind of all-around performance coach Larry Fedora has been hoping to see. The Tar Heels need to make it a first step if they hope to regroup from a 1-5 start.
Heading into Saturday's rivalry game at North Carolina State, the Tar Heels (2-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) are coming off their first turnover-free performance and their best defensive showing of the season. It was a welcome reversal from weeks of lamenting defensive breakdowns, miscommunications or missed chances in the red zone.
"Especially the last two weeks, I think we've started to make some progress in some areas," Fedora said Monday. "We haven't arrived but we're getting better. ... With as many young people as we're playing, they're getting better and they're getting more experience and they're feeling more comfortable with what we're doing."
There were no shortages of positives for the Tar Heels in their 34-10 win against Boston College. They avoided turnovers for the first time this year and allowed their lowest point total of the season. They also allowed 59 passing yards, the fewest allowed by UNC since 1997.
One of the biggest improvements came in the red zone.
In the three previous games, the Tar Heels had scored three touchdowns in nine possessions that had reached inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Against the Eagles, the Tar Heels converted all five opportunities into touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Bryn Renner threw two TD passes on those drives and didn't throw an interception for the first time since the opening loss at South Carolina.
"I was getting in the bad habit of trying to do too much in a game and trying to dictate the game," Renner said. "I think it's tough at the quarterback position because you do get the ball every time and you want to make enough plays that your team can win. If I don't force it and kind of just stay within myself and check the ball down and distribute to the athletes we have, I'll put our team in position to win."
First-year N.C. State coach Dave Doeren watched film and said the Tar Heels had avoided the mistakes that had followed them through the first half of the season.
"They were able to score points early and force BC to have to catch up running the ball, which is hard to do," Doeren said. "They really limited their pass game. Offensively, they didn't make a lot of mistakes. ... They've got a nice system and it's similar to us in that they were young up front and it took them a while probably to figure out what they could do. As much as what you want to do, you've got to do what you can do."
UNC linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said there was a sense of relief through the locker room after the BC win, which had followed the pain of a last-second loss to unbeaten Miami the previous week - a game that saw the Tar Heels blow a 10-point fourth-quarter lead.
The goal now is to carry it over into more than just one game.
"We probably outplayed (Miami) for 59 minutes of the game and they get one at the end," Schoettmer said. "It's heartbreaking. ... And then to come out Saturday and get an ACC win is huge for us to try to get the ball rolling and turn the season around. We're trying to win out and go to a bowl game. That's our goal."