Note: this article is from the December 31 issue of CAROLINA: The Magazine.
By Turner Walston
Carolina finished the 2013 season with a record of 7-6 and a Belk Bowl championship. While on the surface, that might be considered just above average, the fact is this team clawed its way back from a 1-5 start to go 6-1 over the final seven games, capping the year with a dominant victory over Cincinnati in Charlotte. As the calendar turns to 2014, let’s look at what’s next for Tar Heel football.
Offensive Coordinator and Coaching Staff
With Blake Anderson now the head coach at Arkansas State, Carolina will need to find a new play-caller for Marquise Williams and the Tar Heel offense. Tight ends coach Walt Bell wore the headset in the booth for the Belk Bowl, but he’s headed to Jonesboro with Anderson. So Carolina may have more than new face on the coaching staff next fall. “We’re still in a holding pattern right now,” Fedora said immediately after the bowl game. “Really, we wanted to get through this bowl game and then I will turn all my attention to that. I don’t know if I have a day that I feel like I have to have it done, but we’ll get the right person. We’ll hire somebody that’s going to come in here and fit with our staff and that’s going to run this system.”
Did you get that? Fedora’s new hire, whoever he may be, is going to “run this system.” Carolina’s offense will continue to be smart, fast and physical regardless of who’s up in the booth. Expect new wrinkles, sure, but don’t expect drastic changes from the system that got the Tar Heels to the end zone so often in 2013.
The Tar Heels’ new offensive coordinator will have to be chomping at the bit to work with the young players that keyed the Tar Heels’ success in 2013. Carolina freshmen or sophomores accounted for 22 of the 28 receiving touchdowns this season, 16 of the 19 scored on the ground, and nearly 90 percent of the team’s rushing yards. T.J. Logan and Khris Francis emerged as dynamic yet diverse playmakers at tailback, Bug Howard showed that he’s a receiver that can go up and get the ball, and Ryan Switzer proved he’s a threat whenever he touches the ball.
Defensively, Carolina saw young studs show up in the secondary, with Dominique Green, Brian Walker and Desmond Lawrence asserting that they’re ready to take the torch from Tre Boston and Jabari Price.
By and large, Carolina’s special teams units were among the nation’s best. Switzer as an All-America at punt returner. Punter Tommy Hibbard was named honorable mention All-ACC for his ability to boom the ball and have his coverage team pin opponents deep. But there is certainly room for improvement. Kicker Thomas Moore was 14-19 on field goals on the season, but just 1-5 from 40 yards or beyond. Moore’s longest conversion was a 40-yarder in the bowl game. The Tar Heels need to be able to score points even when they can’t get in the end zone, and Moore’s inconsistency forced the team to punt or attempt fourth-down conversions on occasion in 2013. Carolina needs more consistency from Moore or to try to solve the problem through recruiting.
Speaking of recruiting, Carolina adds four members of the 2014 signing class in January, when Elijah Hood (RB), Bentley Spain (OT), Brandon Fritts (TE) and M.J. Stewart (DB). The new additions immediately help shore up the roster after the departures of players like James Hurst, Eric Ebron, A.J. Blue and the aforementioned Price and Boston. Fedora and his staff have been tireless on the recruiting trail and ought to be happy with the haul on National Signing Day, Wednesday, February 5, when the early enrollees’ classmates fax in their letters.
The Real Tar Heels
As mentioned above, Carolina finished the season 7-6 after starting 1-5. That’s a tremendous testament to the resiliency and resolve of this team and coaching staff. But they’d like to not have to repeat that feat. The schedule was much tougher in the beginning of the season, granted, but Carolina needs to prove they can show up and play a full season the way that they finished 2013. The theme of the latter half of the season was, “Go 1-0 this week.” Six times in seven tries, they did that. The Tar Heels need to start at 1-0 with Liberty on August 30, 2014. The next week against San Diego State, they need to go 1-0 (to get to 2-0, but don’t tell them that).
It will be of paramount importance to build on the latter half of 2013 with a successful off-season, starting with Blue Dawn conditioning, National Signing Day, and spring practice, to make 2014 even better.