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October 19, 2011North Carolina head coach Everett Withers spoke with reporters Wednesday in the Atlantic Coast Conference's weekly teleconference. Withers and the Tar Heels (4-2 overall, 1-2 ACC) take to the road this weekend against undefeated and seventh-ranked Clemson in Death Valley.
COACH WITHERS: After last week's ballgame, going back probably five or six plays in the ballgame, two turnovers, really two fourth down plays that we didn't execute well at all. But I did like the way our team came back in the second half. I really did. I liked the poise that they showed.
To be able to have a shot there at the end of the game to win really shows the character of this football team. We'd love to get off to a better start. This week we're going to need to. Playing a talented, very athletic Clemson offense. Very talented front four on defense, and playing down in Death Valley will be a challenge for us. But I think we are excited about it, looking forward to it, and it ought to be a heck of a ballgame.
What is Casey Barth's status right now? Any chance he might be able to kick this week?
COACH WITHERS: Right now we are not ready for Casey to kick. In fact, we're investigating the situation of possibly redshirting him. We're going to look into the ACC office about a hardship possibility.
But we don't want to put the young man out there. Casey's still not a hundred percent, and since that leg has been bothering him, we just felt like in our best interest and in his also, and his family's and this football team, not to push him out there, not to rush him.
We're looking into that possibility. He's still not a hundred percent. I don't think he's headed that direction. We just need to take care of him, and do the best thing for his family and the football team.
Was (Giovani) Bernard a guy who the staff considered playing as a true freshman or has he performed at a higher level earlier in his career than you would have thought?
COACH WITHERS: Well, I don't know if you know Gio tore his knee up about the third day of training camp his freshman year, so he was out the entire freshman year. He had an ACL. So that's the reason he didn't play as a true freshman.
If he were healthy, we'd probably have played him a lot more last year. We needed the backs because we were down and back. So his injury kept us from playing him.
How much was he able to participate in the spring?
COACH WITHERS: Very little in the spring, very little at all.
So any surprise that he's been able to be as effective early this year?
COACH WITHERS: I think surprise isn't the word. If you knew the young man and you knew his work ethic. From the day after his surgery his work ethic of getting back, and the rehab, and the weight training, the running, and all the stuff that he did this summer, I don't think -- if you saw him on a daily basis, I don't think you'd be surprised at what he's doing right now.
You guys were able to hold the Clemson offense to 16 points last year. But what is the biggest difference that you see on film between last year's offensive Clemson team and this year's?
COACH WITHERS: We felt last year that we could really stop the run game. We didn't feel like we'd have a ton of issues in the pass game last year. They had a number of skill guys, a good quarterback, but we thought the running back and the tight end was probably the key to everything in that offense last year.
This year I think it's a little bit more spread out. Offense, obviously you have Sammy Watkins out there, one of the top receivers in this conference. Tajh Boyd is one of the top quarterbacks in this conference, and you've still got at the running back position that can run it. So they make you defend the entire offense.
In this type of offense, that's spread out across the field. That's almost from sideline to sideline in some places. So for us to really compare is a little bit different style of offense this year, and it makes you defend the entire field.
It seems like you've struggled against ACC competition. Can you get a gauge on how good you guys are right now?
COACH WITHERS: I may not have heard the first part of your question. You kind of came in mid-sentence there. I don't know if you were asking about our team and whether or not we could gauge us because we've struggled versus ACC competition.
Here's what I do believe, we've had a chance to win both games at the end. I don't know if that's struggling. I think we've given ourselves a chance to win last week at the end. We had a chance at Georgia Tech to win at the end. We beat Virginia so they are in the ACC. They're a pretty good football team.
But we haven't played our best ballgame yet. We haven't played as well as we're capable of. Hopefully that will turn around this weekend.
What do you think is missing in terms of how we put it all together?
COACH WITHERS: I just think we have to continue to execute in all three phases, continue to grow and get better in each position. I think that's a matter of maturation and keep going.
The offensive line is an area that gets a lot of blame and never gets very much credit. How has your's performed this year? Who has been a standout for you this year?
COACH WITHERS: Yeah, I think we've performed well up front, and you're right. Sometimes, when you give up sacks, everybody thinks it's the offensive line and occasionally it is. But it also could be just a guy not being in the right spot running the route. The quarterback having to hold the ball a little bit longer. There is a clock in every quarterback's head. Sometimes the ball doesn't go out nearly as quick as it should.
But I'm really proud of this offensive line. It's got some unique individuals, very sharp, smart individuals. Jonathan Cooper has been a guy that's been steady, consistent. James Hurst has probably played as well as anybody up front all year long.
We missed Cam Holland last week. We'll hopefully have him back for Saturday. He's kind of the anchor of that thing at center. So we've got a number of guys up front that we really count on to play well. We need that group to play together and play well this week.