In the wake of UNC's debacle against East Carolina, senior tailback A.J. Blue had some brutally honest things to say to the media about how the Tar Heels played and his teammates approach to the game.
Via Lauren Brownlow at Fox Sports Carolinas
Senior tailback A.J. Blue is a fifth-year senior, and he's been through quite a bit himself. His teammates respect him. Before Fedora spoke to the team, he did. And he told his teammates what he felt he saw both before and during the game itself, and he didn't hold back.
"I just basically told them the second we strapped up our cleats and our pads that certain guys knew they weren't going to give it 100 percent out there today," Blue said. "That probably comes from lack of focus, lack of preparation. I think guys were kind of complacent today. The statistics, ECU hasn't beat us here in a long time...That kind of carried over into some guys' minds and that was the mindset of the team, and it hurt us today."
Blue has been trying to tell his teammates this from Day 1, though. This isn't a cohesive team. The defense is still struggling with communication issues, and the offense doesn’t seem to trust each other quite yet. And that's just on the field. Blue says that not everyone on the UNC roster is on board.
"I try to tell them the only way we can win and bring this together and we all come together. At this point, we’re kind of feeling like we’ve got a couple front-runners," Blue said. "At the end of the day, we've just got to come together and make plays and we've got to be there for each other. The lack of being my brother’s keeper is the reason why we’re 1-3 right now."
On one hand, this sort of thing could be taken to mean that UNC didn't lose because ECU was good but lost because they were not focused and took the Pirates far too lightly. I don't think that's what Blue is saying here, in fact his comments seem to be about the team in general just in the context of this one game. Naturally that would indicate this team has much bigger problems than just an inability to tackle or get a solid running game going.
Make no mistake, the Tar Heels have plenty of football-only issues to contend with, especially on defense. But if you have problems in execution and there are focus/effort issues then that is how 55-31 beatdowns happen. It begs the question as to why, after ECU went up 14-0, the Tar Heels didn't step up their game. It wasn't until the second half the offense got into gear and the defense never did anything worth writing home about the whole game. It is one thing to be smacked in the mouth and respond in kind, quite another to allowing it to happen over and over.
When you get things like this leak out, there is always a question of how much blame the coaches should get for a team that isn't ready to play. I am inclined to give coaches the benefit of the doubt since there is only so much control they have over the mental aspect of their players. A perfect case in point can be found with slow starts in UNC basketball. No one has any doubt Roy Williams is intense, competitive and would choose winning over eating but the players are ultimately in control of how they individually approach any game. Likewise, Fedora is as intense as they come and it would be shocking if we learned he wasn't doing everything in his power to fire the team up. In the end, individuals players need to make a choice to play at their best, treat every opponent like they are Alabama and every game like the biggest of the season.
The current team has some major football issues. Some of them can be fixed and some of them probably not. Beyond that, issues like focus, effort, etc. really rests on the players themselves. The coaches can prod and cajole all they want but ultimately some of these guys need to make a decision to play better. And yes, the fact that is even a choice to be made for some Tar Heels is certainly a red flag. That's not saying certain players won't make that choice but it is a concern when it isn't instinctive.
Regardless of what happens, at least A.J. Blue is saying the things that need to be said in an effort to motivate his teammates. Hopefully it will make a difference.
One more thing sort of related to all of this. It would be really nice if someone on the coaching staff would tell the defensive players to cut out the post play celebrations. There is nothing more maddening than watching a team give up 600 yards of total offense but on the handful of instances a Tar Heel player happens to be in the right place to break up a pass said player hops up and does the "incomplete" signal or something. If I were the coaches, I would tell them that until they actually start stopping teams on a regular basis, they need to quit acting like the few times the blind hog finds the acorn is some reason for celebration. Yes, Tre Boston, I'm looking at you.