This could described as a definite shift in the wind from the days of Butch Davis who approached the NC State game with an almost Sendekian mentality.
On the rivalry:
“College football needs rivalries. And just like the East Carolina rivalry, I think it’s important to have rivalries in your state. I’ve always thought that. Everywhere I’ve been, there’s been rivalries in in-state matchups. I think it’s critical for college football and college athletics in general. Yes, it’s important. Sometimes you want to stay so focused that you want to say, ‘It’s the next game, it’s the next game.’ “But these kids were recruited by State, a lot of them. Some of them may not have been offered by State. They may not have had an opportunity. So I think it’s important when you have a school that’s only 20-25 miles down the road be a rivalry.”
What about this rivalry is important to you?
"I grew up a Carolina fan. That's what's important."
Do you have any memories of UNC-NCSU games that standout?
"Nothing that didn't involve Carolina winning. That's about it. I'm a Carolina guy. I've been a Carolina fan and never once thought about N.C. State. I bleed Carolina blue."
Withers makes direct reference to the "it's the next game" approach which Butch Davis favored. Not that anyone thought Davis didn't convey the nature of this game nor were the players ignorant of it. However Davis' public downplay of the game coupled with four straight losses seemed to suggest someone did not get it.
Not the case with Withers who grew up in Charlotte watching UNC football and understand the nature of this game. Withers approached the ECU game much the same way calling it a rivalry game. In fact you could argue two of UNC's best performances this season have come against two in-state school which would could be taken as evidence Withers is expressing the urgency of winning these types of games.
Needless to say this is a nice change from when Davis was running the show. While I understand the notion every game is the same from a practical standpoint, the reality of college football dictates that not all games are created equal. Some of them mean more to the fans and by extension the players. At this point with multiple juniors and seniors having felt the sting of losing to NC State three or four times, I imagine there will be extra motivation to finally put this streak to bed. There is also a lot of talk about the absence of Russell Wilson and UNC players basically crediting the success over the past three years to Wilson. There is some truth to that, especially given Wilson's mobility however there is a danger in playing that card too much since it could also be interpreted as disrespect for the rest of the team.
Sitting on a four game losing streak means UNC's best bet is to sit quiet and let the on-field performance do the talking. That being said, publicl acknowledging what his game means is acceptable and quite frankly extremely important. Withers has made it clear this game means something. Assuming the players follow his lead hopefully the Heels show up at Carter Finley on Saturday with a little extra juice in the tank.