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UNC Football: Mack Brown’s Labor Day pre-Syracuse press conference

Football is almost back! Here’s what’s on Mack’s mind as the Heels prepare to crush the Orange

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Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

On Labor Day Monday, Mack Brown sat down with Jones Angell as part of his radio show, then held a Zoom conference with members of the press. Most of the discussion centered around Carolina’s preparations for their season opener against Syracuse this Saturday at Kenan Stadium (12 Sept, noon, ACC Network). Here are some notes and highlights.

  • Coach Brown spoke at length about the safety precautions taken by UNC and the ACC to make it possible for college football to happen in any capacity. While thrilled to play, he did feel that it won’t be the same in an empty stadium, stating, “I hate the fact that our wonderful fans won’t be at the game on Saturday because last year they sold out every game, they were a true homefield advantage and we’ll lose that advantage against Syracuse.”
  • Mack does wish for an exception to be made for stadium attendance by players’ parents. He wants them to be allowed to attend in person while wearing masks and social distancing themselves throughout 51,000 Kenan Stadium, and encouraged state decision makers to reconsider this point.
  • Offensive line depth continues to be a top concern, especially since the Syracuse game will be played against a team with an experienced pass rush, and during the hottest time of the day.
  • The team as a whole continues to cross-train, with players learning at least 2 to 3 positions to cover down in case of injury or illness. This has been tricky, as there was no spring practice, and they have only had 21 practices instead of the 25 that were scheduled, due to COVID-19 considerations.
  • The players and staff will be tested for COVID-19 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays throughout the season. The Friday tests will not be ready and relayed to the team until Saturday morning at 9am. So say your prayers and cross your fingers and toes before you go to bed on Friday night that the depth chart holds!
  • Last season, Mack Brown did not have a noon kickoff until the Military Bowl against Temple, and doesn’t like early kickoffs, as it makes it harder for fans to fill out the stadium. With fans not allowed to attend, he has changed his tune. His cooped-up team wants to get out and play right away. [As a side note, when I was at Carolina, I loved playing intramural games on weekend mornings, except for when my team had to play in the flag football playoffs on the Sunday morning after the October 9, 2004 win over NC State. We partied on Franklin all night and the Purple Cobras were in no shape to play the next day.]
  • Regarding Syracuse: The Tar Heels are excited to play the Orange, but it seems like there’s more excitement about proving whether this year’s team is all hype. Coach Mack said that the team needs to see if the hype is real, or did Carolina lose their momentum from the end of last season when they volleyball spiked Mercer, NC State, and Temple. This game will help figure out who the Heels really are.
  • Coach Mack watched every college football game over Labor Day weekend and had a chance to talk to several of the coaches who participated. He brought up three unique things that all teams will have to contend with during the COVID season. 1.) It is more difficult to line substitutes up due to social distancing, even with an extended box. 2.) It’s harder for coaches and players to communicate with masks on. 3.) Sometimes you can’t hear the handheld whistles that the referees are using now, so Mack is extremely worried about late hits.

All told, Mack maintains his concerns about the new normal and how his players will respond to it. He has praised their mentality in maintaining personal discipline to protect their season, which is easy to slip up in. Ask the England National Football squad. All of their hard work and sacrifice should pay off on Saturday though, as Carolina is a 20.5 point favorite over the depleted Orange, and will hopefully continue their three game streak from the end of last season of winning their games by a margin of 40.5 (take the over!).

Stay tuned to Tar Heel Blog all week as we keep you up to speed on all the latest UNC vs Syracuse developments. Let’s get ready for some football!