By R.L. Bynum
After an outcome like the one in Blacksburg, Va., on Friday night that nobody expected, Jeremiah Gimmel, one of Carolina’s senior leaders, spoke up and addressed a Lane Stadium locker room full of frustrated Tar Heels.
The inside linebacker’s message after No. 10 UNC’s 17–10 opening-game loss to Virginia Tech was simple: Remember that this is only one game and that it’s good that it happened early in the season.
He implored his teammates to make sure they were doing everything during the week they can to prepare for each game.
“I just told them don’t let this define us for the rest of the year,” said Gimmel, who registered a team-high-tying seven tackles and hurried the quarterback once. “I just told everybody to take a look in the mirror. What are you doing during the week? How much are you doing? Is it enough? Are you grabbing people alongside you in the position groups? Are you bringing them to the film room with you? Are you bringing them to stretch or getting more lifts in the weight room?
“That’s pretty much what I told them,” he said. “I just told everybody maybe we just didn’t do enough this week. I thought we prepared really well. But to lose like this, I feel like everybody should look at themselves in the mirror, give an extra percent this upcoming week.”
Something extra was obviously missing on defense in the first half when the Hokies dominated the line of scrimmage, ran the ball with ease and seemed to be more physical than the Tar Heels. Virginia Tech’s first three drives consumed 33 plays, 19 minutes and 52 seconds.
If Trey Morrison had not recovered a Keshawn King fumble at the UNC 9 on the Hokies’ second drive, Carolina could have easily trailed 21–0 early in the second quarter.
Gimmel agreed that the Tar Heels’ defense didn’t have the needed energy early on in the game.
“Yeah, I guess they were definitely more physical than us in the first half,” he said. “And I think when we came in during halftime, we made adjustments. I think we settled down and got more comfortable and we were able to play faster.”
One of the adjustments that turned a 14-point first half from the Hokies into a 3-point second half was dealing better with Virginia Tech’s motion. It threw UNC’s defense off in the first half.
“I think we were ready for the motion,” Gimmel said. “That’s something we’ve worked on all week in practice. But out of the motions and other sets they ran out of the motion, they changed a lot of things. They did a lot of things that they never really ran before. And then sometimes they did run some things that they always ran, but they did a good job of disguising the formation.”
There were positives defensively. A season after UNC’s defense didn’t force many turnovers, the Tar Heels recovered a fumble and J’Qurious Conley snagged an interception.
“Definitely boosted the defensive morale,” Gimmel said. “I think you saw that. We played really good in the second half and especially when we got the turnover. It just helped our offense get in better position.
“I think that’s something we just harped on all fall camp in all in spring,” Gimmel said of causing turnovers. “Getting tipped balls, getting the ball loose, punching out the ball. So, it’s great that we got two turnovers and I hope we can carry that on for the rest of the year.”
The good news for Carolina heading into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. home opener against Georgia State (regional sports networks) is that the Tar Heels responded to each regular-season loss last season with a victory. They expect the same to happen this time.
“I think it should just open all the guys’ eyes,” Gimmel said of the loss. “I know, personally for myself and just speaking with the team, I don’t really listen to any of the outside noise and rankings and statistics or anything. So, for me, it just drives me to get better each week. I think this can just make us closer as a football team.
“I think we’re already really, really close as a football team,” he said. “But a hard loss like this early in the season, I think that just brings the team closer together. I think it’s going to make practice that much more competitive, make the scout teams even more competitive. So, I think this can be somewhat good for us.”
They didn’t get the result they wanted, but if the rest of the team follows Gimmel’s lead, they’ll have the right attitude for the rest of the season.