Challenges don’t get easier for Tar Heels

Larry Fedora looks ahead to 2018 with influx of youth, small victories

Tar Heels quarterback Brandon Harris is attended to by the training staff as head coach Larry Fedora looks on Saturday against the Virginia Tech. UNC has been thwarted by injuries this season. (Lee Luther Jr. / USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL — An epidemic of injuries that has put 15 players out for the season, an offensive line that puts its quarterback in harm’s way on virtually every snap and a series of lopsided losses have put into question whether North Carolina will win another football game this season.

But that doesn’t mean coach Larry Fedora and his Tar Heels are going to stop trying, starting with Saturday’s home matchup against Coastal Division-leading Miami.

“We’re going to focus on this game and the goal will be to win this football game and do whatever we need to do to be successful and that’s it,” a defiant Fedora said at his regular weekly press conference Monday. “That’s what it’ll be every week. That won’t change.”

UNC (1-7, 0-5 ACC) didn’t give itself much of a chance at Virginia Tech last Saturday by allowing the Hokies to score touchdowns on a fumble return, an interception return and a punt return — in addition to having a punt blocked — in a 56-7 humiliation in Blacksburg.

The game marked the third in the past four weeks that the Tar Heels have been limited to a single touchdown. The 38 points they’ve scored in the past four games combined is less than they averaged per game in 2016.

UNC’s only win this season came all the way back in Week 3 at Old Dominion.

As bad as things have gotten for the Tar Heels, both on the field and in the training room, things could still potentially get worse with a remaining schedule that includes games at Pittsburgh and at home against red-hot rival NC State in addition to Saturday’s meeting with the eighth-ranked Hurricanes (6-0, 4-0).

Even an upcoming nonconference matchup against Western Carolina is no gimme, with the Catamounts currently ranked 19th in the national FCS poll.

Given his team’s prospects over the final four games of this already lost season, Fedora has begun setting his sights on earning victories other than those on the scoreboard.

“You’ve got to look for the little things, the small silver linings in the details,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep improving and paying attention to detail.”

Because the Tar Heels are no longer in contention to become bowl eligible, Fedora and his staff have already begun looking ahead to the future by playing more and more young players whose increased roles could help speed their development for next season.

Among them are running back Michael Carter, offensive lineman JayJay McCargo, defensive back Tre Shaw and wide receiver Dazz Newsome.

“We don’t have a lot of choice in that matter,” Fedora said about playing so many freshmen. “I would prefer not to be bringing anybody out of a redshirt that right now is still in a redshirt, so we’re going to focus on this game and the goal will be to win this football game and do whatever we need to do to be successful. That’s it. That’s what it will be every week. That won’t change.”

Nor will Fedora’s philosophy on how he coaches, even as he slogs through the worst season of his career.

“I’m not shaky about my philosophy, I’m not questioning whether I can coach, I’m not questioning whether our coaches can coach, I’m not questioning those kinds of things,” he said. “I know what we’re doing and the way we’re doing things are proven.

“You’ve got to put your nose down, your head down, and you keep grinding and you keep doing it. Eventually good things are going to happen.”