Fedora knows UNC is on razor’s edge for bowl eligibility

Tar Heels’ clean-shaven coach hoping for a rally like 2013

Tar Heels quarterback Chazz Surratt is sacked by Georgia Tech defensive lineman Antonio Simmons Saturday at Bobby Dodd Stadium. (Brett Davis / USA TODAY Sports)

CHAPEL HILL — Larry Fedora said he was running out of answers after Saturday’s 33-10 loss to Notre Dame and is willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to turn his North Carolina football team around.

Turns out he wasn’t kidding.

Monday morning at his regular weekly session with the media, Fedora showed up without the beard he’s been sporting for the past year-and-a-half.

The sixth-year coach acknowledged that shaving probably won’t do anything to change the Tar Heels’ fortunes, saying that “if that was the case, I would have done it a long time ago.” But at this point, with his team languishing at 1-5 (0-3 ACC) and an injury list as long as both arms combined heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia, anything is worth a try.

“What we’re seeing now is just a whole multitude of issues that we’ve got to get cleaned up,” Fedora said, noting that he and his staff went through the game film from Saturday’s loss with a “fine-toothed comb” in search of what went wrong and how to fix it.

“The frustrating thing is that we’re making some of the same mistakes over and over,” he said. “To me, if things aren’t going the right way, you work even harder if that’s even possible. We’re trying not to leave any stone unturned.”

One tangible change Fedora said he plans to make is his becoming more involved in the offensive playcalling, which came under fire Saturday — particularly on short yardage situations and a goal-line play that cost UNC both two points and momentum just before halftime.

The Tar Heels’ once-potent spread offense has mustered just a single touchdown in each of the last two games. Although injuries, the inexperience of quarterback Chazz Surratt and some spotty line play have all contributed to the dropoff, UNC has averaged only 11.3 points and 296.3 yards over the past three games after starting the season scoring at a 39.3 point clip over the first three weeks.

“’I’ll be much more involved when we are in between series and those kinds of things and what I would like to try to do,” he said, adding that quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf will continue to make the actual play calls from the press box. “I don’t know if that will be the answer, but it’s something I feel like where I can help the most.”

While there’s a palpable sense of disappointment and frustration surrounding the Tar Heels these days, their own history tells them that it’s still too early to give up on the season.

Back in 2013, Fedora and his team got off to a similar 1-5 start, but turned things around to win five of their last six in the regular season before beating Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl to finish 7-6.

That team, however, was loaded with future NFL players — including Eric Ebron, Ryan Switzer, Landon Turner, Russell Bodine, Tre Boston and Kareem Martin — rather than a group of untested youngsters and backups filling in for injured starters. It also faced a much easier schedule than this current group, which still has dates left with ranked opponents Virginia Tech, Miami and NC State.

Even Saturday’s matchup against Virginia, once thought of as a sure win, now seems in doubt with the Cavaliers riding high at 4-1 (1-0 ACC).

Despite all they have going against them, the example of 2013 is at least something the Tar Heels can rally around. Another is the attitude of leaders such as center Cam Dillard.

“There’s six games left, that still puts us in contention for a bowl,” the Florida transfer said. “Coach always talks about facing adversity. Well shoot, this is about the biggest adversity as we’re going to face this year. We need to come out and continue to keep our eye on the prize, because this team is talented and capable of many things. We just have to keep pushing.”