North Carolina head coach Everett Withers spoke to reporters Wednesday in the Atlantic Coast Conference's weekly teleconference. Predictably there were several questions about Saturday's in-state rivalry showdown with N.C. State, but there were also questions about Giovani Bernard and other topics.
COACH WITHERS: Well, after last week's ballgame, watching tape, we felt like obviously the most important thing is that we were getting turnovers and winning the turnover margin. I think that will be the case going out the rest of this season. If we can win the turnover battle, win the explosive play battle, score 28 points off of turnovers, I think you got a chance to win games.
We need to continue to build on that going into a week that's an emotional week for a lot of people in this state. A lot of NC State fans in this state that want to beat the mess out of the Tar Heels and vice versa. I really believe this is good for college football and good for college athletics. I'm looking forward to it this week.
Coach, since Giovani Bernard did not play at all last year and was limited in the spring. At what point could you see you had a really talented running back on your hands?
COACH WITHERS: Well, he came into camp two years ago and early in camp hurt that knee. Even in the first day or so in camp, you went like, Wow, this guy is going to be something, even in shorts. You knew the guy had special running skills, ability, that type of deal.
Going into the fall, we wanted to take care of him a little bit because we knew of his history with his knee, his hamstring. We really try to take care of him because we knew that the guy could be special just because of his work ethic and because of how he carried himself. When he played on the football field, he really gave a hundred percent.
Our deal is we know he can make plays. We just have to take care of him, make sure he's with us at the end.
How would you characterize him as a runner? How much better do you think he can get?
COACH WITHERS: Well, he reminds me a lot of just guys that you see in the NFL, the little guys in the NFL. People don't realize how powerful he is. He can go and hit it up inside, get two or three tough yards. He reminds me a little bit of Barry Sanders the way he can bounce the ball, the way he can do some things on the edges, he catches the ball well.
He has some things that we think he can get better at as far as pass protection, those type of things. Those usually come with experience and age. We're just happy he's on our team.
Based on the way you played this past weekend, what you've seen and heard from the players this week, do you get the sense that everybody is ready to turn the tables around on NC State?
COACH WITHERS: Well, I believe we thought we were ready each year we played them before. I think my biggest challenge to our team is being committed to each other. I felt like last week we were committed to each other and wanted to play the best for each other. We've challenged them with that this week with practice and preparation.
We're at Wednesday still in a work week. We've got some work to do to continue. I think we're headed on the right track. Making this thing a rivalry, this thing has been a rivalry for a long, long time. It's not that I have to sit here and make it a rivalry, make it important to these kids. They know these guys on the other team.
Can you speak to the importance to it of the program for recruiting to start to even it back out?
COACH WITHERS: Well, I think anytime you have in-state rivalries that are as close as we are, I think it's always important to your program to win those, compete well in those. Hopefully you win more than you lose. I think our biggest challenge going into this thing is that we play to our capabilities. I want to see us get better this week than we were last week. We've got some areas we can do that. That's my biggest challenge.
The importance of it? Yeah, it's important to the fans, the alumni base, the people at the University, the faculty, administration. It's important in those aspects. But it's important for us to get better as a football team, too.
Your secondary, can you address some of the issues you've had in terms of injuries and moving people around. Do you feel that is solidifying now or is it still kind of in flux?
COACH WITHERS: I think the more we play together back there in a consistent group, the better we're going to be. I think last week was a by-product of having guys back there that played together for a couple weeks. People, they want to look at the secondary. I think you got to look at the entire structure of your defense. You got to get pressure on the quarterback. I think that was the biggest issue last week.
We got around the quarterback, hit him a few times. That affected to me how he managed the game the rest of the way, throwing the football, those type things. Those are the type things you have to do to help your secondary.
I've never seen a good secondary that didn't have a good pass-rush, okay? So I think we have to continue that up front. I think, yeah, we do need to continue to improve and get better and play more cohesive back in the back end, but I think that's common each week.
Is there anybody emerging back there that is starting to stand out in your mind?
COACH WITHERS: I don't look at one guy back there. I think they all need to continue to get better. I'm not going to single out one guy back there that's playing heads above everybody else. But I do think we need to continue to improve in that back end. The more we improve, the better defense we'll have.
On a personal note, how tired are you coming out on the wrong end on this one?
COACH WITHERS: How tired I am?
Yes, answering questions about the last four years, the overall result.
COACH WITHERS: I haven't answered many questions on it because I haven't been the head coach. I'm looking forward to my first opportunity to come out on the right end of it.
But just in terms of how it sat with you through the last four years, is it something that grinds on you?
COACH WITHERS: No. I usually put losses behind me pretty quick. I'm looking forward to having success, winning. Again, I'm one of those guys that tries to move on pretty fast on wins and losses.