CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — These days, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora is staring at game film looking for something positive, even if it’s just a freshman wide receiver blocking the right guy on a play.
Everything has turned into a struggle for the Tar Heels in a lost season, one done in by a bad mix of inexperience and injuries. They’re coming off a 52-point loss that essentially ensured a bowl-less postseason, but the sixth-year coach said Monday he isn’t making major changes after guiding the Tar Heels (1-7, 0-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) to four straight bowl games and a trip to the league championship game just two seasons ago.
“I’m not shaky about my philosophy,” Fedora said two days after a 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech that stands as the worst of his tenure. “I’m not questioning whether I can coach. I’m not questioning whether our coaches can coach. I’m not questioning those kind of things.
“I know what we’re doing and the way we’re doing things, it’s proven. You’ve got to put your nose down, your head down, and you keep grinding and you keep doing it … and eventually good things are going to happen.”
So much of Fedora’s approach has focused on the fast-paced, no-huddle offense that routinely put up big numbers in his first five seasons. The Tar Heels are still running the scheme with redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt at quarterback surrounded by young running backs and receivers, and Fedora — who made his name as an offensive coordinator at Florida and Oklahoma State — has said he would get more involved in play-calling duties.
But the unit that long provided plenty of cover for defensive lapses has sputtered to a combined 38 points in the past four games — a total Fedora’s Tar Heels exceeded in 27 games before this season. And the defense has surrendered seven touchdowns of at least 50 yards.
Then there are the injuries, with 16 players lost for the season and five others ruled out for the Virginia Tech loss.
And things don’t get easier with No. 8 Miami arriving Saturday, either.
UNC had never won fewer than six games under Fedora and reached a bowl in four of his first five seasons. The exception was his first year, when the Tar Heels won eight games but missed a trip to the ACC title game due to a postseason ban for NCAA violations before his arrival.
His only losing season here came in 2014, when the Tar Heels finished 6-7 after a bowl loss to Rutgers. And two years ago, the Tar Heels won 11 games and played in the ACC championship game — which ultimately secured a new seven-year contract for Fedora through the 2022 season.
Asked how he measures the team’s improvement at this point, Fedora said he was looking “for the little things, the small silver linings in the details.”
“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,” Fedora said. “That’s what it’ll be every week. That won’t change.”
Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap