Many thanks to friend of the blog Zach for fielding our questions. For such a thorough response, he's received an A-super-plus in AFAM 281. Be sure to give him a follow on Twitter!
STL: Given the news of the week, I have to start with the academic fraud report. As a UNC alum and lifelong fan, what's your reaction? How much of a pall does it cast over this football program? Over the Mack Brown/Butch Davis tenures?
Zach: I have admittedly not completely read the Wainstein Report, although I hope to do so this evening (Thursday evening). On one hand, it is a bit of a relief, because from what summaries I have read, the report was incredibly thorough. There is very little left to the imagination. A lot of what is said in it is damning and embarrassing, especially as an alum of the university. However, closure is long overdue, and hopefully this report will help everyone move on.
Probably the most frustrating part is that most of the information in the report, particularly the most damning elements, were emails that presumably the university could have turned over years ago. There was an awful lot of obfuscation over the past four years, yet we still reached the same endpoint.
As for the Brown and Davis regimes, I'm not sure there will be much difference in perception. Davis' time at UNC has been characterized in a way that has prevented him from getting a remotely notable coaching job since 2010. As for Mack Brown, there were only 35 enrollments in AFAM independent study classes, and there's no way to know how many of those few might have been legitimate classes. People are going to be far too concerned ripping down banners in the Smith Center to worry about the 1997 football team that beat Virginia Tech 42-3 in the Gator Bowl.
For the current players, this investigation has been part of the UNC landscape even when they were being recruited. The team is still not at a full scholarship allotment due to NCAA sanctions previously levied. I doubt the Wainstein Report will have much impact on the current players or coaches, or at least not a drastically different impact than the investigation fallout was already having.
STL: The news of the report broke just at a time that momentum seemed to be gathering for the Heels. The slaughter at the hands of ECU doesn't look as bad as the Pirates keep rolling along, and a seven-point loss to a Notre Dame squad that barely lost to FSU led into a conference win against Georgia Tech. With more than half of the schedule in the rear view mirror, what's the mindset of Carolina fans with regards to the on-field product?
ZE: I think most people are optimistic about the current direction of the team, even if they are also frustrated with how we got to this point. Like last year, a slow start has likely killed any chance of UNC winning the Coastal Division. Most (myself included) will feel that the slow start could have been avoided by either starting Marquise Williams full-time at quarterback instead of rotating him with Mitch Trubisky or by occasionally tackling players on the other team - You know, just to mix things up. During the losing streak, a lot of folks were ready to clean house and fire anything that moved and wore a sideline polo. Hanging with Notre Dame, beating Georgia Tech, and benching Trubisky have healed the wounds somewhat.
STL: QB Marquise Williams is (of course) the team's leading passer. But he's also the leading rusher. Does that say more about Williams or about TJ Logan, Elijah Hood, and the other UNC running backs?
ZE: I think it says more about Marquise Williams, but it probably says the most about the offensive line. The line is healthy now (an underrated part of the Tar Heels last two games) but it was rougher than a preteen's face when many of the starters were banged up. Not only did it hurt the ability for guys like Logan or Hood to put together runs, but it also meant Williams was often running for his life for 12 yards and a first down. With the line back to full strength, that should provide more chances for the backfield to show its muscle.
STL: The Heels have given up more than 30 points in six of their seven games. The only game they didn't, they still gave up 29 to Liberty-a team that's fallen three times in FCS play. In four of those games, UNC has allowed more than 40 points. Is the Carolina defense broken? What's been the biggest disappointment on that side of the ball?
ZE: Broken does not begin to describe the Carolina defense. The secondary is so bad, Georgia Tech just passed for 235 yards against it. The defense is 99th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per attempt and 121st in passing yards allowed per attempt. The team doesn't tackle well or cover well, which really limits your options when it comes to getting defensive stops. Probably the disappointment comes in how much worse the unit is than last year. Nobody has accused Larry Fedora's Carolina teams of being defensive fortresses (remember the 68-50 game against Georgia Tech in 2012?), but this year has taken it to a shocking new low.
STL: Saturday's matchup looks to pit strength against strength. Williams is the focal point of the offense, but the Hoos have contained dual-threat QBs Brett Hundley and Taysom Hill. Virginia has struggled to move the ball consistently, but Carolina has not shown a consistent ability to stop opposing offenses. What do you see as the keys for a Carolina victory? Bottom line: Who ya got?
ZE: I was one of the first on the Virginia bandwagon after the way the defense played against UCLA. I feel the schedule is conspiring against their Coastal hopes, especially after losing last week to Duke, but I still think they are easily the second-best team in the division. I think the Cavaliers should have enough in them to slow down the Heels and score enough times against UNC's abysmal defense to pick up the victory.