Phil Longo: Breaking Down Red Zone Struggles, Value of QB Runs, Antonio Williams

Brant Wilkerson-New

North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo met with the media on Monday morning to review the Tar Heels' loss at Pittsburgh and look ahead to Saturday's matchup with Mercer.

Here's what Longo had to say:

On red zone struggles...

You know, the red zone, at the end of the day, that falls on me, but we've had some opportunities in the red zone. I thought we handled a number of them earlier in the season. That has not been the case the last few games here. And so, we did emphasize red zone last week. We had a couple of plays that we put in specifically for that game. A couple of them popped for us. One of them was the touchdown to Dyami. But execution down there, maybe some game planning, is something that we're going to emphasize this week because it just has to get better. That's probably the area, offensively, right now, that's the greatest concern. And it's just something we'll emphasize this week and look at what we need to do to take advantage of this week's opponent and take advantage of N.C. State next week.

Mack talked a lot last week about how you need to run the quarterback to make your offense work and you haven't had the opportunity to do that. What exactly is the value of being able to run Sam bring to the offense?

Well, I think with Sam, or any quarterback that has some ability to run, that's... if you watch football on Saturday, it is an integral part of the red zone. Back in, say, in Houston, and even at Ole Miss, I mean we utilized the quarterback when we had success in the red zone. That was a part of it. But the fact that we aren't doing that right now because of the depth at that position, it's an obstacle we have to overcome but it's not an excuse. So for me, if we had more depth at quarterback, and we were able to run the quarterback, we would do that. I think that would help us in the red zone. I think everybody feels that way, but that's not something that we have at our disposal right now. And so, it's my job, and it's our job to scheme it up and game plan it so that we can get in the end zone anyway. And then that's what we plan to do in the next couple of weeks.

Phil, I know you don't have a ton of seniors on your side of the ball, but what has it been like to work with the group that you do have?

We were actually just talking about it. So you have a couple of linemen, you have a couple of tight ends that'll be leaving us, you have a running back. I mean, the seniors that we have are... they're great kids. They really are. They work hard. They set a good example for the underclassmen. They're a big part of why our locker room is the way it is. And a credit to them, the seniors, it's a little different. They have a new head coach this year and they bought in entirely. I don't know how you don't buy into Mack Brown, but they bought it entirely and they set the right example. And to Coach Brown's credit, he treats them just like they're his recruits, just like they're family. I don't think they feel any different. Sometimes when a coach takes over a different coach, you have that feeling of, ‘They're not my guys,’ and that was never the case here. And I think the seniors, right on down, they all knew they were all players for Coach Brown, and they felt that way, and that's the way they behaved and they have led and carried our team this year the way you would want a group of seniors to do that.

On Antonio Williams’s play vs. Pitt...

Antonio stepped up. I mean we needed him to. He rushed for over 100 yards. His yards-per-carry on the season is outstanding. He is a very physical back. Very rarely does he get tackled at the point of engagement. And I thought he did a lot to help us run the football against Pittsburgh on Thursday night. And then, when you have depth like that, with Michael Carter, and Javonte Williams, and Antonio Williams, it's hard to share the wealth with three guys. But what three guys gives you is fresh legs, both in practice, you're working all three of them, and that's allowed all three of them to stay, maybe fresher than they would if two guys were getting reps and in the game reps as well. So I think right now, we have... Javonte got a little nicked up. Michael Carter's feeling good. Javonte will be back. That's not an issue. And Antonio, obviously, came in with fresh legs, and we really, I don't think, missed a beat in running the game thanks to him, and his performance.

It's my understanding that Antonio has one of the best attitudes on the team. What's that say about him as a person?

He's an incredible person. I've gotten to know him really well and I have a good relationship with him. And it is a very difficult situation, sometimes, for a 21-, 22-year-old kid to not be the guy, particularly when he knows he can play at this level. He's an exceptional running back. And so, he's accepted the role that he has here. He's been a model guy in the weight room, and off the field, and in the locker room. All of the things you would want out of a senior and out of a talented football player that probably isn't your every down guy. We've gotten that from him. And Antonio is going to be successful no matter what he does in his lifetime, because of the way he handles things and the way he does it.

Have any of those other seniors particularly made an impact on you?

I think they all... I mean, I sit and have lunch with Nick Polino all the time. Charlie Heck and I talk a bunch, in and around practice. And Carl and Bargas, they come by. So yes, I know all of our seniors very well. Probably not as well as I would know them if I had been here for the last four years, but they're all easy to talk to, they're all personable, they're all great kids. Any one of those guys could babysit my daughters. I mean, that's what I feel when we're talking about that group. And I don't know that I would miss them any less than I would some kids that I've had three and four years. They're great people, and I would hope that five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, we're still in communication, and I would jump at the opportunity to help any one of those guys, just because of who they are, and how they've handled themselves since we've been here.

Do you have any strong feelings on fruit snacks? I think Jordan Tucker was talking about his fruit snacks…

Jordan Tucker?


No, I wouldn't know anything about that.

I think he said that you were a big fruit snack guy.

I have no idea what you're talking about. Yeah, coffee might be my deal. That's about it… That might be the most interesting question I've ever had in my life.