What You Need To Know About The North Carolina Defense
– Defense has been optional in the Larry Fedora era, especially against the run, but the offense has been able to pick up the slack more often than not. Last season, the Tar Heel D needed to help out the struggling O, and it didn’t, finishing last in the ACC against the run and near the bottom in total and scoring defense.
The plus side? Unlike the offense, the defense returns experienced with eight starters back along with most of the depth. And as bad as things were, there was at least an improvement in some areas over the previous few seasons.
– It all starts with an improved defensive front against the run. UNC allowed 213 yards per game, 4.8 yards per carry, and were hammered for three touchdown runs or more in five games.
Everyone is back, though, on the front seven, with good bulk on the inside. Aaron Crawford and Jeremiah Clarke form a decent pair of 310-pound tackles to go along with the solid size at the other three spots. But after four years of horrible run D, North Carolina can’t move forward without forming more of a wall.
– Cayson Collins is gone from the strongside, but the linebacking corps should be a plus with leading tackler Cole Holcomb back along with 230-pound Jonathan Smith for the inside and some quick athletes at the outside spots. Getting behind the line more is a must, and being more physical would be nice, but if the line does its part, the linebackers should thrive.
– Losing corner M.J. Stewart hurts, but the other three starters return in the secondary including safeties J.J. Britt and Myles Dorn. However, the interceptions have to come after generating just six last year from the defensive backs.
For all of the problems, at least it’s an improvement after the D came up with a mere one interception in 2016. But the bigger plays have to come after getting picked on way too often by the decent passing teams. However, surprisingly, there aren’t a whole slew of those on the schedule.
Biggest Key To The North Carolina Defense
Hold up. Again, the offense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain – it was amazing at not getting drives going – but the defense has to be able to last a full four quarters when things aren’t going quite right.
For being such a mediocre defense, it did a great job when offenses got inside the 20, and it was fine on third downs. But it was miserable on key fourth downs – allowing teams to convert 17-of-21 chances – and it had problems late.
The inability of the offense to stay on the field meant the UNC D kept wearing down, giving up 111 points in the fourth quarter and just 61 in the first. From takeaways to being even stronger on third down plays, the defense has to do even more to get off the field and rest.