Just like the spread offense, the 3-4 defense has become very popular in college football over the last few years thanks in large part to the outstanding success of Nick Saban’s Alabama defense over the last 5 years.
The Tar Heels switched to the 3-4 alignment last year in Coach Fedora’s 1st season. As many people know the key to any good 3-4 defense is a nose tackle in the middle of the defensive line that will eat up space for his teammates to make plays. The man with that responsibility this season is junior Shawn Underwood.
The 6’1, 300 pound defensive tackle from Fuquay-Varina, NC will replace All-ACC First Team and Denver Broncos 1st round pick Sylvester Williams who averaged 48 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in his two seasons in Chapel Hill. Underwood put up 19 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss in 11 games last season, starting five games.
Underwood will be in charge of anchoring a Tar Heels run defense that was solid in 2012. The Heels allowed 142 yards per game on 3.61 yards per carry which ranked 4th in the ACC. North Carolina could potentially start four new linebackers making Underwood’s play critical this season in those players development and their ability to make plays all over the field.
Nose tackles in 3-4 schemes rarely put up big numbers so it may be unlikely to expect that he will equal the success that Williams had last year but there is no reason why he should not be just as effective helping the Tar Heels turn the corner into a good defensive unit. While other players such as Tre Boston and Kareem Martin will probably receive most of the preseason attention and deservedly so, it is Underwood whose performance will likely play a key role in just how successful the Tar Heels defense is this season.