UNC is coming off a tough loss in Atlanta, Georgia this past weekend to division opponent; Georgia Tech. Weather conditions were rough. The score was significantly lower than the 68-50 total of last season’s matchup, which set an ACC record for the highest total points in a game. UNC did relatively well against a strong Georgia Tech running team—but not good enough to get the victory. There are many lessons to take away from that game, defensively. UNC will need to make adjustments to prepare against the ECU Pirates this Saturday.
The Tar Heels are 63rd in the nation in the “Points Allowed” category, giving up 25 points per outing. This is just flat out not going to get it done. UNC will have to focus on shortening the high number of points given up to other teams, just so they’re not in the hole to start with these games. Granted, they’ve had losses against two undefeated teams so far in three games. ECU will be a much needed bounce-back type of game.
UNC must not overlook the Pirates, though. ECU is 2-1 with their only loss coming against perennial ACC powerhouse, Virginia Tech, by five. Their quarterback, Shane Carden, has chalked up eight touchdowns and 796 yards so far this season. The 6’2’’, 218 pound junior looks to 6’, 180 pound wide receiver Justin Hardy fairly often—to the tune of 26 catches and a touchdown through three games. ECU puts points up on the board, too. They average 31 points per game.
So, what does UNC have to do, defensively?
The Tar Heels have to focus on stopping the other team’s strength. They couldn’t do enough against Georgia Tech’s run. That was clear. They must do better against the Pirates’ passing, to have a chance in this game. ECU is 39th in the nation in “Passing Yards” per game where they average 269 yards through the air. UNC must prioritize taking that away.
The defensive line and linebackers have to do a better job of pressuring the quarterback. Shane Carden is a big body quarterback, so the Tar Heels have to flush him out of his comfort zone. By switching up linebacker and defensive lineman looks, Coach Larry Fedora will keep ECU out of rhythm. That’s half the game. Then, our secondary must absolutely circle Justin Hardy: 26 receptions in 3 games? Those are solid numbers that Chapel Hill can’t ignore.
When the defensive line and linebackers are making Carden’s life uncomfortable, that’s when our secondary has the best chance to not only defend—but to translate his hurried throws into interceptions. Turnovers are the best medicine for a sputtering defense like UNC’s. Chapel Hill’s offense must capitalize on those.
Long story short, the Tar Heels have to get it together and pressure the opposition’s quarterback more. It’s not enough that the secondary isn’t cutting it. Chapel Hill’s defensive line and linebackers have to dirty up the Pirates’ quarterback and running backs’ jerseys. There hasn’t been enough fire on the defensive side of the ball, so far through three games. It’s a sense of pride to hold teams to averages lower than your own average scores. That hasn’t been the case this season. UNC averages 23.3 points. They give up an average of 25. These kinds of stats just aren’t going to get it done in today’s college football world. UNC has to be up-field quicker and in the quarterback’s face more. Then, and only then, will the defensive pieces fall into place. It all starts with the big guys up front.