With little appreciation, LB Jeremiah Gemmel has kept Tar Heels’ defense in-tact

CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 07: Jeremiah Gemmel #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels tackles Cam'Ron Harris #23 of the Miami Hurricanes during the first half of their game at Kenan Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 07: Jeremiah Gemmel #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels tackles Cam'Ron Harris #23 of the Miami Hurricanes during the first half of their game at Kenan Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images) /

After the first 6 games of his sophomore season, LB Jeremiah Gemmel has become an unexpendable piece of North Carolina’s linebackers group. But is he getting enough recognition?

Much like its offense led by QB Sam Howell, North Carolina’s defensive efforts have produced rapid improvements over a year that are nearly impossible to avoid. When comparing UNC’s 2018 and 2019 seasons, the Tar Heels have gone from ranking 106th in total points allowed to 52nd, while also allowing 10 fewer points per game through their last 6 matchups.

Beyond last year’s hiring of Mack Brown, numerous factors help explain the drastic improvements on the opposite side of the ball. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman has architected a blitz-heavy scheme that rarely gives quarterbacks a break from threats like LB Chazz Surratt and DT Aaron Crawford, all while finding ways to bring the best out of a secondary led by defensive backs Myles Dorn and Myles Woffolk.

Although many of Carolina’s defensive players often receive credit for carrying out Bateman’s new defensive mission, there are reasons to believe that leaving LB Jeremiah Gemmel out of the conversation would be a dire mistake.

Gemmel’s impact on the Carolina defense transcends the statistics that leave him overshadowed. In spite of not being a team leader in sacks, forced fumbles, or interceptions, the starting inside linebacker has asserted himself as one of the most critical pieces of an increasingly dynamic Carolina defense that is yet to reach its ceiling.

The Georgia-native exudes unique qualities that coaches desire to see out of the best linebackers in football. Most notably, Gemmel’s emergence as a humble leader among his teammates on defense – along with his remarkable performances in the biggest of games this season – has set him apart from a majority of linebackers in the ACC.

At the inside linebacker position, his team and its staff have already heralded him for the vivid situational awareness he showcases in his play. Gemmel’s keen timing on pursuits toward ball-carriers and his calculated drops into coverage helps set the tone for the Tar Heel defense. In turn, his consistent know-how serves as a resource for other players, contributing to a framework for improved decision-making that both the secondary and defensive line benefit from.

Following the Miami home victory, Jeremiah Gemmel even took accountability for the varying quality of his communication with teammates during in-game situations, according to Inside Carolina. Albeit some critics would spot a weakness in a confession to the media, there is an incredible amount of humility and maturity associated with such commentary.

As an underclassman, Gemmel is already beginning to understand that his impact on team performance goes beyond his athleticism and playmaking ability. Considering that player inexperience in the defense was a common worry among the coaching staff six to eight months ago, his rise to the occasion should be more impressive.

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Speaking the most to his widened capabilities is the fact that Jeremiah Gemmel has played his best games when the stage has been bigger. The inside linebacker recorded a team-high 14 tackles in the first home victory of the second Mack Brown era against Miami, while also finishing with the team’s highest defensive grade in a 1-point heartbreaking defeat to #1 Clemson.

Gemmel’s comfort with executing Carolina’s most challenging defensive gameplans in both ACC games is truly a product of his poise. Against Clemson, Jay Bateman tasked Jeremiah Gemmel and Chazz Surratt to lead sporadic blitzes and coverages that would end up leaving both players everywhere on the field.

In spite of the inevitable marathon both inside linebackers had to run, Gemmel found a way to lead the Heels in solo tackles, while the entire UNC rush defense limited Tigers RB Travis Etienne to 67 rushing yards in Clemson’s smallest margin of victory thru their last two seasons. The efforts of Gemmel’s play are contagious – when he performs on a high level, the rest of the defense follows suit.

Through its next six games, North Carolina will face a less-difficult schedule than it experienced the first half of this season. Currently, the Tar Heels will not face a team that has a top 50 offense, meaning that there is a serious opportunity for Jeremiah Gemmel and the Carolina defense to be able to redefine expectations. A matchup against #21 Virginia is set for November 2nd, while in-state rivalry games with Duke and NC State should test the Tar Heels’ unproven ability to dominate games by large margins.

During the rare moments where Jeremiah Gemmel’s impact on the Tar Heels’ defense is taken into account, it becomes easier to see how this team always remains in competitive games. Gemmel’s expertise in Carolina’s 3-4 box system gives teammates like DL Jason Strowbridge and DB Storm Duck chances to follow his lead and act more quickly in various game scenarios.

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And even if North Carolina has a reputation for being one of the best 4th quarter scoring teams in college football, its linebackers group – because of gems like Gemmel – can legitimately allow the Tar Heels to sit atop the ACC Coastal near the end of this season.