Chizik looking for solutions after nightmare game for his UNC defense

By R.L. Bynum

Like in Gene Chizik’s first stint as defensive coordinator at North Carolina, his goal is to have his defenders stay in front of the opposing players and give up short gains as long as the number of big plays is limited.

The cliché is “bend but not break.” But there was a lot of breakage in the Tar Heels’ 63–61 win Saturday at Appalachian State, particularly in the Mountaineers’ 40-point fourth quarter.

Chizik likes to call those big plays “explosive plays.” He didn’t like that he saw 21 plays that fell into that category, all but three of them in the first and fourth quarters. There were more opportunities for them, thanks to too many defensive penalties.

Chizik said at Monday’s press conference that on many of the Mountaineers’ long gains, 10 guys were “playing it perfect,” and one player was out of position. He would like to get a lot more of the play his defense produced in the middle two quarters.

“I’ll never be a panicker,” said Chizik, who watched the game video twice on the bus back to Chapel Hill and again on Sunday morning. “There’s certainly urgency, and our players know that. We talked about it yesterday. We went through the film together, pointed out all the things that were wrong, and they’ve been awesome. So they just have to keep working. We have to keep working as coaches to put our guys in a better chance to succeed.”

He said that his unit has a lot of learning to do, and his staff has a lot of teaching to do. There were positives, such as his unit’s play in the middle quarters, big plays by Noah Taylor and Kaimon Rucker made at the end to stop App State’s two-point conversion attempts and the overall play of Des Evans (“He played violent.”)

There just weren’t enough positives.

“I think the message is inconsistency,” Chizik said. “Do you want to be the defense that played midway through the second quarter and all of the third? Would we want to be the other? And we don’t want to be the other. Why were we the other? And that was the message yesterday, but it was well received. And again, I expect this to be better this week.”

He’s coached football for many years but admitted that this was the first time he’s been part of a defense giving up 40 points in one quarter.

A lot needs to be fixed, but the solutions aren’t simple.

Given how prolific UNC’s offense has been through two games, the Tar Heels’ defense may be able to withstand whatever Georgia State puts in front of it for their noon ESPNU game in Atlanta on Saturday (ESPNU). But it could be a long day at Kenan Stadium on Sept. 24 when Notre Dame comes to town if there isn’t a dramatic improvement.

Chizik said there are several areas of focus, from the defensive line getting cut down in the running game to the linebacker missing fits on plays run on the secondary to the lack of a pass rush to a defensive back losing his man near the line of scrimmage and missed tackles.

And then there were all of the penalties in the fourth quarter. Coach Mack Brown said those penalties shouldn’t have happened and can’t happen.

“Those can be fixed,” Brown said. “If some of them weren’t penalties that were called, then that’s the ACC’s issue; they’ve got to do a better job in that area. But our part is to try to fix the penalties that would have gotten us off on four of those touchdowns.”

You could point out dozens of missed tackles during the game, but he said that this wasn’t always the start of the problem.

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“You have to look at the opportunities again where we had opportunities to get off the field, and we got these penalties that keep us on the field,” Chizik said. “They just have to understand that in critical times in games, the execution has to be flawless, or you end up playing hard on third and fourth down, and you’re back out there all again, you’re out there for another series, you know, simply because, you know, we ended up getting penalties.”

He would like to get a lot more of the play his defense produced in the middle two quarters but says that his team appeared to lose focus when UNC went up by 17 points.

“I think that at that point, it was human nature to say, ‘OK, we got this,’ and we didn’t have it,” Chizik said. “And I think that’s part of the problem, too, is making sure that our guys understand how important it is to focus for the entire 60 minutes.”  

Focus and improvement on defense will be the key to whether Carolina has a successful season. One week after a depleted FCS Florida A&M team scored 24 points on UNC, the Rattlers, with several previously ineligible players back, could only muster a field goal in a 59–3 loss to Jackson State.

Getting better Saturday at Georgia State is the first step.

NOTES: The playing status of running back Caleb Hood, offensive tackle Spencer Rolland and wide receiver Josh Downs (lower-body injuries) will be determined Saturday. … Players of the game were quarterback Drake Maye on offense, lineman Evans on defense and kicker Noah Burnette on special teams. … Last season’s 59–17 win over Georgia State in Kenan Stadium was the first meeting between the schools. … The Panthers lost their opener Saturday at South Carolina 35–14. … On the ESPNU call of the game will be Clay Matvick, Rocky Boiman and Dawn Davenport. … The 124 combined points in the App State game were the most in UNC program history.

UNC statistics

DateMonth/dayTime/scoreLocationOpponent
(current rank)
TV/
record
August
27SaturdayW, 56–24HomeFlorida A&M1–0
September
3SaturdayW, 63–61BooneAppalachian State2–0
10SaturdayW, 35–28AtlantaGeorgia State 3–0
24SaturdayL, 45–32HomeNotre Dame 3–1
October
1SaturdayW, 41–10HomeVirginia Tech 4–1, 1–0 ACC
8Saturday4 p.m.Miami
Gardens, Fla.
Miami ESPN2
15SaturdayTBADurhamDukeTBA
29SaturdayTBAHomeNo. 24 PittsburghTBA
November
5SaturdayTBACharlottesvilleVirginiaTBA
12SaturdayTBAWinston-SalemNo. 22 Wake Forest TBA
19SaturdayTBAHomeGeorgia Tech TBA
25FridayNoon,
1 or 3:30
HomeNo. 10 N.C. State ABC or
ESPN

Photo via @UNCFootball

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